Regional

Alligator Head to the rescue

Portland foundation preserving marine life through fish sanctuary, sensitisation workshop

BY EVERARD OWEN
Observer writer
editorial@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, July 09, 2018

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A large number of marine mammals, sea turtles, fish and sea birds often become entangled in marine debris —derelict fishing nets, crab pots, packing bands — and suffer injury or death.

The Alligator Head Foundation in east Portland is trying to prevent this. As a result, the organisation last Wednesday hosted scores of students at a sensitisation session, which focused on marine life and the dangers faced as a result of human action.

Chief executive officer of the Alligator Head Foundation, Dr Dayne Buddo, in an interviewtold the Jamaica Observer North & East that the organisation is using art to raise awareness about the pressing issue.

“We wanted to focus on our students and getting them involved from an artistic standpoint. When people love what they see, they find creative ways of representing it and that's a message we want to get across to the populous. Children are extremely vital to this purpose,” Buddo said.

He explained to Observer North & East that the parrotfish and turtles, especially are under tremendous threat, noting that people often interfere with the eggs of sea turtles, which is unlawful.

“We are now in the sea turtle nesting period in Jamaica and we are approaching the peak of the season and a lot of turtles are coming up to lay their eggs on the beach. So it is a very timely intervention as we want to bring this kind of information and encourage people to leave the sea turtles alone. Let them do what they are naturally here to do: lay their eggs, hatch, and the young ones make their way back to the sea to continue their species,” Buddo stressed.

The foundation has also established six miles of fish sanctuary along the Port Antonio coastline as a means of preventing people from disrupting marine life.

“We have to be telling people, if you are going to be breaching the rules of the sanctuary, which is no fishing and removal of marine life from the sanctuary, and you are caught, you will be booked by the marine police. We have had compliance and the warning heeded to, but there is a small group of fishermen who breach the law and sneak into the sanctuary at nights and take the fish out. It is shooting yourself into your foot as when the fish is taken out of the sanctuary then the population is decreased and there is no fish. The fishermen are the ones who will benefit, but if they don't give them the chance they won't get any fish,” said Buddo, adding that the parrotfish is mostly affected.

He said that the foundation has been producing a number of mangroves from seedlings to plantlings in order to facilitate fish lodging and breeding. At the same time, Buddo noted that the sea turtle and parrotfish populations have declined greatly and said the aim is to preverse that.

“At beaches such as San San, Frenchman's Cove, and Winnifred the turtles come up and lay their eggs so we have to protect them. We have been working with a lot of partners and we have been getting good cooperation so far, but we are still a long way off,” he said.

Meanwhile, Titchfield High School teacher Coleen Shirley, who was present at the session, stated that the workshop was extremely important for several reasons.

“It exposes [students] to the importance of the parrot fish as it concerns making sand and preservation of the beaches. It allows the participants to express themselves creatively as they use the knowledge to create posters not only for themselves, but to educate others around themselves as it concerns parrotfish conservation and sea turtles that are important to our ecosystem. Taking this information back to the school will help the school to understand and have a ripple effect — moving into the homes and communities,” Shirley pointed out.

Francine Cousins, conservation officer at Alligator Head Foundation, said that the workshop is important, especially for the children to learn how to care for the sea.

“It is important for them to learn how to swim. This is one way of getting them to interact with the ocean and to be involved with marine life. I am a diver and I have been swimming from age five and the scuba diving is a blessing to see how the corals are helpful to the lives of the fish as their breeding ground, area for them to hide and provide a protective covering for them. The mangroves also serve this purpose,” she said.

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