Media shown just a little piece of Goat Island

BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor-features thompsonk@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

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MEMBERS of the media and staff of various government agencies were in for a double dose of disappointment on Sunday when they visited Little Goat Island as guests of the Logistics Hub Task Force sub-committee on education and training.

Apart from the fact that the promised yacht — which saw some people showing up dressed in swimwear and accompanying flip flops — turned into a row of 20 fishing boats, the expectation of a paradise teeming with exotic wildlife was met only with "bush, macka and concrete".

"Coming in I thought it was interesting to go and see for ourselves, [but] I was a bit disappointed because I didn't see any goats; I didn't see any creatures at all. I saw a lot of bush and a lot of concrete and I was made to understand that it was once an airstrip. It was good learning more about the actual place, but it would've been nice to have had maybe the environmental protection agencies here to get their perspective, because basically what we got was one perspective," said Nicola Cunningham of Caribbean lifestyle magazine BUZZZ.

"But at least I able to see the place for myself and hear what the plans for the logistics hub are," she added.

"It was really, really good to have this first-hand experience," Andrew Hancel of the Institute of Sports told the Jamaica Observer.

"It was an eye-opening experience for me. We now know what Goat Island is really like. We now know that it is a fact that development had taken place before and also a lot of what is being talked about that needs to be protected is really non-existent."

Tannisha Scarlett of the Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica was of a similar opinion.

"I didn't see anything based on what I expected. My thoughts going in was that there is a protected area or a pristine reserve of some kind that wouldn't have been touched but I didn't see any lizards, any iguanas, any birds, nothing."

What she did see, Scarlett continued, was evidence of prior development of the area which, to her mind, meant development related to the planned logistics hub was not unwarranted or far-fetched.

The three spoke with the Observer after walking part of a concrete trail on a section of Little Goat Island — which together with Great Goat Island spans some 900 acres. The trail opened up after hopping across a deep trench in the concrete and walking across an open area a few metres from shore. The unguided walk took them about 20 minutes through thickets of prickly foliage, and over and under tree branches. There were some birds to be heard, a lizard or two, and huge duck ants nests.

An hour earlier, the fishing boats pulled up on a beach thick with seagrass, a variety of seaweed and littered with pebbles and broken shells. There were warnings to be careful about where one stepped as spiny sea urchin were camouflaged in the seagrass.

Their comments might have meant "game, set, match" for the education and training sub-committee, whose head, Dr Fritz Pinnock, told the Observer the purpose of the trip was for members of the media to see for themselves that there aren't any scores of iguana on the island.

"It's for you to come and see for yourselves; to experience and assess for yourselves. If you haven't seen something how can you speak about it?" he reasoned.

But noting the limited area they were allowed to view and the limited time allotted for it, some participants questioned why Little Goat Island, as opposed to Great Goat Island, was selected and why that part of the smaller island was chosen for an unguided foray.

In response to that, Pinnock said it was primarily a matter of logistics.

"It's a matter of access. I've been to Great Goat Island before and what you're going to see is an amplification of the bush. There's a lot of desert-type cactus and 'macka'. It's really treacherous terrain so we couldn't take people over there without being properly prepared. And, in fact, Little Goat Island is where most of the development will start," he told the newspaper, Sunday.

"This is just a start, a first look, and you can take it from here," he added.

The planned logistics hub has been a vexed issue between Government and scientists and environmental groups since environment minister, Robert Pickersgill told representatives of China Harbour Engineering Company in Beijing last year that the company's request to build a port on Goat Islands was being considered. The primary concern for those who oppose the move is that, as part of the Portland Bight Protected Area, which was so designated by legal instruments in the 1990s, Goat Islands should be precluded from such massive infrastructural change.

The concerns also include government's perceived secrecy on the subject, as well as the plan for the Chinese to build a coal-fired plant to power the operations on the island.

"What would now be good is for the environmental groups to take us on a tour to show us their side; because we only saw one side
of things," said TVJ's Nicarno Williams.

Others posited that they have always been in support of the logistics hub proposal and that Sunday's trip probably bolstered their position.

Then there were those, like Hancel, who felt both ends could be achieved.

"I am all for development. I am for environment as well. We need to protect both as best as possible so, ultimately it is about striking that delicate balance. Hopefully they do find it, because if we don't, not just Old Harbour Bay, but the entire Jamaica is going to suffer," Hancel added.

Word from the Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce was that the trip was to provide journalists a framework from which to base stories on the subject.

"This is a continuation of what we've been doing," Pinnock said explaining that similar trips have been undertaken as part of his mandate to educate and train people about the proposed logistics hub.

  

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