Wilberne Persaud, Financial Gleaner Columnist
Have you ever seen a Harpy eagle in flight? Unreasonable question perhaps - Jamaica is not part of its habitat.
What about a much smaller raptor like a hawk, or pelicans near Palisadoes or at the Mona Dam? Perchance, did you fasten your jogging shoes this morning with a Velcro strap? Ever wondered why Airbus' and Boeing's largest aircraft wingtips curl upwards?
If you've wondered why and how these animals and machines achieve what they do, then you've confronted the exquisite beauty, simplicity - apparently smothered in complexity - and the awesome power of nature.
Students asked similar questions in a course on economics of technological change explore stuff that stimulates excited facial expressions that exclaim: 'I never realised that'; 'How wonderful'. Eureka moments of revelation.
Eagles and raptors have unique wingtip feathers they can curl upwards, counteracting air turbulence that would reduce the lift their wings provide.
Knowing this, aircraft designers curled the wingtips of large aircraft to reduce wingspan. This reduces weight and avoids having to enlarge all the airports to which they would fly - incalculable economic savings in material, fuel and cash.
The Harpy - endemic to Guyana, Mexico, parts of Central and South America - may achieve wingspans in excess of SIX feet, weigh up to 20 pounds and reach speeds close to 50 mph.
They soar and glide through clearings in the forest canopy in search of prey. They dive after prey taking power from gravity. They conserve energy using air currents.
Pelicans, neither as strong nor as majestic as the Harpy, expend enormous amounts of energy at take-off, creating turbulence with the loud flap of their wings you can hear. They quickly find a 'thermal' - updraft of hot air - and soar with the wind beneath their wings. These birds don't attempt arrogantly, in the way we humans often do, to 'conquer' their natural environment. They work with nature to use its freely available power.
In Switzerland, George de Mestral, returning home from a nature hike, used his microscope to understand how burr - plant seeds with barbed spines - clung so strongly to his trousers and his dog's fur after a mere passing touch.
Actually, this is nature's seed dispersal, part of the plant's reproductive mechanism at work.
De Mestral figured he could replicate this to create something as good as, or better than the zipper as a fastener. Some scoffed at his idea for inventing the unique two-sided fastener - Velcro - which today, is a fantastically useful artifact and multimillion-dollar industry.
Lessons of nature are free, sometimes profitable too.
Why don't we, in evaluating Goat Islands development, learn from the raptors? Consider the enormous cost of animal feeds. Imagine tons of grain cattle and chickens consume annually. Mangroves and natural habitat Goat Islands and the protected area targeted for port and logistics development supply nutrients naturally - at no cost.
As if nature's bounty isn't enough, the ecosystem also provides shelter and breeding grounds for fish and other life forms critical to long-term food security, among other things, of this little rock and its people. The air we breathe is 'free', so pay no attention - tell that to the Chinese in Beijing, who stock up on air filters and face masks.
Studies suggest air pollution in China docks five and a half years from life expectancy. Disrespect for nature surely boomerangs.
In the Jamaica National Report on the Environment and Development presented to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Rio, Brazil 1992, co-authored by your columnist and a colleague, Valerie Gordon, there appears the following: "Offshore fishing constitutes operations beyond the zone of proximal banks (i.e. in excess of 64 km from the mainland). It thus encompasses operations on Jamaica's two largest offshore fishing areas, the Morant and Pedro banks. More than 200 species of coral reef fish are landed and marketed. Of this number, 70 species constitute 90 per cent of all landings, while 23 species comprise more than 80 per cent by weight of fish caught in traps ... Other fishery resources of commercial value include marine shrimp, conch, and lobsters. Approximately seven species of marine shrimp of the family Penaeidae are taken on a small scale from south coast fishing areas."
Goat Islands and the Portland Bight protected area is not merely providing 'a work' for fisherfolk and food for Jamaicans. It's actually part of an ecosystem our scientists have long established, and is a critical element of Jamaica's marine resource and environment.
There's really no inevitable or insurmountable tension and zero-sum outcomes between environment and development. Engineers, architects, economists, artists, scientists studying the physical world, and anyone with a modicum of cultural sensitivity, recognise that tradeoffs embody the reality of human endeavour. People quickly experience the incalculable positive, even if indefinable benefits that green, tranquil open spaces offer in dense urban settings.
The same goes for the vista of beaches and ocean around Jamaica. Fresh exhilarating presence and fragrances of a misty Blue Mountain morning air is unforgettable.
Our subject of investigation is Goat Islands, not island of economically embattled goats. The accumulated knowledge, insightful experience and quality of discourse exhibited in Sunday Gleaner September 8 contributions of Barry Wade, Howard Chin, Jamel D. Banton and Ronald Mason is heartening.
Mason's apparent acceptance of the view that 'reefs are nearly dead so let's administer the lethal euthanasia shot' is on the downside. A bit distressing.
Unrelenting neglected poverty is always and everywhere the enemy of the environment. Poverty though, is ably assisted by known usual suspects: sheer greed aligned with its sidekick corruption, ignorance and the futile, uniquely arrogant human idea of crushing, rather than embracing nature.
Surely, we can find the 'best' location for desperately needed development. At least we must try. History shall condemn our 'leaders' pro tem and our generation if we don't!
The stakes: incalculably, irreversibly high.
Wilberne Persaud, an economist, currently works on impacts of technology change on business and society, including capital solutions for innovative Caribbean SMEs. Email: email@example.com