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Stakeholders aim to preserve the Portland Bight Protected Area

Published:Saturday | May 19, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Iguanas live in the Portland Bight protected area.

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

MAY PEN, Clarendon:INGRID PARCHMENT, executive director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation, is hopeful that soon there will be a proper management structure in place to guide the process of conservation and sustainable development within the Portland Bight Protected Area. This follows a recent stakeholders' meeting which agreed on a final draft management plan which is now being circulated for review and ratification.

This document will then be sent to the Urban Development Corporation, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Fisheries and Forestry departments with the agriculture ministry, seeking their support in facilitating a multi-agency/sector collaboration on managing the area.

Portland Bight, a terrestrial and marine-protected area comprising dry limestone forests, wetlands, game reserves and fish sanctuaries, covers 724 square miles of land and sea from the Hellshire Hills in St Catherine to Rocky Point, Clarendon. Rich in natural areas and wildlife, including some endemic species of birds, mammals and reptiles, the area contains mangroves which are at risk of destruction from housing development and income-generating activities such as charcoal burning.

pressing need

Striking a balance between the need for people to earn a living and preserving the ecosystem is a most pressing need in the area which is under serious threat from development.

"When I came to Portland Bight in 1997, people were taking out coal on donkeys; now, they are using flatbed trailers," Parchment told a recent meeting at the Hotel Versalles in May Pen, Clarendon.

A five-year agreement under which NEPA gave C-CAM authority for managing the physical environment to ensure conservation, protection and sustainable use of its natural resources expired in 2008. The new management plan is intended to provide the legal framework for ongoing, effective and practical governance of the area.

This will include a massive public awareness campaign to get people living and working within the area to appreciate its immense value beyond the immediate economic returns from activities such as farming, fishing, charcoal burning and hunting. It will also be important in getting people to buy into the need for community monitoring and policing.

Old Harbour Bay and Rocky Point, two of Jamaica's largest fishing villages, fall with the protected area, with the Hellshire Hills being the last known habitat of the Jamaican iguana. Two endemic reptiles - a thunder snake and the Blue-tailed Galliwasp and an endemic frog are found only on Portland Ridge, which also provides refuge for the coney, Jamaica's only endemic terrestrial mammal.

For C-CAM, getting the word out about this to people who live and work within the protected area is a priority.

Parchment explains: "We are looking at threats to the various species, especially from everyday human activities and we must work with these people in arriving at the correct management activities. Already some are expressing an interest in nature and heritage tourism and we are looking at how they, as well as others, can be involved in the implementation of the management strategies once we have agreed on the way forward."