THE University of the West Indies (UWI) and the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) have collaborated to establish a Biodiversity Centre at the Port Royal Marine Laboratory.
The centre was officially opened on Tuesday by Dr Ronald Robinson, minister of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade and chairman of the National Council on Ocean and Coastal Zone Management.
The Port Royal Marine Lab and UWI/EFJ Biodiversity Centre houses wet and dry displays of mangrove biodiversity and seagrass and coral reefs which show the inter-relatedness of these coastal systems.
An indoor display with interactive zones and aquarium exhibits is complemented by an outdoor facility with typical dry-limestone cactus and sand dune coastal habitats transitioning into a mangrove tree/forest habitat with flow-through seawater connected by a boardwalk.
An Iguana hut serves as a "half-way" house for head-started (hatched in captivity) baby Iguanas before they are relocated back into the natural environment.
Dr Mona Webber, academic co-ordinator at the lab, noted that the biodiversity centre "complements the work of the UWI Port Royal Marine Lab in coastal and marine research and teaching over five decades".
"The centre will focus the environmental education thrust of the lab as it responds to the university's mandate of serving the Caribbean in the areas of environmental use, management and education," she added.
"In addition to being a resource for UWI researchers and students, the Biodiversity Centre is an eco-tourism destination in itself," Webber said further, while praising the "partnerships" that have "made the UWI's marine and coastal research available to every Jamaican."
In addition to funding from the UWI and EFJ, she said "We have benefitted from the donation of a hatchery to the UWI by the European Economic Community, which is facilitating the presentation of endemic and naturally occurring Jamaican species like the famed seahorses now on display at the Centre".
Species like seahorses are often collected for private aquaria and are in danger of being lost to overfishing, but Webber said that "the hatchery facilities are to be upgraded to culture Jamaican marine species for coastal rehabilitation".
The mangrove forest and sand dune plants on display at the centre are also being grown at the lab in the mangrove nursery which is funded by the Forestry Conservation Fund of Jamaica. The nursery houses more than 7,000 seedlings and is capable of supplying mangrove and sand dune plants for coastal restoration projects.
Webber revealed that the Port Royal Marine Lab and UWI/EFJ Biodiversity Centre had its genesis in the Mangrove Biodiversity Hot Spots project conducted at the lab from 2004 to 2009 with the overall goal of exposing the public to the special plants and animals associated with mangrove areas by producing field guides from existing studies, and conducting new research aimed at identifying, inventorying and presenting biodiversity information.
In addition to producing a seven-volume field guide and its CD-Rom version, posters, research reports and publications, the Hot Spots Project provided detailed documentation of the biodiversity associated with the mangroves used by the National Environmental and Planning Agency in having the area declared a wetland of international importance under the Ramsar Convention in 1995.