Ministry resolute after NEPA serves notice over Pedro Cays
The threat of personal prosecution by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has left Permanent Secretary Donovan Stanberry resolute that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries will not be pushed into finding a quick fix to the long-standing unsanitary conditions on the Pedro Cays.
NEPA has also served notice that it will take steps to have all the fisherfolk removed from the Pedro Cays and fishing activities halted if steps are not taken to address the appalling conditions affecting Jamaica's premier offshore fishing resources.
"Unfortunately, because we are associated with fish, everybody pins the responsibility on us to manage garbage and every aspect of Pedro Cays," Stanberry told The Gleaner.
"We are not trying to hide, but it's not our responsibility. We realise that we have to make a contribution, but the ministry will not be going over there to clean toilets or to pick up garbage. The agencies of the State responsible for that will have to come forward."
He was responding to enforcement notices served by NEPA on him in his capacity as permanent secretary, as well as Commissioner of Lands Elizabeth Stair, whose office shares some of the responsibility for management of Crown lands.
The enforcement notices signed by Peter Knight, chief executive officer of NEPA, direct Stair and Stanberry to clean up the cays, or present a work plan to address the conditions by April 24 or face prosecution for the accumulation of an intolerably high level of human waste and garbage that now poses a serious threat to public health, as well as the environment.
"We are dealing with the threat that it now presents to public health and the environment and also the water quality in the area," Knight told The Gleaner last Friday.
One of the enforcement notices served on Stanberry and Stair direct them to take steps to address the "release of human excreta to the environment on the Pedro Cays due to the absence of appropriate management (facilities for the containment, treatment and disposal) thereon."
It states further: "The absence of appropriate management (facilities for the containment, treatment or disposal) of human excreta on the Pedro Cays poses a serious threat to the natural resources and public health of the area as it will affect the marine environment by reducing the water quality, subsequently negatively impacting the marine flora and fauna (inclusive of coral reefs, conch and lobster fisheries) and also affect the health of persons using the area."
Another notice relates to: "The presence of solid waste in the environment on the Pedro Cays due to the absence of appropriate solid waste management (storage, collection and disposal/ treatment)."
It goes on to warn: "The absence of appropriate solid waste management (storage, collection and disposal/treatment) on the Pedro Cays poses a serious threat to the natural resources and public health as it results in the proliferation of vector-carrying organisms such as rodents and insects that will transmit contagious diseases which will lead to ill health of the general public using the area."
When The Gleaner contacted Stair, she was said to be off the island.
In the meantime, the permanent secretary in the agriculture ministry said a lack of funding made the directive from NEPA impractical, pointing out that for too long there has been confusion surrounding roles and responsibilities related to the management of the area.
"The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries does not own Pedro Cays, and while it is true that we are responsible for the fisheries resources at Pedro Banks and while we provide licences to people who fish there, it cannot be the ministry's responsibility to go and pick up rubbish over there," Stanberry declared.