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Gov't taking steps to establish Goat Islands as wildlife sanctuary

Monday, February 24, 2020

Goat Islands, the proposed site for the reintroduction of the Jamaican iguana, are also being eyed as a sanctuary and possible ecotourism location.

The Government has committed over $1 billion to establish the islands as a wildlife sanctuary. Additionally, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the Urban Development Corporation (UDC) and National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), in December 2018, to manage the Great Goat Island as a safe haven for wildlife, including endemic and endangered species. One such species is the Jamaican iguana, which is classified as critically endangered.

“For years we have wanted to make Great Goat Island a sanctuary for the Jamaican iguana, and we are finally making some headway into doing that. Our efforts in conservation with the Jamaican iguana is really to be able to step back and have them living in perpetuity without our intervention,” environmental coordinator for fauna in NEPA's Ecosystems Management Branch, Ricardo Miller told JIS News last week.

The Jamaican iguana was initially presumed extinct, but when a small population was rediscovered in the 1990s, fervent multi-agency efforts to conserve and increase the population were undertaken. These efforts included semi-captive breeding of the iguanas and the removal of hatchlings from nest sites for reintroduction into the wild after they had grown to a formidable size. These approaches have been showing signs of increasing success.

“After the first three years of collecting all the hatchlings at the nest sites, we slowly started stepping back and collecting only a percentage. The goal is to reach zero per cent collection where they [the iguanas] are living on their own,” explained Miller.

An isolated location such as Great Goat Island is believed to be one of the best places to get the species thriving with little to no human intervention, and as such the UDC and NEPA are working to restore the habitat.

“The idea is to go in and remove all the exotic predators. We will have to remove all the goats because they are eating down the vegetation, which is what the iguana would want to feed on; remove the mongoose, all the rats and cats and then start a programme of introducing iguanas there. The team will also have to ensure that there are nest sites available and see, over time, that they [the iguanas] are nesting and producing hatchlings and are able to survive without us intervening in predator control,” he said.

Both entities will see to the prevention of predators reintroducing themselves to the site and the regulation of human traffic to the island. The island can then be used as an ecotourism site.

“This has worked in other jurisdictions around the world in places like New Zealand and the Galapagos Islands and other places where they have strengthened species on small islands. We want to do something like that in Jamaica and the Goat Islands are perfect,” Miller stressed.

The Goat Islands are cays off the south coat of Jamaica and fall within the boundaries of the Portland Bight Protected Area and Amity Hall Game Reserve in St Catherine. The islands were once home to several endemic species but for many years have been dominated by wild goats and introduced predators like the mongoose.

— JIS



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