Mangrove Restoration project is most commendable
The University of the West Indies' (The UWI) Solutions for Developing Countries (SODECO) chief scientist, Professor Terrence Forrester and minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Matthew Samuda discuss the importance of mangroves, especially during hurricane seasons. (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

The forecast by local scientists that hundreds of people living in Clarendon's southern coastal region could be exposed to a disaster of cataclysmic proportions if the island gets hit by a major weather system this year is frightening.

According to the scientists, who are from The University of the West Indies' (The UWI) Solutions for Developing Countries (SODECO), the possibility of such a disaster has its foundation in the fact that just under a half of the approximately 3,500 hectares of mangroves stretching along the coast between Milk River and Salt River have been destroyed by human activity and intense weather systems.

One such weather system, the scientists told us last Thursday, was Hurricane Ivan, which devastated Portland Cottage and other communities along that coast in 2004.

Our story on this issue in last Friday's Jamaica Observer reports UWI SODECO Programmes Manager Ms Angeli Williams as saying that "a recurrence of Hurricane Ivan can potentially be catastrophic, worse than what we saw in 2004 if we don't do something about these mangroves forest".

Against that background, the UWI SODECO scientists are now engaged in a US$2.5-million Mangrove Restoration project in partnership with Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited, the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, National Environment and Planning Agency, Ministry of National Security, Planning Institute of Jamaica, Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Kingdom Government.

It is a most commendable project aimed at providing healthier mangroves for more fish and shellfish for local consumption, increased coastal protection against hurricanes and storm surges, flood regulation and mitigation and carbon sequestration, which is critical in combating climate change.

Scientists and people who care about our natural environment will tell you that mangroves hold significant value not only in protecting and sustaining the lives and livelihoods of citizens along the coasts but also in real economic terms.

Additionally, more than 220 species of fish live in mangroves which also serve as home to reptiles, amphibians, mammals and birds.

In 2019, a report on Jamaica's mangroves estimated that they provide approximately US$32.7 million in protection to the island's heavily settled coastline areas.

That study, funded by the Programme on Forests through the World Bank, found that without mangroves, the estimated damage from flooding would be US$169 million annually, the State news agency, Jamaica Information Service (JIS), reported.

According to the JIS, "When the protection of approximately US$2.4 billion in assets [people and infrastructure] during storms is factored in, the value of mangroves is more than US$186 million per hectare."

In our story on Friday, SODECO chief scientist Mr Terrence Forrester said it would take a long time to get mangroves back to the levels they were before 2004.

Given the vital role that mangroves play in our existence, it is extremely important that this restoration programme is sustained. Additionally, there is a need for consistent public education on the value of these forests in order to discourage their destruction by people who, we believe, have no idea of their value.

And as we nurture the mangroves back to full health we hope that Mother Nature will spare us her full wrath this hurricane season.

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