Sat | Feb 22, 2020

Montego Bay groups object to construction in fish sanctuary

Published:Tuesday | January 14, 2020 | 12:24 AM

The decision by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to allow construction in the waters of the Bogue Islands Lagoon Special Fishery Conservation Area has left some key stakeholders within Montego Bay disgruntled.

In voicing his objection, Piers Harvey, who, since 1997, has been a homeowner in The Lagoons residential area, which abuts the fish sanctuary, described the recently approved Villa Vivan construction project as a “fine example of man’s destruction of his environment”.

In a scathing letter, Harvey said that the project confounded every acceptable norm in the community over the past 22 years.

“As with all progress, the growth of The Lagoons pushed the boundaries of the crucial balance between nature … . But in every instance so far, the lot owners have always been respectful of the beautiful Bogue Lagoon on which they live and their neighbours, with the result that up until now, there has been this unique respectful relationship that exists,” he said.

“Not only is this aberration destroying the environment in its immediate vicinity, but it’s only a matter of time before its scope will be emulated and, sadly, probably surpassed by other lot owners, with the inevitable harm to what is supposed to be a marine park,” he added.

Harvey said that NEPA had set a double standard as, over the years, fishermen who are found line-fishing in the lagoon have been arrested, yet the same authorities were now allowing “people with the available resources to create a complete ‘dead zone’ in broad daylight and make a mockery of the entire concept of the marine park”.

Fishermen from the area are also hopping mad at NEPA which, they say, is barring them from the lagoon where they grew up fishing as youngsters, yet permitting other activities to take place there.

Giving his name as Big Danny, a 73-year-old who has been fishing for the past 60 years told The Gleaner that construction within the Freeport area had already impacted the lagoon, displacing turtles, sharks, and other sea creatures because of associated limestone (marl) seepage that hindered fry from spawning.

“It is a bad idea. Di chemicals in the marl is going to burn the fish eye, so di fish dem a go migrate. So it is not good for the fishermen or the fish. Species of fish who used to live in the lagoon, dem not there again; development run dem weh. All dem hotel and guest house, dem cut down di mangrove and dump up, so di fish dem gone somewhere else,” he explained.

He said that additional construction, in the long term, would further stymie the livelihoods of the already-stressed fishermen who already have to be going scores of miles out to sea in treacherous waters to make their daily catch.

“Fishermen going to suffer. Yuh have some fisherman yah now hungry, you know, because di sea rough. So, dat nuh right, and it make di fisherman have more grievance inna him and more corrupt against NEPA,” he added.

“As di breeze start to blow, di whole sea a go muddy up, and some fish don’t like dirty water, like yellowtail, grunt, and snapper, so dem a go migrate,” he added.

Dalton Morris, a 56-year-old who has been fishing since childhood, said that NEPA should not have even entertained the idea of allowing construction within the waters of the lagoon in the first place, as any more loss of fish could even fuel attacks on locals and tourists by hungry crocodiles who have a habitat at one section of the protected area.

“I would never give no one no opportunity fi build nothing. You have crocodile round deh, so remember crocodile don’t stay where food no deh. Anyweh yuh see crocodile, food round deh, and a it dem a feed offa. When dem start dump up deh and di crocodile get less food, if a even when dem baby stand up outa door and dem feel seh everything all right, dem a go missing, you know,” Morris said.

Yoni Epstein, chairman of The Lagoons residential area, said that the decision by NEPA sets a bad precedent and has far-reaching environmental and socio-economic impacts on Montego Bay.

“Other residents can afford to do something similar and the fact is, that people haven’t. And there is a simple reason for it, which is because we know it’s not the right thing to do. And quite frankly, even the ones that are opposing it can afford to do the same thing. But it’s not just about that; it’s about the morality of the situation,” said the business process outsourcing entrepreneur.

“If we lose our environment, we lose everything,” he said.

editorial@gleanerjm.com