JIS News

On Friday, February 2, Jamaica will join the rest of the world in observing World Wetlands Day 2007 under the theme: ‘Wetlands and Fisheries’ and persons are being urged to protect the island’s wetlands to ensure the preservation of the fisheries industry.
Ainsley Henry, Manager of the Integrated Watershed and Coastal Zone Management Department at the National Environmental and Planning Agency (NEPA), tells JIS News that the theme and its accompanying slogan ‘Fish for Tomorrow,’ will highlight the “clear correlation between wetland health and fishery resource health”.
“Essentially, it’s about fishing for today, fishing for tomorrow, and whether or not there will indeed be fishes for tomorrow if we continue the way we’re going now,” he adds.
Activities planned to mark the observance will be held island wide and will include a cleanup of the Palisadoes/Port Royal protected area, with information posters mounted at various points. There will also be activities in Negril, Montego Bay and the Portland Bight protected area “geared at allowing people, who aren’t normally able to see the interrelationship (between watershed and fisheries) directly to do so”.
World Wetlands Day marks the anniversary of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands, also known as the Ramsar Convention, in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971. The main objective of the day, which has been observed internationally since 1997, is to educate persons about the importance and benefits of wetlands.
While most Jamaicans know about swamps and marshes, not many people know that these are also classified as wetlands.
Under the Ramsar Convention wetlands are defined as “areas of marsh, sand or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water, where the depth does not exceed six meters at low tide.”
“Essentially, what this means is that wetlands are areas where water is the main factor controlling the environment, both plants and animals,” explains Mr. Henry.
Jamaica has several wetlands including the Bowden and the Great Morass in St. Thomas; Negril Morass in Westmoreland and the Canoe Valley Wetland in Clarendon. In addition there are three designated “wetlands of international importance”: Black River Morass, Palisadoes/Port Royal area, and Portland Bight Wetlands and Cay.
These areas have significant economic value, biological diversity, provide protection from flooding, help to replenish groundwater, act as a natural barrier against storms, provide stabilization of the shoreline and are active in water purification and provide a livelihood for thousands of Jamaicans.
They also offer spawning grounds for young fish and many other marine nurseries and are therefore a significant part of the multi-million dollar fishing industry, which directly employs thousands of persons and provides a livelihood for many others.
The Black River Lower Morass is the largest freshwater wetland ecosystem in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, with about 92 species of flowering plants that are endemic to Jamaica. This, along with several other factors, has made the area an extremely valuable asset to the entire country.
The Palisadoes/Port Royal area has several animal and plant species that have been deemed extremely important with the American Crocodile, West Indian Manatee and the Bottlenose Dolphin present in the area, while Portland Bight also has a wide range of endemic and rare plants, extensive fish life and several small coral cays.
Mr. Henry tells JIS News that as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention, Jamaica has the responsibility to ensure that “these wetlands remain in perpetuity, that their values and functions are protected and preserved, and that the biodiversity that is resident in these wetlands maintain the ecological function that they currently do”.
He notes however, that there are many practices, which can adversely affect wetlands. “We’ve got things like charcoal burning, and we’ve got conversion of wetlands into other uses be they for road development, hotel development, or residential development. There is also the pollution of these areas by agriculture runoff, or sewage, or garbage generally. All of these adversely affect the ability of the wetland to continue its regular ecological function, and anything that impairs that, also causes a problem in terms of the maintenance of the fisheries resource,” he informs.
Mr. Henry notes that protecting wetlands is not an activity that should be restricted to a single day rather, it should be a year round quest. He added that protecting the wetland is pretty much the same as protecting the environment.
“One of the problems that we have in our wetlands is that there is a lot of garbage that is being piled up in them, so even as simple as making sure that our solid waste is properly disposed of is a step in the right direction,” he says.
He further advises against the indiscriminate cutting down of trees and for fisherman, to “make sure that the fish you are actually catching are of a reasonable size. The really tiny ones are too young, and have not yet had opportunities to reproduce, and you want to ensure there are fish for tomorrow”.