Environment

Zoologist critical of NEPA

... Says agency helping to destroy the environment

BY LUKE DOUGLAS Environment Watch senior reporter douglasl@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, August 29, 2012    

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SENIOR lecturer at the University of the West Indies Dr Byron Wilson has lashed the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), saying it is helping to destroy the environment rather than protect it.

As such, Wilson, whose work involves the protection of many of Jamaica's indigenous animal species, such as lizards and coneys, has said that there is need for a stand-alone Ministry of Environment to protect Jamaica's biodiversity and uphold the country's environmental laws.

"What we have in Jamaica is a lot of paper parks. In fact, we don't have any parks that are protected. There is no place in Jamaica where a tree is safe," he said.

"Most of the tree huggers like myself have said we need a stand-alone environmental ministry; not a ministry like NEPA whose primary mandate seems to be issuing permits to tear down the environment. We need an environmental ministry that actually protects the environment and not the interest of investors," Wilson added.

The zoologist made the comments during his address on the topic 'Biodiversity conservation and politics in Jamaica: If only lizards and trees could vote' last Wednesday at the 50-50 Conference staged by the Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel.

Environment Watch was promised a response from the environmental regulatory agency which has often come under attack from players in the environment sector, notably environmentalists. At press time, Chief Executive Officer Peter Knight said a response would be forthcoming in three days.

Meanwhile, the annoyed UWI lecturer has, in the interim, scolded successive governments for what he described as paying lip service to the protection of Jamaica's environment while simultaneously negotiating to develop important areas of biodiversity for tourism, such as Hellshire in St Catherine, Font Hill in St Elizabeth and the Goat Islands off the coast of St Catherine.

Responding to Wilson's comments, former environment minister and now Opposition spokesman on the environment Dr Horace Chang called on the academics to help mainstream environmental issues so that they could be acted upon by policymakers.

"I took over [the environment ministry] for six months and I never heard of the Goat Islands [from academics]. It's something that has to be brought in from time to time," he said.

Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust Diana McCaulay also challenged academics to leave their university ivory towers and get more involved in public efforts to protect the environment.

"You can't stay out of the fray. Those of us who are standing in public meetings trying to get things done, we generally stand there alone, and we don't have people who speak with the knowledge and authority that frankly I don't have, standing with us," she said.

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