ORACABESSA, St Mary — More of Jamaica's coastal waters will soon be dedicated to preserving the country's fishing stock. Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Jr made the announcement on Friday.
"We anticipate that in the fiscal year another two per cent of coastal waters will be designated as fish sanctuaries to bring the total up to 17,000 hectares," he said.
He was speaking during a ceremony at James Bond Beach in Oracabessa. The event marked the closing of a reef restoration project done by the Oracabessa Marine Trust, through a US$17,000-grant received from America's Department of State's Bureau of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs.
There are currently 18 fish sanctuaries across the island, 10 of which are being supported by the Government. The agriculture minister said the long-term plan is to provide support for all 18.
"We will be making sure we carry through with our investments to support these valuable projects because we should be bold enough to be supporting every fish sanctuary. It is important for us to build more sanctuaries and educate persons about what sustained fisheries should look like," said Charles Jr.
That level of support, he added, is important for the country's food security.
"From our ministries we will have to do more because we see the marine space as our greatest opportunity. If we don't protect our fisheries we will have to be relying on support from friends and those who are passionate about fisheries and have the infrastructure to get out there and protect the marine space," he said.
"So I want to commend the staff of all our fish sanctuaries for the outstanding job over the years, because they have an impact on our lives. These are people who understand that Jamaica is not only going to grow the economy and protect the environment; we are going to protect our environment to grow our economy," he added.
During the ceremony, Charles also lauded the United States for the role it has played in ensuring Jamaica's reefs are protected.
"I have to extend gratitude to the United States for their donation. I'm pleased with what I'm seeing and I know there is more to be done," he said.
The US$17,000 in funding provided to the OMT was used to support a reef restoration project. It ended September 30. The project was aimed at reducing threats from disease and algae, part of a wider push to strengthen and protect the reef from further damage.
According to Oracabessa Fishing Sanctuary board member Inilek Wilmot, the grant was used on innovative projects such as the creation of metal cages used to elevate the reef from the seabed as a means of protection. They also started to breed sea urchins in tanks on the James Bond beach property and then placed them on the reef. The urchins are said to be the most important herbivores on the reef and will prevent it from erosion.
"We are trying to have more healthy corals and remover stressors so we are happy for this grant and for the fact that it helped us to cut down on the negative impact. The healthier reef we have then we can bounce back from stressors," said Wilmot.
Minster Charles Jr also stressed the importance of caring for the reefs. He explained that the reef restoration project is in sync with the ministry's plans for biodiversity.
"The reef is very important and we have a responsibility to protect and appreciate the importance of coral reef restoration because at some point if we don't care for it, it will end up impacting us negatively," he said.
"This modernisation is a part of the ministry's drive to grow smart, eat smart. It includes using these mechanisms to improve efficiency. The government is mindful of the need to protect our fisheries and work with our partners," he added.
US Ambassador to Jamaica Nick Perry, who was also in attendance at the event, said the United States is delighted to have been a part of a project that will benefit Jamaica's economy.
"We know this site is a major asset for local tourism as the reef itself is quite an attraction and is appreciated by divers and snorkellers from hotels along the north coast. Local fishing sectors which rely on a sustainable quantity of fish also benefit from this project as fish naturally gravitate to areas with healthy reefs," he said.
"We are pleased to have been a part of this project which shows the importance of protecting important resources for future generations," added Perry.