BY KIMONE THOMPSON Associate editor features

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

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SHE hasn't had a history of addressing environmental matters at home, but Prime Minister of Jamaica Portia Simpson Miller waxed eloquent on the subject at yesterday's special session to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the International Seabed Authority (ISA).

Addressing the Authority at the Jamaica Conference Centre, Simpson Miller urged stronger protection of the world's oceans and seas, particularly for Small Island Developing States (SIDS), such as Jamaica, where tourism and fishing are major industries.

"A healthy seabed is necessary and especially important for island states such as ours in the Caribbean which depend on the quality of the natural environment and derive much of their economic growth from the use of natural resources.

"In this the International Year of Small Island Developing States, and in anticipation of the Third International Conference to be held in Samoa in September, it is critical that the governance of the oceans and environmental protection be strengthened," Simpson Miller said.

She also commended the Authority for what she described as "its strong focus on environmental protection and conservation of the living non-renewable resources in its area of jurisdiction" and for its recognition of the entire seabed being a "complex living breathing ecosystem that supports life".

"From aqua to deep azure, the ocean's blues hold secrets and rich resources fathoms deep. It has fallen to mankind to protect, preserve and regulate this sacred resource. This is a phenomenal responsibility -- one we in Jamaica take seriously," Simpson Miller said.

Her comments come at a time when Jamaica is contending with a number of environmental issues regarding marine resources, including overfishing, coral reef disintegration, and pollution. Chief among them, however, is her Government's plan to enter an environmentally protected area to build a transshipment port, which will be powered by a coal-fired plant.

The controversial project is to be located on Goat Islands in the Portland Bight Protected Area, well within Jamaica's territorial waters and not on the high seas where the ISA has jurisdiction. Local and international scientists and environmental lobby groups have, however, warned of some potentially negative effects of the project -- decimation of marine resources such as fish stock, coral reefs, and sea grass beds, and dislocation or extinction of endemic and other land-based species.

It has split the nation down the middle, creating a virtual war of 'development versus environment' but neither Simpson Miller nor her minister of environment and climate change has made any comments.

Environmental preservation is increasingly topical at the ISA, particularly as the Authority moves closer towards commercial mining of deep sea minerals such as polymetallic nodules, polymetallic sulphides and cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts.

The organisation is currently conducting a baseline study in respect of the flora and fauna of the deep seabed with a view to ensuring their protection once mining begins, which could be as early as 2016.

"Over the past few years, as word has got around that the ISA has been working on a mining code, the international community has been concerned about the impact of mining on the environment," Secretary General Nii Odunton told yesterday's session, adding that the study will determine what exactly exists and where they are located.

"The component of the environment that would be most affected would be fauna. If we do not begin to ensure that we know where these fauna are to be found and standardise the codes, we will have problems in the future when mining begins," Odunton warned.

To date, the ISA has issued 26 exploration contracts, each of which are valid for a period of 15 years. The earliest ones will expire in 2016, at which point states are expected to apply for exploitation or mining licences.

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