AMONG the more intriguing aspects of the ongoing Goat Islands debate is how little was known — until now — by the great majority of Jamaicans about the Portland Bight area just off the coast of St Catherine and Clarendon. Conservationists are describing it as an important "breeding ground for every kind of seafood", and crucial for the protection of the shoreline, and points inland, from natural disasters.
Apparently — if members of our Observer team which visited the area over recent days are to be believed — the islets of Portland Bight are also a fascinating location for nature lovers and those with an itch for secluded places. It reminds us of how much of Jamaica very few of us know.
Many of us make the trip now and again to Negril; we take in the sights in Ocho Rios and its environs, including Dunn's River, and we may even take the drive to astoundingly beautiful Portland. But how many of us have ever walked the trails of the Blue Mountains or the Cockpit Country; watched the sun rise from the eastern slopes of the Blue Mountains or watched its descent to the sea from the southern heights of the Santa Cruz Mountains?
Yet we delight in the costly annual trek to the great cities of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom — often sitting around in stuffy apartments watching television, while our hosts are off to work.
Part of the problem, of course, is a seemingly chronic inadequacy of entrepreneurship targeting the local leisure and vacations market.
Most of us only think of tourists in terms of overseas visitors who provide the bulk of our more than US $2 billion (gross) vacations sector. We all too often fail to realise that the Jamaican visitor to Port Royal or Spanish Town hoping to see the historic sites; or Negril to laze on the beach, are also tourists. They should be treated and catered for in much the same way as visitors from abroad.
That brings us back to entrepreneurship. For surely there is a market demand for the provision of safe and environmentally friendly passage for Jamaicans wishing to enjoy — if only for a few hours — the simple pleasures of places like Goat Islands. We say this, always bearing in mind the dangers posed to flora and fauna, natural habitats and the wider environment by careless management and implementation of such business ventures.
These are the sentiments which drive environmentalists, as in the current controversy over Goat Island. Yet, we believe that it's possible to achieve both economic development and environmental preservation. The two are by no means mutually exclusive.
Regardless of what happens, in the particular instance of Goat Island and the wider Portland Bight, we would argue that there are huge opportunities for responsible and creative investors to help Jamaicans seek and experience far more of their own country, than is now the case.
In such circumstances, we suspect, our environmentalists would find a much more receptive and sympathetic audience than is now the case, if they see to balance our development needs with their mission in defence of protected areas such as Portland Bight.