Karrie Williams, Gleaner Writer
Some of Negril's most frequent visitors have complained about the increased prevalence of jet skis in the resort town's coastal areas, many of which, they say, are causing environmental and safety hazards.
According to them, the jet skis are contributing to the destruction of corals reefs because of the engine oil from the machines seeping into the water. They say the problem is further compounded by the conduct of some jet-ski operators, some of whom disregard public safety regulations in a bid to show off their skills.
One tourist who offered a first-hand experience is Dave Etzler, a regular visitor from New York. Etzler says while jet skis are all part of the Negril landscape, better enforcement is necessary to ensure their operations conform with regulations.
"The jet-ski operations in Negril are definitely out of control, and the enforcement of the reasonable rules and regulations is mostly ignored by the operators. Not only are the renters of the equipment not informed of the correct places to ride and the areas that are off limits such as inside the buoys and in the swimming areas, but the employees of the jet-ski companies are almost always in flagrant violation of those regulations," he said.
"I've had the employees ride full speed through the middle of a group of swimmers and grin back at them just to amuse themselves by putting others at risk," Etzler added.
Under the Beach Control (Safety Measures) Regulations of 2006, any person who operates a vessel (including jet skis) exceeding three knots (3.5 miles per hour) within a buffer area commits an offence, and if convicted, could be fined up to $250,000 and/or face a prison term of up to 12 months.
Speaking through a flurry of tears, another visitor from Atlanta told Western Focus that unless something is done swiftly by the environmental bodies, Negril's current bid to save its deteriorating coral reefs will not bear fruit. She gave an account of an instance when while swimming, she witnessed oil spewing into the sea from the engine of a jet ski that was close by. However, when she alerted the operator's attention, he said it was a "minor issue" and nothing for her to worry about.
As far back as 1992, former senior scientific affairs officer at the United Nations Center for Science and Technology for Development and president of the Coral Reef Alliance, Dr Thomas J. Goreau, in a research paper titled 'Negril: Environmental Threats and Recommended Actions', noted that Negril remained subject to hydrocarbon discharges from the high and increasing density of inshore motor-boat traffic.
"Each motor boat or jet ski which leaves a wake behind on the surface also leaves behind a small oil slick and a turbid plume of re-suspended fine-grained bottom sediments. This turbidity probably contributes significantly to the decline in water clarity noted by divers," Goreau, who was also scientific adviser, Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society (NCRPS), at the time, noted.
When contacted, first vice-president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, Damian Salmon, said he was not aware of the situation regarding the oil pollution; however, he was of the view that there needed to be more stringent regulations governing the activities of the jet-ski operators.
"They need to be better regulated. There needs to be a system set up where the jet skis all have numbers on them. Unfortu-nately, the marine police in Negril are very undermanned and have very little infrastructure to be able to police the situation. They don't have enough resources to be able to do their job properly, and I suppose that is a large part of the problem," he said.
In agreeing with the comments made by Salmon, Lenbert Williams, projects director of the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society, said jet-ski operation is one of those critical variables that enhance tourism and so should be better regulated and managed so jobs would not be jeopardised.
"What we need is something like a six-month certificate where people have to come in and get certified to ensure there are no leaks and spilling. We could also get the marine rangers to conduct random inspections from time to time, and NEPA could appoint local NGOs as watchdogs to create awareness among the jet-ski users and operators," he said.