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Scientific research conducted at the Port Royal Marine Laboratory and University of the West Indies/Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (UWI/EFJ) Biodiversity Centre could aid in the fight against deadly diseases and eventually save human life, said UWI Mona Principal, Professor Gordon Shirley.
He argued that support for the facility is critical as research coming out of the Marine Lab has benefited the entire country, and possibly the region, in a number of areas, including academics, health and food production.
“From this facility, the Mona campus gets its lab specimen for many science courses, marine biology, coral reef biology, aqua-culture, fisheries and coastal zone management. In addition, our researchers, archaeologists, marine geologists and biotechnologists use the facility in conducting a variety of research projects,” he informed.
Professor Shirley was speaking on Tuesday (January 26) at the official opening of the facility in Port Royal.
He said that one of Jamaica’s most valuable resources, the Kingston Harbour, benefits directly from the lab. “Importantly, it is the decades of research and documentation on biodiversity conducted at the lab that led to the Palisadoes/Port Royal area being designated a Ramsar site,” he said. A Ramsar site is a wetland of international importance, designated under the 1971 Ramsar Convention.
“This designation gives added protection to this body of land and water enabling great access to funds from international agencies to support research activity that is critical to preserving the biodiversity of Jamaican coastal habitats,” Professor Shirley explained.
He said one of the more direct reasons for supporting the biodiversity associated with the coastal habitats, is the likelihood of finding bioactive compounds in the plants and animals, which could be valuable in the fight against human diseases, including cancer.
He noted, for example, that the University of Illinois is conducting research in the Port Royal mangroves and has discovered a bioactive compound in the orange sea squirt, which just this year, was approved in Europe for treating malignant soft tissue tumours.
“Our researchers at UWI are conducting similar research here in this laboratory,” he said.
In the meantime, he informed that a UWI research team led by Dr. Karl Aiken is undertaking valuable work in assessing Jamaica’s fish stock and supporting conch fishery so that the country may be able to export millions of dollars of conch from the Pedro Banks through a European Union-funded project.
The Port Royal Marine Laboratory was founded in 1955 and is ideally located at the end of the Palisadoes Tombolo and within easy reach of a number of habitats and interesting research areas.
With funding from the EFJ, the UWI Life Sciences Department, in 2009, modified the existing maturation room into a Biodiversity Centre to present displays on mangroves and other coastal systems and their organism.
This facility will serve as an educational facility for students, visitors, and members of the public interested in exploring Jamaica’s coastal and marine species.