Mangroves to gain Forestry Dept's protection
AS CRITICAL as they are to Jamaica's defence against climate change, the effects of which are already being seen or felt on the island - from extreme drought conditions to coastal erosion - mangrove forests may appear quite unremarkable.
But the Forestry Department knows better, itself understanding the value of mangroves as not only an essential ingredient to the response to climate impacts, notably for coastal protection, but also as a habitat for a variety of in particular juvenile marine life.
To that end, the entity is looking to take mangroves under its wings with the implementation of the new National Forest Management and Conservation Plan (NFMCP) now near completion.
"Mangrove is one of the important forest types we assessed in our and Land Use Change Assessment. However, the Agency was not actively addressed issues relating to mangroves management and protection due to its limited capacity," said Francine Black Richards, senior manager for public relations and corporate communications in a written response to queries from The Gleaner.
"Over the years we have realised that this hands-off approach may have led to the increased vulnerability of mangrove forests and as such the Agency has decided that it will lead the process of conservation and protection of mangroves through a participatory and collaborative process, which will involve key stakeholders such as the UWI - Centre for Marine Science, the National Environment and Planning Agency, private landowners of mangroves and the National Land Agency," she added.
Such a move - as provided for under the new NFMCP, which also serves as the sector's strategy for climate change adaptation and mitigation - is vitally important, according to Black Richards.
"The success of mangrove protection initiatives will be hinged on strong collaboration between the entities mentioned above. Additionally, sea level rise is a real threat to the island and the natural shoreline protection, provided by mangrove and swamp forests are a key adaptation strategy.
Quizzed as to whether they anticipated resistance to this move, the public relations manager said "no".
"The Commissioner of Lands/National Land Agency has been a part of the process in the development of the NFMCP. One of the actions in the NFMCP is the transfer of the management of all mangrove forest on crown lands to the Forestry Department. The NLA is the lead on this action," she added.
Head of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, Ingrid Parchment, is herself encouraged by the move to have mangrove forests explicitly protected.
"The idea of having an entity that is responsible for having it protected under law where if somebody cuts or damage the wetland areas that it there are fines or punishment in law, that is important. We have had a lot of cutting in Portland Bight, for example, where people are cutting roads through the mangroves to get to the nearest landing sites, like in Teak Bay," she said.
Teak Bay is one of two forest reserves in Portland Bight.
Meanwhile, Parchment has emphasised that protection of mangroves is not a one-entity operation, underscoring Black Richards promise of collaboration to make a success of it.
"I think one of important things is that we have to work in partnership, with the NGOs and community groups on the ground. No one entity can do this on its own. We will need to provide stakeholders with proper information because people need to know that a) the Forestry Department has the responsibility and if there are new fines, etc and b) they also need to know the value of the wetlands," she said.
"So you want people to be complaint, but you also want them to know the value of not cutting down the mangroves and the value to themselves and their families," Parchment added.
C-CAM works in the Portland Bight Protected Area and currently manages the South West Cay Special Fisheries Conservation Area on the Pedro Banks.
Consultations on the NFMCP got underway in Mavis Bank, East Rural St Andrew on February 9, with another following in Portland, and then the western resort city. The next one will be held in Trelawny and the final one to be hosted in Kingston next Tuesday March 21 - which is celebrated as International Day for Forests.