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Jamaica can have its goat and eat it too

jamaica fishing boat goat islands jamaica portland bight protected area
Lone fishing boat, Jamaica

Jamaica’s Goat Islands are the center of what has often been portrayed as a classic development-versus-environment conflict.

The Goat Islands are at the core of the Portland Bight Protected Area, a world class place for conservation. Portland Bight is home to at least seven animal species found nowhere else on earth, and contains the country’s largest remnants of both limestone forest and contiguous mangrove systems. However, since 2013, the islands have also been at the core of plans to build a huge port and adjoining industrial estates. With expansion of the Panama Canal due to be completed in 2015, the proposed port is seen as a major step toward Jamaica establishing itself as a key player in the changing global shipping chain.

The Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, a Jamaican NGO that manages the Portland Bight, asked CSF to bring some cold, hard economics to what has been a heated debate. Together, we chose to focus on a straightforward question: are there better alternative sites? Better environmentally, but also economically and financially. A good alternative site would get Jamaica out of the box, allowing it to pursue its port development and environmental conservation goals together, rather than needing to sacrifice one for the other.

We have been studying that question for the past three months, working with port engineers from Niras Fraenkel Ltd. out of the UK, the Washington DC-based Conservation Agreement Fund and with funding from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. I presented our findings yesterday to a group of politicians, NGOs, concerned citizens, and community members at Kingston’s Courtleigh Hotel.

The findings are positive: Building an equivalent facility at a place called Macarry Bay, to the west of Goat Islands, would cost an estimated $200 million less to build. Considering a planned total investment of $1.5 billion, this represents a potential cost savings of more than 10%. Building at Macarry Bay would also impose a far smaller environmental cost. The place is not perfect – nowhere is – but it provides clear evidence that better alternatives very likely exist. We therefore recommended that the decision to build on Goat Island be reconsidered, and that alternative sites, including Macarry Bay, be evaluated transparently and in appropriate detail.

This post is written in-between meetings in Kingston. Good information is only part of what’s needed – it is just as important to make that information useful to decision-makers. The next couple of days will be devoted to that. So far the response has been great, including interviews with several interested radio programs and coverage in two major national newspapers, the Gleaner and the Observer.

To read the coverage in the Gleaner, click here:
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/latest/article.php?id=56282

To read the coverage in the Observer, click here:
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Goat-Islands-not-best-choice_17821178

To read the report, click here:
http://www.conservation-strategy.org/en/publication/economic-comparison-alternatives-building-goat-islands-does-jamaica-need-sacrifice-world#.VFEw7_TF9GM