Playing catch-up
Jamaica hurrying to restore mangroves; island decades behind in protection effort
SAMUDA... we haven't done the right things over 50 to 60 years and we don't have 50 or 60 years to correct those mistakesPhoto: Garfield Robinson

MINISTER with responsibility for the environment, Senator Matthew Samuda says work to protect mangroves should have started decades ago but because of a lax approach, Government and other stakeholders are scampering to put things in place to restore those that are either dead or dying.

The issue was raised on Thursday during a Jamaica Observer Press Club at the Halse Hall Great House in Clarendon. The Halse Hall Great House is being used as a base for a multi-billion-dollar Mangrove Restoration Project in south Clarendon, which is being run by The University of the West Indies' (The UWI) Solutions for Developing Countries (SODECO).

Mangroves are tropical trees that grow in mud, mostly on the coast, and which have roots that are above ground.

Partners in this project are SCJ Holdings Limited, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Ministry of National Security, the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

"We haven't done the right things over 50 to 60 years and we don't have 50 or 60 years to correct those mistakes, certainly [not] in [regards to] ensuring environmental, social and economic balance. Jamaica has to go fast and far. We have to find a way to bring people together and bring stakeholders together in a way that this project has done because we have a long way to go and we don't have a lot of time to get there," Samuda warned.

"Many of your 2030 projections by climate scientists and engineers and others are coming through earlier. You'd recall the argument of climate departure made as early as 2013 by some scientists for Kingston and St Andrew. We could have possibly reached that point. With climate departure comes serious issues," he added.

The SODECO experts say that healthy mangroves mean more fish and shellfish for local consumption as well as improved ecosystem services. According to SODECO scientists, mangroves provide flood regulation and mitigation, carbon sequestration, and increased coastal protection from hurricanes and storm surges. Mangroves are also nurseries for fish and protect them from predators.

The problem faced in Clarendon currently is that there are more than 3,500 hectares of mangroves that stretch from Milk River to Salt River on the south coast, of which more than 1600 hectares have died from a combination of factors. These include extreme weather events, and human activity such as the construction of infrastructure including roads, as well as the cutting down of the trees for economic purposes.

FORRESTER... there is no way we can accelerate it at the moment. One of the critical questions we have and are strategising how to answer is how do accelerate these processes (Photo: Garfield Robinson)

SODECO's solution now is to reverse the damage by taking a strategic and systematic scientific approach to successfully regenerating the area.

Chief scientist with SODECO, Professor Terrence Forrester said well-established companies in Clarendon have begun to understand the urgency of the situation and have been giving their contributions towards the effort to help other stakeholders move fast to bring the mangroves back to their former state.

"Jamalco has put in a lot of money; Sugar Company of Jamaica has put in a fair amount of money there. National Rums, Clarendon distillers has put a fair amount of resources into it. There are smaller companies like Robert Woodstock and Associates. We are working as fast as we can. We are going fast but we have set up ourselves to go far. The infrastructure has been put in place for 50 years, renewable. Long after I am gone this will be going on.

"Watching trees grow is a very slow process. Even though we might get to the end of 2024 and go a far way by the end of 2023, getting those mangrove trees right back up is a five-to-ten-year enterprise. We are doing 'hurry up' because they died in 2004 [during Hurricane Ivan]; there is no way we can accelerate it at the moment.

"One of the critical questions we have and are strategising how to answer is how do accelerate these processes. As part of the restoration efforts, we are doing the appropriate measurements to be able to try new methods and new interventions to accelerate the process now that we know what to do, and how to do it, and we know what to monitor," the professor said.

BY JASON CROSS Observer staff reporter

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