Sat | Jan 16, 2021

Earth Today | Trelawny NGO moves to complete Cockpit Country trail

Published:Thursday | May 14, 2020 | 12:19 AM
A section of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, home to diverse flora and fauna, and a significant source of freshwater for the island.
A section of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country, home to diverse flora and fauna, and a significant source of freshwater for the island.

THE SOUTHERN Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) is moving to complete its nature trail project inside Jamaica’s ecological gem, the Cockpit Country, despite the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The project will allow our visitors to see more of the landscape of the Cockpit Country,” explained STEA Executive Director Hugh Dixon of the project, which is funded through the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ).

“They will be able to see the freshwater system and how it emerges and sinks; vegetation change as you go across the landscape; land use in terms of small-scale agriculture production; and the visual, where you get an opportunity to take a ‘360’ of the Cockpit Country. They will also get an understanding of the socio-economic value of an area like this,” he added.

With the global spread of COVID-19, there are currently no overseas visitors to the Cockpit Country, which is home to a variety of Jamaica’s endemic plant and animal species, and is a significant source of the island’s freshwater resources. However, Dixon is hopeful for life after COVID-19, even as they manage project delays.

“COVID-19 has come and there are clearly some delays. We were projecting to finish in six months, and now it is looking like nine,” he said, adding that he and his team, who work virtually, were committed to getting it done.

“It is a two-mile trail to showcase the Cockpit Country across the landscape (adding to the existing trail of) about 10 miles,” Dixon noted.

The challenges for the Cockpit Country project are similar to those being experienced by some other projects for which funding is administered by the EFJ and which have been noted by the entity’s chief executive officer, Barrington Lewis.

They include the requirement for physical distancing and the wearing of masks, which negate, for example, a construction team coming together to work on a physical trail.

“Disbursement (of financial resources) is also a little slower. That has held us up somewhat,” he said, noting that they had so far spent some $3 million of the budgeted $4.5 million for the project.

The sum has covered not only the identification of the pathway and the features to be highlighted, but also the preparation of the walking surface. They have also trained 20 individuals to serve as guides and hosts, once the trail is completed.

On the next steps, the STEA boss said: “We are looking at facilities for our guests, notably the rest points, together with a little bit of marketing”.

Meanwhile, Dixon and his team are committed to surviving COVID-19, which has infected more than four million people and killed over 280,000 worldwide.

“One argument out there is that the only value of this ‘bush’ (the Cockpit Country) is to mine it out. But we say no, there are artefacts, there are historic sites, the landscape, the ecology, things that have been part of our tour, things that visitors to the area would have an interest in,” Dixon said.