Sun | Nov 17, 2019

Peter Knight | NEPA is protecting Discovery Bay

Published:Saturday | November 9, 2019 | 12:13 AM

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) refers to the letter from Lee Arbouin of the Discovery Bay Community Development Committee, ‘What is NEPA doing about Discovery Bay,’ published in The Gleaner of Saturday, October 26, 2019.

First, I wish to thank Ms Arbouin for the kind congratulations conveyed therein on being recognised for years of contribution to public health and environmental planning.

Second, NEPA is at a loss, not only on the timing of the letter but on the veracity of its contents, since the reality at the location offers quite a different picture.

Regular monitoring of the operation of the dolphinarium by staff, combined with laboratory analyses of water samples results show otherwise.

It is also important to place on the record Dolphin Cove’s compliance with the conditions of the environmental permit, to include the restriction of holding only four dolphins (of the requested eight) at the facility, the establishment of an approved water-quality monitoring regime, which governs the sampling protocol and the submission of an emergency response plan, grievance mechanism and the sustainable environmental intervention programme in collaboration with the Alloa Fisherfolks Co-operative Society.

To date, no reports have been received from the fishermen, which would activate the established grievance mechanism.

One can infer from the timing of Ms Arbouin’s letter that it was a lobbying action to pre-empt what is generally acknowledged, that the conditional environmental permit would be up for renewal in October 2019, given the initial restriction of the environmental permit to allow for the monitoring and assessment of the operations at the facility.

The agency also questions and finds it quite peculiar that the changes in water quality have only now been observed for the past two months, given that the dolphins have been in the facility for over 10 months prior to the report.

Given the foregoing considerations, it is therefore appropriate to place on record that the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA)/NEPA has approved the extension of environmental permit for an additional year, with the stipulated conditions.

The decision to extend the permit was primarily based on the performance of the water-quality results – the most contentious matter of concern – along with the compliance with other submissions aforementioned. The water-quality sampling returns showed no noticeable change in the water quality since the commencement of the operation of the dolphinarium in April 2019. And this was from seven geo-referenced sampling points, and mirrors the general trend of the Discovery Bay water quality over the years. The sampling regime extended to fortnightly monitoring for three months after the introduction of the dolphins and then monthly thereafter.

SHARK SIGHTINGS NOT UNUSUAL

Reports of shark sightings in the Discovery Bay area is not an alarming phenomenon. Jamaican waters are home to a number of shark species, including nurse sharks, tiger sharks and the great hammerhead. Sharks are vital in the marine ecosystems, as they help to maintain the health and productivity of these systems by balancing many fish populations and cleaning the ocean from carcasses of dead animals.

Similarly, wild dolphins are also a natural occurrence. Over the years, the agency’s marine officers have observed dolphins within and just outside the bay. Dolphin sightings are, therefore, not new to this area. As part of the agency’s monitoring activity, increased sightings and/or encounters will be documented and analysed for any required response.

The agency has not received reports or complaints from any user of the beach regarding skin rashes. Evidence of members of the public experiencing skin rashes linked to the dolphin facility or changes to the environment should be reported to the local health department, or better yet, it is recommended that individuals visit the respective health centres for diagnosis and treatment. The agency has also not received reports of faeces and/or other pollutants in the water.

Finally, the Discovery Bay Community Development Committee and all residents of Discovery Bay can rest assured that the intensive monitoring activities will remain in place in the extended Environmental Permit to gauge compliance. Should non-compliant issues be brought to the fore, the agency will do the necessaries to address same.

Peter Knight, CD, JP, CEO and Government Town Planner of the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com