Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Jonathan Gosse: The 'Jamerican' protecting Oracabessa Bay's Fish Sanctuary

Published:Thursday | July 27, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Jonathan Gosse, executive director of the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, is passionate about the strides made by the fisherfolk, especially those he credits with the success of the protected area. Tarpon, snook, snapper, parrot, and even a rare tuna sighting are evidence that the sanctuary is working.
Manager Inilek Wilmot (right) seems hard-pressed to come up with a satisfactory answer for Jonathan Gosse, executive director of the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary in St Mary, about the signage on the property during a recent visit.
Paddle boarding is now one of the emerging water sports at the Oracabessa Bay Fishing village.

His birth certificate identifies Jonathan Gosse as a native of Wisconsin in the United States of America, but since 2000, this American-born farm boy has been wearing the brand 'Jamaican' with pride and distinction. Five years after landing here as a Peace Corps volunteer, Gosse went about formalising his decision to adopt Jamaica as the place of choice where he wanted to live, work, and raise a family.

"I can't even count the number of times where I've shocked people because I can either understand what they're saying when they talk or the things that I know about Jamaica, places I've been, and the things that I do that are different than even just an ex-pat," he shares before heading off on a philosophical jaunt.




"You can't change where you're born, and I wasn't born in Jamaica, and there are certain things about having been born in Jamaica that I will never have. My daughter, who is six, was born here. She is a Jamaican through and through and has things about her that I will just never have - the way her accent is, the way she talks. She has gone to Jamaican schools. She is just a young Jamaican kid. But me, on the other hand, I didn't come here 'til I was 24, and so I'm aware of the fact that I'm a really well-seasoned food, but it's not seasoned deep down all the way into my bones.

"But as much as you can know about Jamaica, I think, as an outside dude, I know them. I don't mean to be boasy. I hope it doesn't come across that way, but I have not lived a sheltered, pampered existence here, and the work with the sanctuary is an example of that. It's not many guys [who] could come down here and build trust with fishermen. That doesn't happen unless you want it to. You know something about Jamaica and how it works and you have a roots level kinda vibe about you, and this is one of the things I am most proud of in my life."

After admitting that as an avid lover of curried dishes, curried chicken is his favourite, Gosse goes on to disclose with contrition what he describes as his 'non-Jamaicanness'.


Couldn't pronounce the name of the woman he courted


"The only Jamaican food that I don't really like so much is ackee," Jonathan Gosse admits in a whisper, as if afraid the gentle sea breeze will spread his words of betrayal. "That kind of disqualifies me. I could eat it, but it is not my favourite. Everybody I've ever told that says, 'Boy, dem neva cook it right fi yuh', and if my wife ever hears anybody say that, she would be so upset. So, yeah man! I love Jamaican food, and the idea of eating a really big Jamaican breakfast and then having smaller meals throughout the day, especially on a Sunday, that's the way to go."

The seasonal fruits provide a smorgasbord of other culinary delights for Gosse, but one holds pride of place in his heart, or is that stomach?

"Oh my God, soursop juice! It's like liquid ice cream. It's so nice. Yes! I have a soursop tree, but I can't think of a fruit I don't like."

So forget the language barrier, accent, cultural differences, one of the greatest challenges the young American faced was in spelling and pronouncing the name of the Jamaican-born woman he courted - and with good reason.

"Let me tell you something. When we were dating, boy, that was troublesome. Remembering how to spell her name - Tyherrona. You don't want to embarrass yourself. Remember this is pre-email and you got to write things, and my God, how do you spell her name? Don't want to embarrass myself, (so) I just blazed it in my brain."

These days, their six-year old daughter, Abigail, is a source of joy and entertainment and keeping up with her both a delight and a challenge for her parents.