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Environmental protection trust restores Negril’s coral reefs

Published:Saturday | March 16, 2019 | 12:15 AM

The Negril area Environmental Protection Trust (NEPT) has been playing an integral role in shaping sustainable solutions for the conservation and protection of marine ecosystems in western Jamaica.

The 25-year-old organisation recently embarked on a major restoration project of Negril’s coral reefs by establishing a coral nursery in the Orange Bay Special Fishery Conservation Area in Hanover.

The nursery currently has approximately 1,200 pieces of different species of coral that were set up by the core team, which consists of six members, along with a crew of volunteers from the community and its environs in January.

When matured, the corals will be ‘out-planted’ off the coast of Orange Bay, among other areas that fall under NEPT’s domain, in order to restore damaged reefs to a healthy state and boost fish sanctuaries.

“The nursery is set up, and the corals have started growing, and they will help to restore degrading areas and provide additional benefits, like increased fish population,” said Executive Director of the NEPT, Keisha Spence.

She explained that over the years, the reefs in Orange Bay and Negril, by extension, have been experiencing continued levels of degradation due to external forces such as behaviours exhibited by unruly fishermen and businesses situated along the coast.

Spence hopes that the efforts of the NEPT, through support from the Environment Foundation of Jamaica, will mitigate this while the pro-environment organisation ramps up its community-awareness initiatives.

“It is one of the largest efforts in western Jamaica as it relates to coral restoration, but I believe as we continue to expand on that, it is going to be the largest. We first got $5 million from the Environment Foundation of Jamaica to establish the coral nursery that would allow us to out-plant 1,200 corals within a year and also to establish three offshore fishing aggregating devices,” she added.

The NEPT utilises an underwater drone for surveillance and documentary record of the coral nursery.

“Also, as a protected area, one of the rules is that there is no fishing allowed unless there is special permission. So that is the primary challenge we have. Some persons are converted, because fish sanctuaries do work, and they have seen the benefits, but you have some persons who feel they are displaced and so do fishing in these no-fishing zones,” Spence said.

The NEPT is further supported by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, which signed a memorandum of understanding with the organisation a few years ago to preserve the 535.51-hectare Special Fishery Conservation Area, which is one of more than 12 declared sanctuaries in Jamaica.

“NEPT has been managing the Special Fishery Conservation Area since 2011, [which] has been one of the major tasks that we have. We are not only helping to have a core group of fishermen understand the importance and recognise its benefits, but also bringing resources. We’ve recently had donations of farming implements from Food For the Poor to support at least eight fishermen who also do farming as an alternative livelihood,” Spence outlined.

The Orange Bay Special Fishery Conservation Area has a dense population of mangroves and seagrass, as well as small communities of staghorn and elkhorn corals, which are home to various marine wildlife, including sea cucumbers, stingrays and more.

The NEPT hosts local events to spread awareness and facilitates school visits of the area. It was even able to develop an environmental programme for 17 schools in western Jamaica, engaging more than 250 individuals.

A fisherman of the Orange Bay Fishing Village, Jonathan Cox, who volunteers his time on many of the organisation’s marine efforts, cited the benefits of the Special Fishery Conservation Area, such as a steady increase of the fish population.

Cox called for more support for the NEPT in its effort to restore the coral reefs. “These people are trying to build back the reef, so they need support because we can’t do it alone,” he said.