NEPA gathers data on coastal resources
THE EDITOR, Sir:
I wish to provide the following information as a follow-up to an article that appeared in The Gleaner on April 15, 2015 reflecting the concerns of noted coastal engineer, Dr David Smith, regarding the need for a Coastal Management Unit.
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has a specific mandate for coastal zone management in Jamaica. This is carried out through the work of the Ecosystems Management Branch of the agency. Prior to the creation of NEPA in 2001, a Coastal Zone Management Branch existed as part of the organisational structure of the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA), a precursor organisation to the NEPA. This unit/branch administered functions that included the mandate of the Beach Control Authority that was established by virtue of the Beach Control Act of 1956.
Given international best practice and recognising the critical linkages necessary between the countries watersheds and coastal zone, an Integrated Watershed and Coastal Zone Management Branch was created as part of NEPA in 2001. This branch was subsequently transformed into the now existing Ecosystems Management Branch of NEPA. This was viewed as being necessary, reflecting the ecosystem-based approach to natural resources management that exists and is practised internationally.
It is important to note, however, that a number of state and non-state entities have key roles to play in effective coastal zone management. It is for this reason that Cabinet, in 1998, established a National Council on Oceans and Coastal Zone Management.
NEPA does have a routine programme of data collection on the state of the Island's coastal resources. Admittedly, there is the need to constantly improve these data collection and information platforms. Currently, beach profile data are collected on a routine basis at 35 selected benchmark sites across Jamaica. Coral and reef biota data are collected at 67 coastal stations and ambient water quality measured from 302 routine marine and estuarine monitoring sites. These databases contain historical data going back 35 years in the case of water quality, 10 years of coral reef data, and up to 25 years of beach profile data for some sites. This information is presented in the State of the Environment Report and summarised annually in the Economic and Social Survey of Jamaica.
While the country does not have an institution named the Coastal Management Unit, the primary mandate for coastal zone management, as reflected in the Beach Control Act (1956) and the Natural Resources Conservation Act (1991), resides with NEPA and the NRCA.