Mon | Jul 16, 2018

Peter Espeut | Home sweet home: Jamaica the coastal zone

Published:Saturday | February 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM
A coastal zone unable to perform its ecosystem functions can reduce the ability of the island of Jamaica to support human life.

As The Gleaner recognises Peter Espeut's 25 years as columnist with this publication, today, we continue a special series of articles from the natural resource manager and rural development scientist.

The coast fronts the sea, but the coastal zone is the region where processes on the land affect processes in the sea. Because our rivers dump agricultural chemicals and other pollutants into the sea, the rivers are part of our coastal zone; because our rivers rise on our central mountain range, there is no part of Jamaica's land mass which is not part of a watershed, and therefore not part of the coastal zone.

Associated with the coast are a variety of ecosystems, each providing us humans with essential goods and services. Coral reefs and mangroves reduce the negative impacts of strong waves and tsunamis on the shoreline, and along with seagrass, stabilise the coast from being eaten away by the relentless sea.

Mangroves and other wetlands at the land-water interface are able to remove some of the pollutants, which would otherwise enter the sea. All provide food and habitat for fish and other marine animals, which we humans depend on for food.

A coastal zone unable to perform its ecosystem functions can reduce the ability of the island of Jamaica to support human life. Without beaches and reefs, we would have fewer opportunities for recreation, and our tourism product would be quite different. We have a lot to lose - financially and in terms of quality of life - from a degraded coastal zone.

And yet, judging by our lax regulatory and enforcement framework, we care very little. What goes on in our coastal zone is regulated by several different acts with overlapping and maybe conflicting jurisdictions. Maybe it is time to bring fisheries and watersheds, pollution control and wetlands into one stand-alone environment ministry able to provide an integrated approach to coastal-zone management.

The present configuration of the legal framework for coastal-zone management seems to be failing, almost by design.

- Peter Espeut has been a Gleaner columnist for 25 years.