Killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg – Again

When will they ever learn, the people entrusted with the welfare of my native land? They are repeatedly distracted by the lure of “industry” and “commerce,” ignoring the real riches of that unique island. We must have jobs for Jamaicans, they explain. Good jobs.

They got good jobs from the bauxite boom. But what did they give up in exchange for those jobs? The sight of those denuded landscapes, bare and barren, still haunt me. I can still taste the dust clouds that obscured our stunningly beautiful North Coast ports – red as the inside of an annatto pod, stinging the eyes and searing the throat. I can still smell the slime ponds left behind without regard for the land or its wildlife.

When the bauxite-rich topsoil was exhausted, the foreign mining companies left, moving to greener pastures in other parts of the world.

Now, I hear that the current crop of Jamaica’s caretakers are blinded by the prospect of “good jobs” once again – this time from development of a transshipment port that would devastate Jamaica’s largest environmentally protected area. The glitter of development gold from China has Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller and her government thinking of sacrificing one of Jamaica’s scenic treasures to massive development.

The Associated Press broke the story recently with this terse report:

Jamaica’s environment minister says a much-discussed transshipment port is being considered for the Caribbean island’s largest protected area.

Robert Pickersgill made the disclosure in Beijing, where he is accompanying Jamaica’s prime minister for a five-day visit. They are meeting with Chinese political and business leaders.

Pickersgill says the Goat Islands in Jamaica’s southern protected zone of Portland Bight (pictured above) is ‘‘under very serious consideration’’ as the site for the planned port. He told Jamaican reporters traveling with the delegation that state-owned China Harbor Engineering Co. wants to build it there.

Shame on you, Mr. Pickersgill! What kind of “environment minister” are you to be contemplating such a betrayal of my native island’s trust?

Have you no regard for Jamaica’s scenic charm and romantic history? Are you really going to give up the islands where pirates once sheltered and Captain Kidd’s treasure is supposed to be buried? Seriously?

Are you ready to reverse the government policy that declared 724-square-mile Portland Bight a protected area to safeguard its coral reefs, wetlands and fish nurseries?

Are you willing to take the cash in hand and waive the island’s long-term interests?

For you can count on this. It is Jamaica’s magical environment that will ensure its attractiveness to visitors and investors far into the future. Ripping the land apart for a transshipment port, as part of the Panama Canal’s expansion, may produce riches for a while, but once the canal project is completed, what happens then?

There must be some other site for that Chinese transhipment port. Some site that will have a less devastating impact on Jamaica’s environment. Go back to the drawing board, I beg you.

Naturally, Jamaica’s environmentalists are in an uproar. They are threatening a court battle over the proposed port. The Jamaica Observer reports that:

They (environmentalists) argued that the Portland Bight area, because of its coral reefs and mangroves, has been declared a protected area under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act (NRCA), and two fish sanctuaries have been declared under the Fisheries Industry Act to protect the fish nursery there.

Thousands of fishers would be deprived of their livelihoods, and the eco-tourism potential of the area, unique in Jamaica because of its biodiversity, would be wiped out if the port is allowed, the environmentalists said.

I received a petition in this morning’s emails that one of the environmentalists is circulating.

I signed it, of course.

And I invite you to join me.

Click to sign the petition.

Click here for more on the proposal.

Click for more on Goat Island.

… And here.