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    Wetlands commonly called morass represent less than two percent of Jamaica's total surface area, and occur for the most part in the coastal zone. These areas are among the most biologically productive ecosystems, and play a great part in ensuring coastal stability. Coastal wetlands that support mangrove growth are particularly important as marine nurseries and as sources for the harvesting of shellfish.  

    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: 

      (i) Establish the guidelines by which wetlands can be developed in order to ensure their continued existence; 

      (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;

      (iv) Maintain the functions and values of Jamaica's wetland resources; 

      (v) Integration of wetland functions in planning and development of other resource sectors such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, ecotourism, and waste management; 

    In pursuing the goals of the mangrove and coastal wetlands protection policy, government will be guided by the following established principles:   
      (a) Wetlands are an important part of Jamaica's coastal resources and their preservation is a key component of coastal area 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. 


    Twenty five specific policy statements are made on how the goals will be achieved, and general information on Jamaica's wetlands as well as recommended regulatory provisions are annexed. 

    Specifically the policy seeks to: 

      * Provide protection against dredging, filling, and other development;  

      * 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 are maintained; 

    Wetlands, commonly called morass are among the most biologically productive of all Caribbean ecosystems. Low lying coastal wetlands that support mangrove growth are particularly important as marine nurseries and as sources for the harvesting of shellfish.  

    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. 

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    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. 


      (i) Shoreline Protection 
      Coastal wetlands protect the shoreline from erosion by acting as a buffer against wave action as in the case of coastal mangroves. 
      (ii) Flood Protection 
      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 
      Sediment produced by erosion from upland areas settles out when the water flow slows upon entering wetlands. This helps in preventing silting up of rivers, thus preventing flooding of adjoining areas. As a sediment trap, wetlands also protect marine resources such as coral reefs and sea grass beds from being smothered by silt brought down by rivers and streams.   

      (iv) Wildlife Habitat And Nursery Area 
      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. 

      (v) Land Building 
      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. 
    (i) Timber cutting 
    Wetland areas provide wood for the making of charcoal, fish pots, and to a lesser extent, racks for oyster farming.  

    (ii) Fishing/Shrimping 
    As a habitat for many species of fish and shellfish wetlands are important to Jamaicas fishing industry. The sustainability of Jamaica's fishery is directly dependant upon the habitat provided by wetlands and other coastal systems such as coral reefs. The Black River Lower Morass has traditionally supported an important local shrimp industry.  

    (iii) Recreation/Tourism 
    If properly managed, mangrove wetlands can be important in generating ecotourism. Wetlands offer recreational opportunities such as sight-seeing, boating, swimming, and sport fishing. Boat excursions into wetlands is gaining increasing popularity as a tourist attraction.  

    (iv) Scientific/Educational 
    Mangrove and coastal wetlands can serve as a living laboratory providing opportunity for education and research concerning the ecological, and possibly medicinal value of various species of plants and animals.  

    (v) Agriculture/Building 
    Fringe wetland areas may be used successfuly for the cultivation of certain crops eg. sugar-cane, and vegetables. It is possible to do some construction in wetlands provided that it does not result in restriction of water flows. 

     The major issues affecting wetlands generally result from a lack of recognition of the wide range of benefits -- ecological, economic and scientific -- which they provide. This has led to the conversiion of large tracts of coastal wetlands, particularly mangrove communities with no attempt to replace these resources at other sites. 
    The following are among the major issues affecting wetlands: 
    (i) Pollution 
    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: 
      - Contamination by substances that are transported by run-off of storm waters in urban areas; 

      - 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; 

    Mangroves tend to trap and concentrate pollutants. The extent to which various types of pollutants, other than oil and sediments, contribute to mangrove destruction is uncertain. However, it is known that in mangrove-fringed estuaries, pollutants, and/or temperature and salinity changes, tends to upset the delicate balance of microscopic life, drastically altering the entire coastal ecosystem. 
    (ii) Land reclamation (Draining and filling) 
    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. 
    More recently, the spiralling cost of land, and the ever increasing demand for dwelling space, has led to the building of extensive communities on cheaper "dumped up" land as one means of providing affordable housing. 

    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". 

    (iii) Reduced flood control 
    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. 
    (iv) Fires 
    Wetlands are destroyed by fires some of which are spontaneous, while some are deliberately set by humans. 
    (v) Disruption of wildlife habitat 
    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;
    The conservation of wetlands can only be achieved by the combined effort of individuals, communities, and government. Nevertheless government must play a leading role in the proper management of these areas. An understanding of the functions and uses of wetlands, as well as the issues affecting wetlands is necessary in order to ensure the suastainable use of these resources. 
    Government also 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.  

    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. 

    The mangrove and coastal wetlands protection draft policy and regulation complements other coastal zone management initiatives concerning coral reefs, mariculture, pipelines and conduits, marinas, and protected areas. 
    The policy supports the Draft "Green Paper" Proposals for a System of Protected Areas which identifies coastal habitats and wetlands as among those resources and areas requiring protection. In addition the policy supports the objectives of the National Environment Policy which include providing for the protection and conservation of plants and animal species, particularly endemic species. 
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