JET acknowledges the declaration of the Cockpit Country Protected Area, but..

On March 17, during the Budget Debate in Parliament, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the Cockpit Country Protected Area has now been officially designated and gazetted. Is that the end of this long story, with its many twists and turns? Well, not quite.

You can find the Environmental Impact Assessments on the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) website here. NEPA had announced on January 3 that a reduced or “clawed back” area had been allowed for bauxite mining.

Dornoch Head in Trelawny, Cockpit Country. (Photo: JET)

Here are a few concerns to note:

Yesterday (March 21) was International Day of Forests… JET has noted that the ‘released’ area is cockpit bottomlands of agriculture nestled within and protected by forested hillsides with secondary growth; which is still forest, albeit not primary. We need to retain all our existing forests, even if they are disturbed, as we seek to fight the impacts of climate change. We need our forests standing and connected to each other. Bauxite haul roads destroy those connections (and it is not a good idea to create “pockets” of undisturbed forests between them. The forest must be continuous.

Today is World Water Day... The area to be mined remains in the Rio Bueno watershed and sits over the established underground waterflows from south to north, is bordered by a major fault on the western side. This may have serious implications.

The communities that will be impacted by the mining activities of this newly defined area include Jackland, Richmond Pen (along with their Water Catchment), Barnstaple, Broadleaf and Bryan Castle. While the Madras school has been excluded it is only 330 metres from the border and the Health Clinic is 470 metres from the border.

Will Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners be allowed to reapply to mine other areas after the initial five-year environment permit, as was stated at NEPA’s January briefing?

What about the proposed buffer zone?

Cockpit Country. (Photo: Ted Lee Eubanks)

For some more background, do take a read of this article by Dr. Anthony Greenaway, formerly of the Department of Chemistry, UWI, Mona, and now managing director of Greenaway and Associates. This is the second in a series of articles from JET’s multidisciplinary review of the bauxite-alumina industry, Red Dirt currently being published in the Jamaica Gleaner. Here is the first, by JET founder Diana McCaulay, which ends with the sentence:

It is difficult not to conclude that the value of the industry to our economy has become merely an article of faith rather than a position informed by recent data or objective analysis.

Diana McCaulay, “Red Dirt”

I listened to our Mining Minister Audley Shaw a few days ago, and noted his concession that the bauxite mining industry in Jamaica had (almost) outstayed its welcome, and would not last longer than another twenty-five years or so. However, we still love mining, it seems. The Minister enthusiastically embraced the future (and export potential) of – you’ve guessed it – limestone mining/quarrying. “With the exception of Guyana, Jamaica has the largest limestone reserves in the entire Caribbean region,” he pointed out.

So, how does this look for the much-talked about climate resiliency, the expressed need to conserve our forests and the diversity of life within them (not to mention water resources)? You tell me…

Here is JET’s response to the Prime Minister’s announcement:

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) acknowledges the recent announcement by the Prime Minister to legally declare Cockpit Country a protected area and closed to prospecting and mining as progress. It is a long overdue step to the protection of the area which comes after many years of advocacy by several groups and individuals, but important areas in the northeast and south have been omitted.

Cockpit Country is a unique landscape in Central Jamaica that spans the parishes of St. Ann, St. James, Trelawny, Manchester, and St. Elizabeth with the majority of the forests being in Trelawny. It is a biodiversity hotspot with a high rate of plant and animal endemism and important for its geological and cultural heritage. It is also the source of six major rivers and supplies 40% of Jamaica’s freshwater. 

Efforts to protect Cockpit Country began in the 1950s, continued in the late 1990s and ramped up further starting in 2006, when it became clear that prospecting licenses for bauxite had been granted for a large part of Cockpit Country. After many years of advocacy and at least seven proposed boundaries, the Prime Minister finally announced the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA ) on March 17, 2022. After many years of advocacy and at least seven proposed boundaries, the Prime Minister finally announced the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA ) on March 17, 2022.

The gazetted Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) is 78,024 hectares, while the Cockpit County Stakeholder Group (CCSG) Boundary, widely accepted by most stakeholders as the most correct boundary, is 116, 218 hectares. The newly declared CCPA is approximately 32% smaller and excludes important areas, many of which are being considered for Special Exclusive Prospective Licenses (SEPL) and includes those areas in the northeast that have been recently released for mining. 

JET remains concerned, however, that there is still no buffer zone around the protected area which means mining, quarrying or prospecting would be allowed right up to the boundary. We are particularly concerned about potential impacts to the Rio Bueno watershed and its rural communities, including  Jackland, Richmond Pen (along with their Water Catchment), Barnstaple, Broadleaf and Bryan Castle.  

It is not yet clear who will be managing the protected area and we look forward to learning more about this. We seek clarification as to whether quarrying will also be prohibited in the CCPA.

Finally, the Draft Overarching Policy for the entire Protected Areas System, 2016 and the Policy for the National System of Protected Areas, 1997 proposes a participatory approach for the establishment and management of national protected areas. Both documents describe the need for the public to be integrated into all levels of a transparent, open and inclusive process. We therefore hope that all stakeholders, especially local community groups, will be appropriately engaged with regards to the management of the area.

The remarkable limestone karst landscape of the Cockpit Country.

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