Campaign to Protect Watershed Areas in St. Thomas Launched


A campaign aimed at protecting watershed areas in St. Thomas was officially launched on Wednesday (Nov. 7) at the Anglican Church Hall in Morant Bay.
The one-year project, launched under the theme: ‘The Man, the Land and the Plan,’ will target communities along the St. Thomas Great Morass, Bowden Morass, and surrounding coastal areas.
The initiative is being funded by the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica and implemented by the St. Thomas Environmental Protection Association (STEPA).
Agencies involved in the process include the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the Forestry Department, the University of the West Indies (UWI), Island Special Constabulary Force (ISCF), National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) and the Social Development Commission (SDC).
Giving an overview of the campaign, Project Coordinator at STEPA, Tara Gancos, said there will be 10 consultation meetings in communities nearest to the wetland areas. She said that community members will be drawn from these meetings to participate in five awareness workshops, which will focus on the ecology and services of the areas and “how to minimize impact and maximize benefits.”
Other activities will include open dialogue involving policy makers, researchers, community members and other stakeholders in order to promote information sharing.
Ms. Gancos said human activities, such as unsustainable fishing techniques, including fishing with dynamite, poison or nets with small mesh; cutting of mangroves for timber and charcoal production and dumping of garbage were intimidating the longevity of the region.
She said that these actions are caused and complicated by low income levels and lack of employment opportunities, as well as a lack of sufficient public education of the ecological significance of the areas.
“If failure to address these problems continues there is a risk of permanent destruction of these areas including loss of vital habitat and nurseries, which will lead to collapses of fisheries and decreasing income of local fishermen, loss of coastal stabilization, which will amplify damage from storms and increase effects of global warming,” she added.
Guest speaker and Regional Forest Officer, Danny Simpson encouraged farmers and large land owners to plant trees to improve soil conservation. He mentioned the Private Tree Planting Programme spearheaded by the Forestry Department, whereby seedlings are distributed to farmers free of cost.
“Coconut farmers (in St. Thomas) now are gravitating towards this programme. You have farmers with 120 acres of mahogany, now five years old, who planted on land where coconut trees were dying from the lethal yellowing disease,” he said.
Mr. Simpson said that crops and trees such as the mahoe, cedar and the mahogany provides watershed protection and prevents soil erosion.
Additionally, he said the Forestry Department is establishing Local Forest Management Committees (LFMC) to involve citizens in managing the watersheds and forested areas. According to Mr. Simpson, the committees will be established islandwide and several have been created in the Bunker’s Hill, Balaclava and the Wait-a-Bit areas in the Cockpit Country and the Buff Bay watershed in St. Mary.
He said that similar bodies will be established in the Morant, Yallahs and the Planting Garden watershed areas. “We are coming shortly; some sensitization will be done to get these LFMCs going. The forest belongs to us so we must help to protect the forest,” he added.
The event was attended by community leaders and residents from western St. Thomas as well as representatives from government agencies, non-governmental organizations and students from schools in the parish.

JIS Social