Sat | Dec 16, 2017

Diana McCaulay and Susan Koenig | Cockpit Country: people and places left out

Published:Sunday | December 3, 2017 | 12:00 AM
Diana McCaulay
Mountainscapes thoroughout the Cockpit Country, which spans several parishes.
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The environmental community first became aware that Special Exclusive Prospecting Licences for bauxite had been granted for large areas of Cockpit Country in 2006, although efforts to protect this important region go back much further.

At the time, there was no agreement on the boundary of Cockpit Country, and determination of a boundary was considered an important first step before the type and extent of any protection could be established. Environmental groups, community organisations, scientists and many individuals came together to form the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG), and over a period of months developed a proposed boundary based on geo-morphology, biological diversity, hydrology, and historical and cultural heritage.

The CCSG boundary was larger than earlier proposed boundaries, encompassing some 110,000 hectares and including the Appleton Valley and the Nassau Mountains to the south, the Rio Bueno system and several St Ann communities to the northeast, and the upper reaches of the Montego River and Great River watersheds in the northwest. The Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) boundary announced by the PM on November 22, 2017, encompasses 74,726 hectares - or roughly 67 per cent of the proposed CCSG boundary.

The rationale for the CCSG boundary was presented multiple times by members of the CCSG, specifically, Windsor Research Centre in Cockpit Country, Jamaica Environment Trust, the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency and others, to responsible government ministers across both administrations over several years.

Other historic and more recent boundaries were proposed by other agencies and groups, including a geo-morphological boundary proposed by Sweeting in 1958, a second geo-morphological boundary proposed by Lyew-Ayee Jr in 2005, a ring road around the Cockpit Country Forest Reserve, the 'UWI Boundary', which added some features of biodiversity and heritage to geo-morphology, Proctor's botanic boundary, and the National Ecological Gap Assessment Report (NEGAR) boundary.

In 2013, the Government of Jamaica commissioned a boundary study, which was carried out by the University of the West Indies. Some of the recommendations from this study were used to declare the new CCPA, but the new CCPA excludes important hydrological and heritage resources and many communities.

 

Hydrology

 

The risks to underground water posed by bauxite mining include changes in infiltration rates following the removal of surface sediments, destruction of conduits in the limestone during mining and reclamation 'pit reshaping' and the clogging of underground conduits with crushed gravel and marl during rehabilitation. Special Exclusive Prospecting Licence 578 has been issued to Noranda Bauxite Limited, now owned by New Day Aluminium, and covers part of the Rio Bueno system. Special Mining Lease 170 has been issued in the south for sections of northeast St Elizabeth and northwest Manchester and Special Exclusive Prospecting License 541 has been issued for parts of St James, St Elizabeth and Manchester.

The northeastern boundary of the new CCPA excludes portions of the proven subterranean flows and the head waters of the Rio Bueno system, evidenced by many caves and sinkholes.

In the south, the CCPA boundary does not include the Nassau Mountains, where the Appleton Sinkhole and Raheen sinks and risings supply the Elim East and West risings and the Bogue Spring at the head of the Grosmond River, which eventually reaches the Black River. As with the Rio Bueno, the underground connections have proven flows, as well as flows still under conjecture, all of which would be threatened by mining.

In the northwest, the CCPA boundary excludes portions of the upper reaches of the Montego River and Great River watersheds.

 

Communities

 

In the northeast, the CCPA boundary excludes the St Ann communities of Stewart Town, Belmont, Richmond Pen, Barnstaple, Madras, Bryan Castle, Gibraltar, and Endeavour. In the south, communities such as Appleton, Balaclava, Maggotty, Thornton, White Hall, Ipswich, Ginger Hill, Jointwood, Mulgrave, Dry River, and Retirement are excluded. To the north and northwest, the CCPA boundary excludes communities such as Cambridge, Mount Horeb, Plum Park, Catadupa, Kensington, Bandon, and Bunkers Hill.

All these areas are ecologically, hydrologically, and culturally sensitive, regardless of which boundary is used to define the Cockpit Country. Some of these communities are already being affected by bauxite mining, which they have opposed, as they believe it is a threat to their livelihoods and quality of life. Others want new types of economic activity, such as ecotourism.

 

Culture and heritage

 

Cultural sites have also been excluded, such as Stewart Town and Mahogany Hall. The latter is historically connected to Hector's River in southern Cockpit Country via a 'Maroon Path to Mahogany Hall' mapped by Robertson in 1803 following the Second Maroon War. This heritage is placed at risk by being outside the CCPA boundary.

The prime minister assured the public in his recent announcement in the House of Representatives that any heritage resources outside the CCPA would be protected by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT), but it is difficult to take much comfort from this assurance, as the JNHT is woefully underfunded and understaffed.

Notwithstanding these realities, the declaration of the CCPA and the forthcoming closure to mining and quarrying is a significant and welcome milestone. The work that lies ahead involves the buffer zones, where harmful activities are strictly controlled, and the development of a management plan that is grounded in understanding and maintaining ecological health, respect for the wishes of local communities, and inclusion of their representatives (especially the Maroons, local forestry management committees and groups such as Cockpit Communities for Conservation) in the planning process, and the preservation of heritage sites.

The Jamaica Environment Trust and Windsor Research Centre (WRC) are also concerned about where the bauxite foregone by the declaration of the CCPA boundary will now be found, as it is likely that there will also be adverse impacts in those places. Impacts to forests and water supplies are particularly undesirable, given the clear and present danger of climate change.

- Diana McCaulay is chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust. Dr Susan Koenig is director of research at Windsor Research Centre. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com, windsor@cwjamaica.com and dmccaulay.jet