THE imposition of a limit on the number of people allowed on the Pedro Cays to fish or do other business has been put forward as one of the ways of solving the public health challenges there.
McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), was speaking to the Jamaica Observer on Wednesday during a visit to Middle Cay, one of the three islands comprising the Pedro Cays.
She said that JET will tomorrow — International Coastal Clean-up Day — help to tackle the problem of the pileup of garbage on the cay, which has resulted in fly and rat infestation.
“A decision has to be taken about the number of people [who access the cays]. No one can build a system [for the disposal of garbage] for a completely unknown number of human beings so that’s where we have to start,” she told the Observer.
The same rule should apply, she said, in dealing with the other challenges being faced by the estimated 400 to 500 inhabitants on the cays, which include the Northeast Cay, also inhabited, and the Southeast Cay where no one resides.
The other challenges include a lack of running water and inadequate toilet facilities, forcing residents to use a designated section of the island as their toilet.
“We have to know the numbers and then we have to consider things like how much rainfall there is, what is the soil type, what is the rock type, where best to site them [incinerators for the burning of garbage] and then get a system designed and see if we can fund it,” McCaulay said.
But she said that to make that happen regulations would be vital. “If the Government is not going to apply any rules to the Pedro Cays, it is going to be very difficult to fix these problems,” the JET boss said.
Her proposal to first come up with a figure for the number of people allowed on the cay has been supported by Commander David Chin Fong of the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast Guard, which has a permanent base on Middle Cay.
“I think we all know what needs to be done; we need to limit, as a start, the number of persons who are on the cay. It’s really between us and the Ministry of Agriculture, specifically the Fisheries Division, and the environmentalists to really come up with a number of fisherfolk and boats that we think can comfortably fish here [and] that will allow the fish stock to grow,” he said.
“And then as the fishing stock grows, then we can look to increasing the numbers over time. But as it is now, we really have to curtail the number of persons operating on the cay,” added Chin Fong.
Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture Donovan Stanberry has himself suggested that the number of people on the cays could be a part of the problem. However, he said that would be a matter for another ministry to deal with.
“Clearly it has carrying capacity [issues]. That is something that the Ministry of Environment and Planning will have to deal with,” he said.
Quizzed as to whether the Fisheries Division could limit the number of licences granted to fishers there, he said no. “When we license fishermen, they are not licensed for particular areas... We license fishermen period. The truth is that fishermen have gone out there and I suspect that some of them are not licensed,” he said.
Further, Stanberry said the ministry itself lacked the capacity to themselves police the cays.
“We do not have the capabilities to go out there... Most of the time when we go out there, we have to go with the JDF, so frankly there is a resource issue as well,” the permanent secretary said.
However, marine police on the island do conduct periodic checks of the licences, in addition to seeing to it that the peace is kept.
But McCaulay, who is today scheduled to meet with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke, has challenged Stanberry’s position, saying that his ministry has a role to play and should, be leading the effort to solve Pedro Cays’ problems.
“Fisheries cannot absolve itself from its responsibility for the Pedro Cays. They issue licences for people to be on the cays; it is up to them to set a limit on numbers and make rules as to what can and cannot be done on the cays,” she said.
Some Pedro Cays fishers have themselves noted the need to regulate the number of people on the cays. The authorities, they say, could start with some of the women — who some inhabitants estimate to number about 150 or so at certain times of the year.
“Right now me would a love all seh the woman dem fi cut and leave the man dem,” said one fisher, adding that there are instances where prostitutes were present on the island.
“We don’t agree because a nuh all the while people here. All right now, a only a few a wi [present],” said Carl Graham, noting that the authorities should focus instead on putting in place the necessary infrastructure to solve their garbage, water and toilet woes.
A management committee has, in the interim, been set up to deal with the issues on the cays, which are of national and regional significance as breeding sites for several species of birds, including the Masked Booby, as well as turtles.
The JDF’s Chin Fong said that it will be up to the management committee to make the necessary changes at the cays.
“I know a number of NGOs [non-governmental organisations], a number of governmental agencies as well as the Ministry of Agriculture and the JDF and JCF [Jamaica Constabulary Force] have been co-opted into the fisheries management committee with the intent to come up with a plan that we can implement that the cays can be managed properly,” he said.
The committee was set up as far back as 2006 when it was referenced in the Pedro Cays Health Assessment report as having stakeholders, including not only the JDF, but also the National Solid Waste Management Authority, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; the Scientific Research Council; the Ministry of Land and Environment, Land Authority; the Ministry of Health, KSA Health Department; and the Nature Conservancy, which, like the JDF Coast Guard, has a permanent base at Middle Cay where it does research.