Portland Bight is 15!

Portland Bight is 15!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

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The much-talked about Portland Bight marked its 15th anniversary as a declared protected area yesterday, observed globally as Earth Day.

But this could be its last year with protected status, given Government's intention to transform the largely undisturbed Goat Islands into a large industrial site to facilitate trans-shipment. Other areas within Portland Bight are also earmarked for the logistics hub project.

That the country's largest protected area could cease to exist has not escaped conservationists the world over and several organisations, including the Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Iguana Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund, have petitioned the Government to relocate the site.

On the home front, organisations such as Coastal Area Management Foundation and Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) have been at the forefront of the lobby.

In the latest of those moves, JET announced yesterday that it has applied to the Supreme Court for a judicial review of the Certificate of Exemption issued by the Minister of Finance and Planning effectively barring the NGO from accessing requested information on the Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Jamaica and China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the Chinese contractor which will be building the planned Goat Islands port.

"We believe the minister erred in granting the Certificate of Exemption, and we are concerned that this act strikes at the letter and spirit of the Access to Information Act," JET's Legal Director Danielle Andrade said in a statement yesterday.

The organisation explained that it requested the documents from the Port Authority of Jamaica in October 2013, and that access was denied in November 2013.

"JET then filed an appeal to the Appeals Tribunal of the Access to Information Act and was awaiting a hearing date when the organisation received notice that the minister of finance and planning had granted the Certificate of Exemption," it told the media.

"We regard openness and transparency as a critical foundation of good environmental stewardship," said JET CEO Diana McCaulay. "Natural resources, especially those in protected areas, belong to the people of Jamaica, and projects which are very likely to harm those resources should be subject to thorough and early public consultation and disclosure of important documents."

Portland Bight Protected Area spans 1,876 sq km of land and sea on Jamaica's south coast and is the island's largest protected area. It features dry limestone forests, wetlands, coral reefs, beaches, mangrove forests, seagrass beds, coral reefs and caves, and boasts some 400 plant species and about 20 animal species, several of which are found nowhere else in the world.

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