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JNHT expects Blue Lagoon declaration as national monument by year end

Published:Wednesday | December 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMAvia Collinder
A section of the Blue Lagoon.

The Jamaica National Heritage Trust, JNHT, is on a quest to preserve the Blue Lagoon as a protected national heritage site and is seeking a declaration of the area as a national monument. A management plan for the area has been drafted.

"We expect by the end of the year the declaration will be complete," JNHT executive director Dorrick Gray said in a Gleaner Business interview with him and other JNHT officials, while noting that remaining step was ministerial sign-off.

The management plan, he said will prevent such activities as channelling of waste into the lagoon and also prevent the enclosure of the blue hole by any private individual or group, as has been attempted in the past.

"We declare sites both on private and public lands ... to create access and preserve in the interest of all," Gray said. For example, the JNHT has suggested the diversion of a section of the Mandela Highway expansion route away from a Taino burial ground in the area.

The JNHT aims to have the Blue Lagoon declared a national monument under the JNHT Act with the designated area running from the Alligator Head peninsula to the entrance of Lime Kiln Bay and Unity Bay back to the starting point at Alligator Head.

The declaration would grant JNHT official powers of inspection and the right to inspect and oversee maintenance of the site.

The officers of JNHT said their concerns regarding the Blue Lagoon centre around solid waste disposal and impacts on the quality of water in the lagoon noting that the area, which is also called Blue Hole, is home to rare marine life. It is a nesting site for turtles and the manatee, as well as a home to stingrays.

The JNHT officials fear that run off from agricultural activities involving use of insecticides and dumping of excavated material could harm the habitat.

Marc Blake, the assistant manager of technical operations at the JNHT, said the lagoon is visited by approximately 1,500 individuals each week, and should remain accessible to the public.

"As happened in the past, one villa owner tried to put up a gate to prevent public access. The lagoon is for the use of the people of Jamaica," he asserted.

In the process of seeking the declaration, the JNHT official said, it has been having discussions with local groups, including the San San Home Owners Association, which Blake said had "come on board" the initiative for preservation.

"We see declaration as one of the conduits for obtaining funding for social and physical improvements needed in the area."

As for the Taino burial ground discovered in the White Marl Area of St Catherine, the JNHT said there are plans to rescue the artefacts.

The site was declared a national monument in 2016.

Testing carried out archaeologists from the University of the West Indies and Leiden University in Holland indicated that the site contained skeletons dating back to 900 AD and 1200 AD. Consequently, the suggestion was made that the Mandela Highway be realigned away from the burial site.

"We asked them to shift to the northern section," said JNHT technical director Selvenious Walters. He adds that discussions with the executing agency for the road project, National Works Agency, are progressing, and that the realignment has been "agreed" and will be pursued.

Walters also said the UWI/Leiden team will be carrying out full excavation works to recover and rescue artefacts at the Taino site in January.