The parish of Hanover is the smallest on the island, but has a distinct charm of its own. As the road winds along the coastline, there are lovely views of small coves, the calm waters fringed deeply with mangroves on one side. On the other side of the road are hilly pastures, some with Spanish ruins dotted in them, edged with forested areas. It is very green.
The small towns along the way are in many ways typical rural towns: chaotic (especially on market days), mostly dirty, and congested – as broadcast journalist Franklin McKnight has so vividly described in a weekly series on Jamaica’s towns on Nationwide News Network. The parish capital, Lucea, struggles with narrow streets, poor drainage, heavy traffic, and a faltering local economy.
One of these towns is Green Island, which is currently suffering from other issues. It is besieged by heavy trucks carrying marl (limestone), which are destroying the roads and filling the air with dust and noise. When we passed through the town recently, I saw a senior citizen struggling with her shopping bags on a broken pavement in the hot sun, while trucks roared past. I felt very sad for her.
Why the heavy trucks? Because a 2,000-room mega hotel – the “Princess Hotel New Capital of Casual Green Island” (as its Facebook page calls it) is under construction. Why the limestone? Because it is being used to “dump up” acres of what used to be mangroves and wetland along the coast, for the purpose of building the hotel. By the way, is this also to become a cruise ship destination at some point? While the ruling Jamaica Labour Party recently declared itself to be “the greenest” administration since Independence, Green Island is no longer looking very green.
Where is the marl coming from? Well, the builders decided on the closest hillside to the town, just around the corner. This hillside is in the process of being completely demolished, as heavy trucks line up to carry the marl to the construction site.
Local residents have been blocking the road this week to prevent the trucks from entering their town, protesting that they are destroying the road surface.
Well, to be honest, the road can be fixed back afterwards. Old mangrove stands and a once-forested hillside cannot.
We always stop at various points to take in the beauty of the extensive wetlands, which spread inland from the coast. This is the Negril Environment Protection Area. The hillside currently under destruction is about fifty feet or so away from the large sign on the road, describing these rich wetlands and their biodiversity.
As we looked a few feet down the road to the destroyed hillside, two bright green parrots flew across the road, as if to make a point. Our home is shrinking, they seemed to be saying.
So, as Diana McCaulay, who chairs Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) shared recently on social media in a different context – let’s not talk about tree-planting projects. New trees are fine, we should plant them. Tree-planting is great for photo ops, too. But, isn’t this “greenwashing” – while trees are being felled daily across the island? Our Forestry Department was ably represented at the just-concluded UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. While Jamaica’s representatives were discussing and signing documents in Scotland, more trees were being cut down, back home.
Let us conserve the trees (including mangrove forests along our coast) that we have remaining. Too many are being sacrificed on the twin altars of “Tourism” and “Development.”
PS The hotel will also include a casino. What impact will this have on the community of Green Island? Certainly, there is money to be made, jobs to be had. But as with the environment…at what cost? That’s a question for another conversation.