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LETTER OF THE DAY - Allow go-ahead for Portland biosphere reserve application

Published:Monday | March 24, 2014 | 3:00 AM

THE EDITOR, Sir:

Below is an open letter to Robert Pickersgill, minister of land, water, environment and climate change.

Dear Mr Pickersgill,

We urge you to reconsider your position on Jamaica's application to UNESCO for biosphere reserve status for the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA). In December 2013, just one month after submitting the application to UNESCO, your office requested a deferral of the application on the basis of a need to revisit the zoning of the area.

Minister Pickersgill, you are aware that the preparation of the biosphere reserve application took more than 15 years of work by Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation and its partners, including the Government of Jamaica (GOJ), and you signed the application on behalf of the GOJ.

As participants in this process, minister, you and your staff should have been aware of the benefits of biosphere reserves to Jamaica. The emphasis on sustainable development within a biosphere reserve provides economic benefits directly to the poorest of the nation.

The establishment of research facilities, opportunities for nature and heritage tourism, support for new small/medium businesses, sustainable agriculture and other activities associated with a biosphere reserve are more conducive to sustainable economic growth than would be a trans-shipment port in the Portland Bight.

DESTROYING THE BUFFER

As minister of climate change, you must know that development of a major port in the PBPA will greatly impact the vulnerability of the area to major storms, which primarily come in from the south-southeast towards Jamaica. The Goat Islands, coral reefs and the mangrove forests of the PBPA act as a buffer for storms and tidal surges. Maintaining the natural ecosystems of the Portland Bight is necessary not only for protecting infrastructure, but, more importantly, for saving lives. Given the increased urbanisation that would occur in the PBPA as a result of situating a trans-shipment port in the Portland Bight, the loss of natural shoreline protection would mean a greater risk to residents as well as infrastructure.

Minister Pickersgill, the impacts of climate change are inevitable. Shouldn't your ministry be trying to reduce them rather than increase them?

We, therefore, request that you allow the application for biosphere reserve status for the PBPA to go forward as before, in the best interests of the people of Jamaica, especially those whose livelihoods and safety will be at stake.

Steven G. Smith

Campaign organiser for Petition/Facebook

No to port on Goat Islands/PBPA Jamaica

Jamaica Environment Trust

steven1011@msn.com