Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Earth Today | Tourism Ministry keen on Cockpit Country preservation

Published:Wednesday | August 23, 2017 | 12:00 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
A coalition of civil groups and concerned individuals is using the new petition portal at Jamaica House to get the requisite 15,000 signatures in 30 days to force the Government of Jamaica to review and respond to their Save Cockpit Country appeal.

The long-term sustainability of the biodiversity-rich Cockpit Country trumps any short-term financial gains to be derived from the extractive industry, according to Tourism Minister Ed Bartlett.

"The matter of trying to balance the extractive industry and the sustainable development activities are challenging because whilst on the one hand the economic value of the mineral extraction is doubtlessly very strong, as it says, it is extractive, so it will disappear after a short while. The sustainable development and production that will inure from preserving and maintaining the environment and geophysical features of that area are going to redound forever," he told The Gleaner.

"The fact is, therefore, that one has to recognise that there is the opportunity for continued economic activity by sustaining the environment and maintaining the pristine nature of the karst topography, which is a key geophysical feature and a huge attraction to communities across the world," Bartlett added.

Still, the minister said that there is benefit to be derived from somehow realising a balance between the two - for which the Government is striving.

"The purist would advocate the largest possible area for eco activity, but we have to balance that; the commitments that have been there and also the fact that there is need for that level of economic activity that will inure to immediate benefits while not hurting long-term sustainable development," Bartlett said.

His comments come as the Government inches closer to a final, publicised decision on a boundary for the area - one that has been many years in the making and for which environmental stakeholders, including the Jamaica Environment Trust, the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) and the Windsor Research Centre have waged a long lobby.

Among the boundaries that have been put forward over the years are:

- the Cockpit Country Stakeholders' Group boundary that takes in St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James and Trelawny, and which would reportedly deny access to some 300 million tons of bauxite or US$9 billion;

- the Ring Road boundary that takes in Trelawny and St Elizabeth and which would deny access to 150 million tons or US$4.5 billion;

- the Sweeting/University of the West Indies (UWI) boundary, projected to incur losses of US$4.2 billion or 140 million tons of bauxite;

- the Maroon boundary, comprised of Trelawny and St Elizabeth, and which would amount to US$3 billion or 100 million tons of bauxite lost;

- the Forestry Reserve boundary that would cause a loss of US$450 million or 15 million tons of bauxite; and

- the Jamaica Bauxite Institute boundary, which would incur losses of US$300 million or 10 million tons of the ore.

On the impending decision, Bartlett said he expected it soon.

"There is a growing appreciation for what one would call the best fit line and so I am hopeful that we will come to a solution shortly," he said.

Meanwhile, the tourism and alternative livelihoods value of the ecologically sensitive Cockpit Country - home to Maroons and diverse flora and fauna, and with options for caving, hiking and sightseeing - cannot be underestimated.

"Tourism is a very strong pull that will enable the extraction of nutraceuticals from the rich biodiversity that exists within the Cockpit Country. And it also offers opportunities for income-generating activities for scores of rural folk who live within those areas," Bartlett said.

"So when one looks at how to ensure not only that we utilise the resources there optimally and sustainably, one has also to look at how we enable community enrichment and, at the same time, economic development on a continued basis for the people of that area," he added.

In this, the minister is backed by STEA boss Hugh Dixon.

"We are shouting from the wilderness of Cockpit Country that if you research economic opportunities in the Cockpit Country, there are several here that could offer viable alternative and sustainable options to mining that would be to the benefit of communities," the STEA boss told The Gleaner.