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Setting the record straight: Goat Islands and the mangroves of PBPA update

Tuesday, January 28, 2014    

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WE write in response to a Gleaner article published on January 20, 2014 with the headline 'Researcher says Goat Islands already being destroyed'. With due respect for Dr Lyew-Ayee's reputation as an expert in Geographical Information Systems (GIS), our UWI colleague has strayed far from his research area. We, as researchers who have been active in the Goat Islands/Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) for two decades, wish to correct some of the inaccuracies in Dr Paris Lyew-Ayee Jr's statements.

The argument that the mangroves in the Goat Islands area are "already being destroyed", and that "development could actually improve the ecological system" are not true. The Goat Islands and surrounding PBPA wetlands support the largest and healthiest mangrove forest on the island -- a conclusion not lost on the international conservation community, including the folks who got the area declared a Ramsar Wetland (of international importance). To suggest otherwise is to ignore the facts.

As to scientific research, we are currently assessing the spatial extent of the inland and coastal forests found in and around the Goat Islands and the Hellshire Hills, focusing on the area likely to be impacted by the proposed development. Based on the analysis of remotely sensed images from 1941 to the present, we have found that the size and extent of the mangal patches close to the Goat Islands increased after the US naval base on Little Goat Island was abandoned in the late 1940s, and have been relatively stable since the 1960s.

The argument of development improving the ecosystem is reckless speculation, unsupported by any data. Suggesting that a man-made structure will fare better than ecosystems that have evolved over millions of years is pure folly, and recent history supplies numerous case studies. For example, we are reminded of the astonishing failure of man-made structures in the case of Hurricane Katrina. Hurricane Sandy and Super Typhoon Haiyan also well illustrated the fallacy of "taming" mother nature in the face of increasing frequency and intensity of natural disasters due to climate change.

We urge Dr Lyew-Ayee to exercise caution when scolding environmentalists. And in the spirit of research, we also urge Dr Lyew-Ayee to review the available literature on the PBPA, and on the importance of the mangrove forests and other natural resources contained within it. Also a cursory Google search reveals a wealth of publications and reports attesting to the high quality and biological value of the mangroves that Dr Lyew-Ayee dismisses as being damaged. Similarly, there is a long record of published papers, technical reports, and media reports that have called attention to threats such as deforestation and dynamiting.

Last, we wish to clarify a glaring misrepresentation of the views of those accused of being anti-hub. The environmental lobby has gone on record as being broadly in favour of the logistics hub; but not in favour of the Goat Islands/PBPA as a location for a trans-shipment port. The latter is but one component of the former, but the propagandists have clouded the issue and cast those opposing the Goat Islands port as neo-luddites opposed to the overall logistics hub concept. Such backhanded obfuscation is not accidental. And it is unfair to continue keeping the public in the dark about a plan so critical to the nation, yet hitherto cloaked in such secrecy and propaganda.

This piece is co-authored by:

Dr Byron Wilson, professor of conservation biology

Dr Kurt McLaren, lecturer in forest ecology

Department of Life Sciences

University of the West Indies, Mona

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