THE Faculty of Science and Sport at the University of Technology (UTech) in collaboration with the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica last Thursday hosted a public forum titled, 'Cockpit Country: Jamaica's Natural Heritage' on its Papine campus.
The purpose, the university said, was to promote discussion and awareness of the importance of Cockpit Country as a natural resource.
Presenters at the forum were Donna Lowe, senior director of Forest Science and Technology Services at the Forestry Department of Jamaica; Dr Susan Koenig, director of Windsor Research Centre in Trelawny; and Dr Andrew Lamm, senior lecturer and head of Research Projects, Centre for Scientific-based Research, Entrepreneurship and Continuing Studies in the faculty of science and sport.
Lowe pointed out that the over 22,000 hectares of forest reserve is the last remaining area of primary wet limestone forest in Jamaica and is known for its rich biodiversity, with over 15,000 vascular plants, 400 of which are endemic to Jamaica. The area, she said, is also home to over 100 species of birds and 214 different species of trees. She noted, too, that Cockpit Country held 14 per cent of the island's carbon dioxide inventory in 2001 and is a major water catchment area because of the high level of rainfall — a vital source for five of Jamaica's major rivers — Martha Brae, Hector's River, Black River, Great River and the Rio Bueno.
The area also sits on the largest remaining deposit of bauxite in the island, which makes it a potential threat to be mined and it also faces other threats such as invasive species and the effects of climate change.
For her part, Dr Koenig described Jamaica and Cockpit Country as biodiversity hotspots. She traced the evolutionary pattern of two new species of land crabs which now call Cockpit Country home. As she explained it, they moved upstream from the sea's salty water to the fresh water of the Martha Brae and adapted over time to the point where they are now the only species that exhibits maternal behaviour.
"Jamaica is special. We already knew that. Cockpit Country is even more special," she said.
Dr Lamm, meanwhile, described the Cockpit Country forest as "more than just bush. It is a forest with a purpose".
He is currently spearheading research on the medicinal value of plants within Cockpit Country. Already, he said, some endemic plants have been shown to have novel compounds with anti-bacterial properties. These could be used to create natural medicines, insecticides, antiseptic agents, pesticides and new food sources.