We must protect our wetlands
A section of the Palisadoes-Port Royal wetlands which is numbered the three wetlands of international importance in Jamaica.

Plain, simple lack of knowledge is among the main reasons for environmental degradation; not just in Jamaica, but everywhere.

For example, many people who look at a wetland forest do not recognise a crucial element of the ecosystem which supports life as we know it. All they see is “pure bush”.

That’s why the initiative by employees of Sandals Resorts International (SRI), in partnership with The University of the West Indies (UWI), to plant mangrove seedlings in the Salt Marsh wetland, Trelawny, is of especial importance, in our view.

Obviously, from the perspective of those with knowledge of environmental matters, there is immediate benefit in striving to replenish mangrove forests.

Hence the comment from Mr Gavin Palmer, SRI’s corporate manager for environment, health and safety, that: “Mangroves are very important; they help to sustain coral reefs, stabilise shorelines, remove pollutants, improve water quality, and provide nursery habitat for marine life.”

Even more crucially, it seems to us, is the benefit to be gained from the power of example.

Many people seeing the mangrove planting project will be asking questions. Why, some are likely to ask, are those people planting ‘bush’ in the morass?

Therein is the opportunity to explain to the uninformed the value of wetlands. In addition to protecting beaches and coastlines from erosive degradation, as well as the other pluses named by Mr Palmer, environmental experts say mangrove and swamp forests act as a natural sponge. In simple language, because they soak up excess water, wetlands minimise flooding in neighbouring low-lying areas.

As explained by Mr Palmer, since “not many persons are aware” of the benefits from maintaining and nurturing wetlands such as Salt Marsh in Trelawny, the planting of mangrove seedlings “serves as a sensitisation session” for everyone.

And, Sandals Foundation Environmental Coordinator Mr George Lumley says the “focus is to educate communities” about “effective conservation practices” and of the need to “establish sanctuaries that will benefit generations to come”.

For hotel chains like Sandals, the mangrove planting project is enlightened self-interest.

We are told that “the project will engage communities to reduce mangrove forest loss with the development of conservation plans, proper solid waste management and recycling, along with the promotion of eco-tourism”.

Indeed, eco-tourism is an important niche in the global visitor and travel industry which, prior to the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic in 2020, was said to be worth close to US$5 trillion annually.

Beyond all that, the overriding need to properly maintain and nurture wetlands is dramatically and immediately illustrated by marsh fires which have negatively affected Negril from time to time, including earlier this month.

We are told that those environmental problems had their genesis in the founding of Negril as a tourism haven with the draining of the wetlands there in the late 1950s.

Recognition of that problem has led to a US$13-million project aimed at rewetting the Negril Great Morass.

If only there had been greater environmental vision during the laudable development of Negril 60-odd years ago.

But that’s water under the bridge. Going forward, environmental protection, as illustrated by the mangrove planting project at Salt Marsh, must be the way to go for everyone.

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