Sat | Dec 3, 2016

‘TOO MUCH TALK’

Published:Saturday | March 21, 2015 | 11:07 PMJodi-Ann Gilpin
Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri

"I am mindful of the tremendous responsibility that rests on my shoulders, and of the fact that the well-being of every man, woman, and child in this country is affected by the critical portfolio areas with which I am charged," Robert Pickergill, Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change told the nation during last year's Sectoral Debate in Parliament.

"I stand here this afternoon, with resolve born of the knowledge that the team at my ministry and its agencies, is creative, proactive, hard working, and determined, and that our local, regional and international partners with whom we are partnering for sustainable development as desirous, as we are, to see Jamaica achieve its sustainable development plan," added Pickersgill.

However, less than one year after that bold declaration by Pickersgill, an expert in global environmental issues, is contending that the minister's well-spoken words do not match up with the country's dismal track record on this critical development subject.

"I have sat in several conferences regionally and internationally and unfortunately Jamaica is one of those countries used as an example of what not to do, especially when it comes to reef fisheries. The reefs have been over fished and this is known all over," said Alessandra Vanzella-Khouri, specially protected areas and wildlife (SPAW) programmes officer at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

"Coral reefs in Jamaica are severely deteriorated, land based pollution, poorly planned coastal development also contribute and without the fish that maintain the health of the reefs, it is impossible to recover the ecosystem," lamented Vanzella-Khouri.

The SPAW Protocol was adopted in 1990, and entered into force in 2000. It seeks to, "take the necessary measures to protect, preserve and manage in a sustainable way areas that require protection to safeguard their special value, and threatened or endangered species of flora and fauna".

The objectives of the SPAW sub-programme are to assist governments in meeting the provisions of the Protocol and to significantly increase the number, and improve the management of, protected and/or managed areas, among other things.

Even though Jamaica became signatory in 1990, it is yet to ratify the SPAW Protocol but Khouri believes that the country can still bring about the much needed changes in this area, if urgent action is taken.

"In the 1970s scientists from all over the world came here (Jamaica) to study the reefs, fishes and features of the ecosystem, given the quality of the environment then. I am not sure it can get back to that place, but localised efforts being made to protect what is left and to do things differently are encouraging.

"I'm an optimist and I believe that there is always an opportunity to improve things once there is committed and dedicated intervention. All is not lost, the conch fisheries seems to be managed sustainably. We might not go back to the 70s but things can be improved," she insisted.

Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust believes that any serious attempt at improving the situation must begin with a comprehensive set of new policies specifically tailored to suit Jamaica's dismal overall environmental situation.

"The sea is empty," declared McCaulay.

"I don't know anything about our relationship internationally, but I would agree that we have utterly failed to manage and protect our fisheries over many decades. We have stood by, studied and observed their decline but we have not done enough to stop it."