In addition to the national significance, government has a wider responsibility to conserve wetlands (especially those which are waterfowl habitats) as a signatory to the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
Government has adopted the mangrove and coastal wetlands protection policy and regulation in order to promote the management of coastal wetlands to ensure that the many benefits they provide are sustained.
The policy sets the following five goals in support of the overall aim of sustainable use of wetlands:
(ii) Bring to an end all activities carried on in wetlands which cause damage to these resources;
(iii) Maintain the natural diversity of the animals and plants found in wetlands;
(v) Integration of wetland functions in planning
and development of other resource sectors such as agriculture, forestry,
fisheries, ecotourism, and waste management;
(b) Wetlands protection can only be achieved by the combined and coordinated effort of individuals, organisations, and communities having an interest in these areas.
(c) Improved public awareness of the vital functions of wetlands is necessary to ensure conservation of wetlands.
Specifically the policy seeks to:
* Designate wetlands as protected areas;
* Protect wetlands from pollution particularly industrial effluent sewage, and sediment;
* Ensure that all developments planned for wetlands are subject to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA);
* Ensure that traditional uses of wetlands
The term "Wetlands" refers to a site where plants and animals have become adapted to temporary permanent flooding by saline brackish or fresh water. This document focusses on coastal wetlands and includes permanently or temporary flooded lands with sedge or grass morass, swamp forest or mangroves.
Wetlands represent less than two percent of Jamaica's total surface area, and occur for the most part in the coastal zone.
Awareness of the role played by wetlands in contributing to coastal resource productivity is relatively new, and formerly these areas were regarded as a source of disease, particularly malaria, and a menace to public health. Wetlands destruction was also hastened by draining in an attempt to create agricultural lands particularly for the planting of rice and other moisture-tolerant crops. Extensive marshlands in Jamaica, and elsewhere in the Caribbean, were also drained for crop cultivation including sugar cane.
More recently, the filling of wetlands, particularly coastal wetlands, has resulted from expanding tourism development, as well as from urban growth extending outward from congested central areas.
Marine terminals and warehouses, freeport sites for industry, and residential subdivisions have replaced coastal wetlands, particularly in estuarine locations. The greatest destruction has occurred in the larger estuaries now used for harbor facilities such as along Hunt's Bay and the Kingston waterfront.
Several attempts to convert wetlands to farmlands have been unsuccesful, and housing developments on drained wetlands are regarded as highly vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters.
The net result has been a major depletion
of Jamaica's wetlands, and the degradation of other wetlands near urban
areas. The management of these areas must be undertaken with urgency in
order to ensure that we will continue to benefit from their many uses.
Despite representing less than two percent
of Jamaica's total surface area, wetlands perform invaluable ecological
functions in their natural state. The role of coastal wetland ecosystems
in maintaining shoreline stability and preserving biodiversity is well
established. In addition these areas provide direct socio economic benefits,
through human exploitation.
Coastal wetlands protect the shoreline from erosion by acting as a buffer against wave action as in the case of coastal mangroves.
Wetlands reduce the effect of floods on coastal areas by acting as a sponge and slowing down flood waters as in the case of coastal marshlands. In the absence of wetlands the full force of flood waters would cause erosion of river banks, and also kill coral reefs.
(iii) Sediment Trap
Jamaicas coastal wetlands support a rich indigenous flora, and fauna, with several of the species being endemic. These include, Grias cauliflora, the only native representative of the Brazil nut family Lecythidaceae, the swamp palm (Roystonea princeps), the thatch palm (Sabal jamaicensis), and the naseberry bullet (Manilkara sideroxylon).
Wetlands support various species of birds, crabs, fish, shrimps, and the American crocodile. The Black River Morass for example has been described as the best area in Jamaica for all water birds, and is known to be the only area where the flamingo still nests occasionally. Commercially important species using the wetland as a breeding and nursery area include snapper, snook, tarpon, jack, and several species of fresh and brackish water shrimps.
Mangrove wetlands are regarded as land builders. Because of their submerged root system, mangroves retard water movement and trap suspended materials and the remains of organisms associated with the mangroves. The accumulation of this organic material contributes to raise the soil level. Continued accumulation of soil, particularly by sea-fringing mangrove stands, builds the shoreline seaward.
Wetland areas provide wood for the making of charcoal, fish pots, and to a lesser extent, racks for oyster farming.
Pollutants directly affecting wetlands include garbage, sewage, industrial waste (mainly from sugar factories), and oil spills. In addition wetlands are subject to the indirect effects of:
- Non-point source pollution by agro-chemicals, nutrients, and other materials used in agriculture that are released to streams and rivers and eventually into wetland areas;
- Large scale pumping from coastal aquifers which affects the water balance inducing saltwater intrusion;
Formerly, swamps were regarded mainly as a source of disease, particularly malaria, and a menace to public health. In an era when malaria posed a major threat, such a policy was clearly in the public interest.
Wetlands destruction has also been causd by draining of land for argiculture. Extensive tracts of wetlands in Jamaica, have been drained for the planting of rice and other moisture-tolerant crops, as well as for the cultivation of sugar cane.
Wetlands destruction has been shown to result in loss of fishery resources eg. in the Hunts Bay/Kingston Harbour system. Wetlands destruction is also known to result in the loss of unique species such as the phosphorescent algae, the source of Falmouth's once famous "Glistening Waters".
The draining of wetlands by widening and deepening of wetland rivers has reduced the value of these areas in slowing the run-off of flood waters. This has resulted in the increase of peak fresh water flows to coastal areas contributing to the die-off of coral reefs.
Wetlands are destroyed by fires some of which are spontaneous, while some are deliberately set by humans.
The operation of recreational (guided) tours in wetlands like those being carried out in the Black River lower morass, can have a disruptive effect on local wildlife if not properly controlled;
To fulfill these responsibilities with respect to wetlands conservation, government has stated broad aims, to be achieved by accomplishing certain specific goals. Also presented are the key principles guiding the development of the specific policy strategies.