The mission: Save the mangroves.
Trouble is brewing, and The University of the West Indies (UWI) Solutions for Developing Countries (SODECO) says it had to step in.
About 45 per cent of the mangroves between Milk River and Salt River in Clarendon are dead, and at a Jamaica Observer Press Club staged in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation at Halse Hall Great House in Clarendon, SODECO unveiled its US$2.5-million UWI Mangrove Restoration project being done in partnership with Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited and a raft of other agencies.
"The project was to understand what went wrong. Why did half of the mangroves die? We have to develop a restoration plan, do the restoration instead of talking about it and then monitor it. Healthier mangroves mean more fish and shellfish for local consumption, improved ecosystem services, increased coastal protection against hurricanes and storm surges, flood regulation and mitigation," UWI SODECO Chief Scientist, Professor Terrence Forrester told the Jamaica Observer, noting that adaptive management was key.
Forrester said that a need was recognised for management and restoration of the critical mangrove habitat in southern Clarendon. Of the more than 3,520 hectares of mangroves, over 1,600 hectares are dead, due to both human-influenced and natural causes.
He also said monitoring of the status of the mangroves had started and will be intensified and broadened in order to track conditions for regeneration as well as progressive regrowth.
"Monitoring will be indefinite, allowing us to mount interventions whenever needed to maintain the health of the forest into the future," Forrester said.
Other partners in the project are the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and Government of the United Kingdom.
Forrester added that a lack of tidal flushing after a period of time was one of the main causes for the worrisome mangrove dieback.
But another "big thing", he said, is the reduction in fresh water flows from three sources. And over a long period, the runoff from surface irrigation ended up into the mangroves.
"And so, an important source of fresh water disappeared," he said.
"Climate change, of course, has also changed the pattern of rainfall and the length of droughts. These long periods of droughts in a period where you have exposed mangroves make them very vulnerable."
He said the loss of the mangroves exposes the people who reside near the coast, as well as all coastal infrastructure to the full force of storm surges during hurricanes with consequent loss of life, destruction of property, and lasting damage to agricultural lands.
Forrester told the Sunday Observer that the major affected areas include one at the mouth of the Rio Minho, Rocky Point Fishing Village; Jackson Bay Portland Cottage; Peake Bay and Cockpit."
A tour of Peake Bay and Jackson Bay with UWI SODECO representatives and Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation Senator Matthew Samuda revealed an upsetting state of degraded mangroves, which almost look as though the areas were torched. The luscious green of the mangroves have totally vanished, leaving a brownish colour.
Scientists warned that if these issues aren't corrected, the impacts of weather systems could be devastating.
UWI SODECO Programmes Manager Angeli Williams told the Sunday Observer that the value and necessity of mangrove forests were vast, which means that lessons learned and best practices observed globally have to be adopted.
And so, Williams said the value of the Mangrove Restoration project was important to southern Clarendon and Jamaica.
"Mangrove forests provide a plethora of ecosystem services. A lot of us look at mangrove forests and all we see is the top. Nobody knows what's going on below. The rooting system is a habitat for possibly thousands of species of animals, ranging in the size of bacterium all the way up to an American crocodile. A lot of commercially important species actually live a part of their life cycle in the mangrove forgets," she said.
If that habitat is removed, she warned, there will be a chain reaction on the entire population on some species of fish.
"We have about six or seven major fishing beaches just in this project area alone. So, we are looking at Rocky Point which is one of our largest landing sites; we have about 50,000 to 60,000 people living in the area, but in 2012 11,000 of them would've actually been fisherfolk. That doesn't take into consideration that you have a lot of supporting industries," Williams added, pointing to net-mending and boat-making.
Ultimately, Williams said, the continuous degradation of mangroves will stifle the potential to earn income for many.
"The loss of this habitat can prove to be providing socio-economic instability for these communities. They don't have any money, so what's going to happen?"
Samuda described the project as timely, and said it was not a "purely unpractical" exercise.
He also pointed to the current Atlantic hurricane season which started on June 1, and runs until November 30. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted a "near normal" hurricane season with 12 to 17 named storms packing winds of at least 39 mph (63 kph). Of those, five to nine could become hurricanes, with one to four developing into major hurricanes.
"We have an opportunity to put in place a nature-based solution which does all the wonderful things from carbon capture to ecosystem restoration to protect the communities right along the coast of southern Clarendon," he told the Sunday Observer.
"Mangroves, as we all know, are the nature-based solutions. They are the nature-based sea wall for communities that live in these sorts of areas," Samuda said.
What has been done so far:
• Restoration of hydrological flows across a roadway with the use of a culvert at a pilot site for the restoration of mangrove forests.
• Spatial mapping as a part of the baseline assessments of mangrove forests.
• Marine faunal assessments as a part of the baseline assessments of mangrove forests.
• Terrestrial and faunal assessments as a part of the baseline assessments of mangrove forests.
• Community engagement and local knowledge sharing for the baseline assessments of mangrove forests.
• Carbon stock assessments as a part of the baseline assessments of mangrove forests.