Beyond the Goat Islands hype
Danielle Andrade, Guest Columnist
The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) wishes to clarify statements made recently in The Gleaner and the Jamaica Observer following a boat tour arranged by the Caribbean Maritime Institute on Sunday, June 8.
We note from articles published in both newspapers that the tour was limited to a visit to Little Goat Island and did not include Great Goat Island. It is well known that Little Goat Island, some 300 acres in size, was the site of a US naval base. Great Goat Island, however, is about twice the size of Little Goat Island, standing at approximately 600 acres and 100m in height. It is the largest island in the Portland Bight Protected Area and has never been developed.
The waters surrounding Goat Islands are home to several endangered and protected species, including the American crocodile, the West Indian manatee and sea turtles.
Environmental groups have never stated or implied that goats or iguanas currently live at Goat Islands. The critically endangered Jamaican iguana inhabited Great Goat Island until the 1940s, when it was thought that they became extinct. A small surviving iguana population was discovered in the 1990s in the nearby Hellshire Hills in the same Portland Bight Protected Area.
Great Goat Island was designated as a proposed special conservation area for the relocation of the iguana. The island was seen as ideal because of its remote location, which would protect these animals from predators. Local and international scientists, in collaboration with the University of the West Indies, the National Environment and Planning Agency, and the Urban Development Corporation, have been working towards this goal for the last 10 years with substantial national and international funding. In fact, it was through this collaboration that the goats who used to roam the island were removed a few years ago.
For the last 10 years, a few environmental groups such as the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM) and the Jamaican Iguana Recovery Group have been working to establish ecotourism attractions, conservation, and regenerate Jamaica's depleted fish stocks in this area.
Little Goat Island was earmarked for development as a visitor and interpretation centre for the entire Portland Bight Protected Area, attracting hundreds of nature lovers and ecotourists and providing substantial job opportunities for Jamaicans through transportation, guided tours and restaurants. Galleon Harbour, one of Jamaica's 14 fish sanctuaries declared in 2010, encompasses the mangroves that form part of the Goat Islands. C-CAM has established a fisheries management programme to ensure that the fish sanctuary will lead to greater fish stocks for the fishermen in the area.
OBJECT TO LOCATION
JET supports the establishment of a logistics hub and trans-shipment port in Jamaica. However, we question why the Government has decided that the best location would be at Goat Islands, given its protected status and designation for other uses.
We support the creation of a trans-shipment port in Kingston Harbour, which is currently under expansion. We also support the call for more information to be provided to the public, in particular, about the exact scope, details and arrangements for the port and logistics hub, the type of jobs to be provided, and how many of these jobs will go to Jamaicans.
The stated benefits of the port - the US$1.5 billion in investment and 10,000 jobs - can still be obtained if the port is built in another location. More information is needed in order to further public debate on this issue and to evaluate suitable alternative locations and the purported benefits of the logistics hub to Jamaicans.