Dropping our guard on the environment not an optionMonday, June 07, 2021
The planting of 20 mangrove saplings on the Palisadoes strip last Friday reminds us of how important it is to keep environmental protection at the forefront of people's minds.
The symbolic activity formed part of National Environmental Awareness Week and also marked the 20th anniversary of the public sector environmental watchdog, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).
In these challenging times, dominated by the novel coronavirus pandemic, it's not easy for Jamaicans to focus on the natural environment, critically important though it is.
That's why opportunities such as last Friday's should be used to educate and build public awareness.
Sadly, it is often difficult for people to make the link between their thoughtless actions and environmental consequences. The message has to be repeated over and over that someone carelessly throwing a plastic bottle in a drain is not only contributing to the potential for blockage and possible flooding, but also, that bottle could end up in wetlands and coastal waters.
An accumulation of such solid waste material stifles mangrove and other plant growth, which routinely nurtures fish and other water-based life. Mangroves and swamp forests also protect beaches and coastlines from erosive degradation and act as natural sponge to minimise flooding in neighbouring low-lying areas during tidal surges and periods of heavy rain.
Likewise, a farmer who slashes and burns a steep hillside pays no heed to the risk of soil erosion and flooding when trees, shrubs and grass are removed from the hillside allowing water to rush unimpeded downhill during and after heavy rain.
We are not suggesting that the 'small man' is the main source of environmental degradation. We need only note the controversies surrounding major coastal developments and mining initiatives, which environmentalists say threaten eco-systems, to know that the opposite is more probably true.
The difference is that the big investors in such projects will often speak proactively and glibly of measures intended to minimise environmental damage. Unfortunately, the popular perception is that such promises are often not kept.
Jamaicans have a right to expect agencies such as NEPA to be hawk-like in ensuring protection of Jamaica's precious eco-systems. However, we know that realistically such agencies require all the help they can get, especially because of the pressures on political leadership to achieve 'development' inclusive of employment and economic growth.
For that reason, environmental activists whose research and lobbying have triggered reversal of decisions considered potentially harmful deserve our applause.
In the latest case, we note the announcement by Mining Minister Mr Robert Montague that the Government has decided not to allow mining in the Dry Harbour Mountains of St Ann and is also altering mining arrangements in the vicinity of the ultra-sensitive Cockpit Country.
We know that these decisions largely flow from the activism by environmentalists over time.
Like others, including the Opposition People's National Party and the Jamaica Environmental Trust, this newspaper awaits further information from the Government, especially in relation to alternative mining arrangements. Dropping our guard in relation to the environment can't be an option.
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