Several interest groups in the tourism Mecca of Negril have thrown their support behind a US$3 million project that is seeking to restore the beach and environment in the area.
The four year project is being spearheaded by the Negril Area Environmental Protection Trust (NEPT), with regulatory and other support from the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and is being funded by the Global Environment Facility.
Speaking at a stakeholders’ forum in the town recently, Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Hon. Robert Pickersgill, urged the residents to take ownership for the project which is aimed at the long term conservation of the Negril Great Morass area. He noted that every effort must be made to protect and sustain the project deliverables.
Chairman of the Negril Beach Restoration Committee, Daniel Grizzle, who is also managing director of the Charela Inn Hotel, in welcoming the project, pointed out that any further degradation of the beach will cause the tourism sector and the economy to suffer.
He said that the project was of great importance to the country, noting that thousands of persons from across the globe pay ‘fortunes’ to enjoy the Negril beach each year and many lives depend on the project’s successful completion.
“It is not just a Negril problem, it’s all of Jamaica’s problem and we should make all effort to restore both the wetland and the Negril beach to its former state,” he said.
Technical Director with NEPT, Simone Williams, said the Negril morass is becoming dry and is plagued by fires, as a result of human activities. These activities include clearing the land for the construction of housing developments and farming.
“The protection from flood or filtering of pollutants that is transported to the coastal areas in the water, those functions have been diminished because as humans we have gone into the wetland and changed it by draining and conducting unsustainable farming among other activities.
“The symptoms that we see that are very visible to us in Negril…fires in the Morass, it threatens the tourism industry which is the base of the Negril economy. So the objective of the wetland restoration project is to put back the water that once would flow over the wetland and keep it wet,” she said.
The NEPT Director outlined that part of the project’s goal is to see an improvement in the population of certain birds in the wetlands.
She stressed that the community must be a part of the project in all its stages, and that with successful completion, Negril will get a buffer to maintain its economic activities.
“Without the wetland performing the functions that it should, the resources on which the tourism industry is built is going to deteriorate. If the wetland does not filter pollutants like pesticides and fertilizer before it gets to the reef, water quality at our beaches is going to be degraded and people will not come to Negril,” Ms. Williams said.
She pointed out that the majority of people in Negril, are connected to the tourism industry, from farmers to hotel workers, to tour operators.
Miss Williams said that persons can get involved by working on the project when jobs become available, by volunteering and by getting involved in decision making committees.
Manager at the Projects Planning and Monitoring Branch of NEPA, Sheries Simpson, said that the European Union has provided funding to rehabilitate the sewage plant in Negril, and that is one of the initiatives that has already started to aid in reducing the land based sources of pollutants.
“There are many things happening, and with this holistic approach, we will bring Negril back to what it was in the 1960’s,” Miss Simpson said.
Strong support has come from President of the Sheffield Jamaica Agricultural Society Farmers’ Group in Westmoreland, Clive Pringle, who sees the project as a “good thing for the community”.
Mr. Pringle said that farmers were now starting to observe better environmental practices such as proper disposal of their pesticides which will in the long run help the environment.
“The beach and the tourism, that’s what helps us as farmers. That’s where our produce sell…we have no problem with tourism, that is where we get most of our income from, and it is the biggest income for Jamaica,” Mr. Pringle said.