Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Jamaica promises enhanced actions for oceans' health

Published:Thursday | June 15, 2017 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Senator Kamina Johnson-Smith
Chris Corbin

AS THE world turns its collective attention to the declining health of oceans, Jamaica has signalled its intent to step up its own recovery efforts. "Even as we look to our partners for their support ... we acknowledge our own responsibility for national development. Jamaica is pleased, therefore, to signal its voluntary commitments in the following ways: The first is in relation to Marine Protected Areas," noted Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith, speaking during the plenary exchange of views at the United Nations Ocean Conference, held in New York from June 5 to 9.

"As at 2013, 15.1 per cent of Jamaica's maritime area had been declared as marine protected areas under national legislation. We will increase our marine protected areas by an estimated two per cent by 2019 with the declaration of the Pedro Cays and surrounding waters, and the Black River protected area," she added.

Further, the minister said the island is committed to strengthening its policy and legislative frameworks governing protected areas.

"By 2020, Jamaica will further strengthen its regime governing protected areas, including marine protected areas, with the promulgation of a new protected areas policy and overarching protected areas legislation," she said.

The minister's statements come even as Jamaica and other Caribbean islands grapple with marine pollution due, in particular, to land-based sources and activities a problem the UN Environment/Caribbean Environment Programme (UN Environment/CEP) has worked on for some time now through the promotion of the Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-based Sources (LBS Protocol) and Activities, ratified by Jamaica in 2015.

The protocol is the only regional, legal agreement for the wider Caribbean that promotes an integrated approach to the prevention, control and reduction of marine pollution.

"There is a profound need to reduce the pollutant load to the seas from land-based sources and activities through continued regional cooperation," Chris Corbin, pollution and communications programme officer for UN Environment/CEP told The Gleaner last year.

"Given the strong link between weak sanitation systems and the incidence of the mosquito-borne Zika virus as well as yellow fever, dengue fever and chikungunya, the LBS Protocol enables governments within the region to collectively improve these structures in the face of this unfolding health crisis," he added.

In addition to the implications for public health, marine pollution also jeopardises livelihoods. A look at coral reef species, which provides some US$375 million in goods and services annually but which have diminished in the region by some 90 per cent, according to the UN Environment/CEP, makes the case.

Johnson Smith appears clear on what is at stake.

"Like many other small island developing countries, we are highly vulnerable to the effects of marine pollution, ocean acidification, and their consequential impact on our coral reefs, as well as the effect of climate change on sea level rise. These factors all impact upon fishing communities, as well as tourism and, therefore, affect our people and our economy at all levels," she said at the international conference, which coincided with World Environment Day and World Oceans Day on June 5 and 8 respectively.

"For Jamaica, therefore, the protection, sustainable development and management of the marine environment are not just desirable goals. They are duties, indeed obligations, which we must pursue with diligence and urgency, if we are to meet the current needs of our country and those of succeeding generations," she added.