Across Jamaica, the call is to balance the concerns for environmental conservation and economic development. I find this choice of words unfortunate, for what I think people mean is some sort of compromise between the two - meeting each other halfway. In other words, you protect some ecosystems and mash up others.
The trouble is that this sort of 'balancing' always involves mashing up something. And over time, everything will get mashed up. It seems to me that once we agree to 'balancing', we head in the direction of environmental destruction; for what you protect today (to balance what you mash up) will come under the 'development' hammer tomorrow, itself to be mashed up.
The concept of sustainable development - which is official Jamaican government policy - is quite different. It means that no development should take place which will damage the natural environment. Herein is the only 'balance' that makes sense: we must have economic development AND environmental conservation at the same time! Any other approach will be unsustainable and unbalanced - eroding our natural environment in stages, until it all will be gone!
Declaring environmentally protected areas is drawing a red line in the sand, beyond which we will not cross. If anything is to be mashed up, at least the natural resources within the boundaries of protected areas will be saved from unsustainable development.
When, in 1999, Portland Bight was about to be protected under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act, we proposed that it be named the Portland Bight Sustainable Development Area, indicating a commitment that only sustainable economic development would be allowed within its boundaries. The NRCA objected, on the grounds that it was its mandate to ensure that only sustainable development should take place across ALL Jamaica, and that calling one part of Jamaica a 'Sustainable Development Area' would give the wrong impression: that development inside would be sustainable, and development outside would be unsustainable. In the end, the name Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) was bestowed by the Government.
The fact that unsustainable development is now being contemplated by the Government inside the PBPA is a big backtrack by the People's National Party Government which created the PBPA in the first place by Cabinet decision.
Minister Bobby Pickersgill, who first broke the news that the Goat Islands were being seriously considered for the logistics hub, was part of the Cabinet that decided to protect Portland Bight. He who, as minister of the environment, is supposed to be Jamaica's environmentalist-in-chief, announced in China that he knew he would get a fight from environmentalists. He was right about that!
Other members of that Portland Bight-protecting Cabinet were Omar Davies and Portia Simpson Miller, now advocating its destruction. I personally have guided Cabinet ministers Phillip Paulwell, Easton Douglas and John Junor on boat tours of Portland Bight around the time of its creation, and I challenge these honourable men and women to claim that they knew not what they were doing when they declared it into existence.
This was supposed to be the balance. Creating the Portland Bight Protected Area was supposed to balance the unsustainable mining and the unsustainable agriculture, and the unsustainable tourism taking place elsewhere in Jamaica.
If Portland Bight is dredged into destruction, and the mangrove wetlands of Galleon Harbour and the Goat Islands are to be exchanged for a logistics hub, what is going to balance that? And that will leave the unsustainable mining and the unsustainable agriculture, and the unsustainable tourism unbalanced. The whole idea of destroying Portland Bight is unbalanced and will cause Jamaica to further fall over into sustained degradation.
The Jamaican Government seems intent on crossing the red line in the sand that it drew 15 years ago. The designations 'protected' and 'sanctuary' mean nothing; nothing is really protected and no wildlife is really safe. The Government is prepared to pour down the drain the hundreds of millions of dollars spent over the years on conserving Jamaica's wildlife and natural places. This is going to send a negative message to local and foreign donors who fund conservation activities in Jamaica.
I want to encourage the Government to adhere to its own policy of sustainable development and to respect the protected areas, fish sanctuaries, game sanctuaries, and Ramsar sites it has created. Please: Regain your balance, and stay behind the red line which you drew for yourself and for others.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and natural resource manager. Email feedback to email@example.com.