Environmentalist Dr Theresa Rodriques Moodie is questioning whether Prime Minister Andrew Holness's declaration of 15 ecologically sensitive areas (ESAs) across the island that should benefit from enhanced protection will only be safeguarded on paper.
Holness, in highlighting the Government's work to strengthen environmental protection in the country, had announced the declaration during his contribution to the 2023/24 budget debate in Parliament last Thursday.
The areas identified are: Industry Cove, Hanover; Bogue and Montpelier, St James; Winns Morass and Oyster Bay, Trelawny; Bengal, Dunn's River and Fern Gully in St Ann; Holland Bay, St Thomas; Long Mountain, St Andrew; Palisadoes/Port Royal Protected Area Conservation Zones, Kingst0n; Shooter's Hill, Hellshire Hills and Goat Islands in St Catherine; Canoe Valley, Manchester/Clarendon; Great Bay, St Elizabeth; and the Negril Great Morass, Hanover/Westmoreland.
Dr Rodriques Moodie, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), said:
"As far as I understand…[ecologically sensitive is] not a term used currently in law so the questions would be: 'How will these areas be managed? Who will enforce the restrictions that may be permitted in these areas? Some of these areas already have some protective status like Palisadoes Port Royal Protected Area, how will this ESA designation be different?"
"If it's not backed in law — policy or otherwise — it's just a paper designation," she added.
The prime minister had said in his budget presentation that these geographical areas will have restrictions on the types of activities that may be permitted, in order to preserve their hydrological or ecological functions and services.
"Low-impact development, such as ecotourism, may be permitted in these areas but the restricted conditions and approvals from the relevant regulatory authorities must be received," Holness said.
The prime minister, while not stating under which law the ESAs fall or will fall, said the declaration will ensure that Jamaica's ecological assets are protected for generations to come.
"At the core of these and other initiatives is the call for 30 per cent of our land and marine areas to be protected [by 2030]. I am pleased to report that we will exceed that target and we will do it as early as 2025," he said.
Dr Rodriques Moodie also wanted to know how the Pedro Cays and surrounding waters, which Holness also declared as a protected area, would be managed.
"Once you declare a protected area, the area needs to be managed. So yes, having the area protected and certain activities restricted in zones is important — but if the area is not managed and if these restrictions are not properly enforced, it will just be protection on paper," she said.
Holness had assured that designation will not disrupt the livelihood of fishers who reside there, but Government would put in place mechanisms to ensure the natural resources are used more sustainably.
"This policy creates boundaries that will give the fisherfolk of the Pedro Cays a pathway towards sustainability and, ultimately, greater prosperity," he said.