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- Jamaica possesses a varied and irregular coastline which gives rise to a unique
ecosystem formed by the integration of coastal features that include harbours, bays,
beaches, rocky shores, estuaries, mangrove swamps, cays, and coral reefs. These natural
features provide a coastal resource base that contributes significantly to the economic
well-being of the country through tourism. More significantly, most of the Jamaican people
live in coastal plains and ipso facto the majority of the economic activities
within the country occur there, making coastal zone management very important for the
- Numerous sandy beaches around Jamaica's coastline and on several inshore cays are
invaluable to the tourism industry for the enjoyment of local and foreign visitors. This
resource is under threat from pollution, erosion and illegal sand mining. The erosion of
Jamaica's shoreline may be attributed to several factors. The degradation of coral reefs
and mangrove forests have exposed the sandy beaches to increased wave action, and the
illegal but common practice of mining sand from beaches has exacerbated the problem. Both
recreational and fishing beaches have been fouled by the pileup of refuse, debris and fish
offal, as well as by occasional offshore and nearshore oil spills. The quality of the
water around several recreational beaches is deteriorating due to pollution, particularly
from human waste, which makes sea bathing unpleasant.
- The wetland areas are important to the coastal ecosystem in that they provide habitat
for a wide variety of organisms (e.g. birds, crabs, oysters), a nursery area for fish and
lobsters, and provide protection to the shoreline from wave action. The area of Jamaica's
wetlands (mangrove forests and salt marshes) has been steadily decreasing, with a
corresponding decrease in fish and wildlife and an increase in coastal erosion. In the
past, the importance of wetland areas (then called swamps) was not recognized. Considered
eyesores and breeding grounds for mosquitos, many were drained or dumped up and acres of
mangrove forest were cut down to make way for the construction of houses, hotels or other
structures. At the same time, mangroves provided an income for small-scale harvesters of
timber. Today, the pressure on the mangroves has increased tremendously. Mangrove poles
are used for fuelwood, to make charcoal, as fence posts, stakes, yamsticks, scaffolding
and construction material. The requirement that permits must be obtained before cutting is
totally ignored, and mangroves are de facto an open access resource. New harvesting
technology (chain saws) has dramatically increased the quantity of timber harvested, and
clear-cutting is making natural regeneration difficult. In addition, wetland areas are
still targets for construction projects.
- Jamaica has extensive coral reefs which are important as habitat for a complex mixture
of fish, invertebrates and algae. Jamaica's coral reefs are commercially important for two
main reasons: most of Jamaica's artisanal fishers use traps aimed at capturing reef fish;
and the reefs are important dive sites for water sports operators in the tourism industry.
Recent years have seen extensive degradation of Jamaica's coral reefs, leading to
decreases in fish catches and increases in visitor dissatisfaction. Recent hurricanes
(particularly Allen in 1980 and Gilbert in 1988) have caused major structural damage to
Jamaica's coral reefs. This is an unavoidable occurrence, from which the reefs are
normally able to recover; however other factors are hampering reef restoration. Pollution
of the marine environment by sewage has promoted the growth of algae which are stifling
the coral organisms (eutrophication). The sea urchins, major reef grazers who can usually
be expected to keep algae growth in check, were almost wiped out by a viral disease in the
1980s, which promoted reef death. The reduction of fish grazers (e.g. parrot fish) due to
overfishing has also made a significant contribution to eutrophication. The widespread use
of fishing methods such as dynamite and certain toxic substances are destructive and
- The importance of sea grass beds in the growth cycles of fish, lobsters and other
commercially important species is recognized by scientists but has not been fully
explored. Indeed there is very little information available on the extent and location of
sea grass beds on Jamaica's coastal shelves and (inshore and offshore) banks.
- Jamaica's marine environment is notoriously overfished; indeed the CARICOM Fisheries
Resource Assessment and Management Programme (CFRAMP) has declared Jamaican waters to be
the most overfished in the English-speaking Caribbean. A study conducted by Thompson in
1945 reported the island shelves (North and South) to be overfished by fishers using
unmotorized canoes. As a way of increasing the catch he recommended expanding the area
fished to include the almost unexploited inshore and offshore banks, which would require
motorization. Since then, developments in fishing technology (including motorization and
the introduction of SCUBA gear) have resulted in overfishing on the inshore and offshore
banks. Government initiatives have led to substantial increases in fishing effort while
there is inadequate institutional capacity to plan for, manage and monitor the fishing
industry. Jamaica's catch of marine fish has declined from 10.89 million kg (24 million
lbs) in 1964 to 7.71 million kg (17 million lbs) in 1980, despite an expansion into new
fishing grounds. Not only has overall catch weight declined but so has the average size of
fish caught. The species composition of the catch has also declined, towards less favoured
varieties and trash fish. The mesh used in fishpots is usually 2.5 cm (1") or3.125 cm
(1.25"), which traps fish before they are of age to spawn (juveniles); thatched pots
covered with wire mesh used in certain parts of Jamaica, have an effective aperture of 1
cm (0.4"), which is very destructive of fish populations. Dynamite destroys fish
habitat, as do certain toxic substances currently in use and certain seine and trammel
nets. Other nets are destructive of fish (e.g. gill nets) and the mesh in most nets is
quite small. The laws of Jamaica which address fisheries management are deficient. The
Wildlife Protection Act (1945) states that juvenile fish are to be protected, and that the
definition of juvenile fish will be provided in accompanying regulations; those
regulations were never issued. The Fishing Industry Act (1975) does not set minimum mesh
sizes for fishtraps, and there are several large loopholes in its provisions.
- Wild stocks of a few species of invertebrates have been traditionally exploited by
artisanal fishers. Lobster, shrimp and crabs (crustaceans), conch and oysters (mollusc)
were generally lightly harvested, but in recent years, increases in demand have led to
large increases in fishing pressure. A lucrative export market for lobster and conch has
brought big business into the fishery, and now these stocks are overfished. The government
is making efforts to manage these wild stocks. Widely ignored closed seasons for lobsters
and conch have been imposed, and efforts are now under way to establish quotas for the
conch harvest. The emergence in recent years of local oyster bars has led to
over-harvesting of the mangrove oysters. Stocks of the more popular cup oyster
(Crassostrea rhizophorae) have declined considerably, and the oyster harvest is now
predominantly of the flat oyster (Isogamon alatus). Many invertebrates are caught by hand
using SCUBA or Hooka equipment. Under the Fishing Industry Act (1975) no license is
required for such activity, which will make management quite difficult. Aside from the
inappropriate behaviour of Jamaican fishers, poachers from Central America and other
Caribbean territories fish illegally in Jamaican waters and EEZ. Jamaican commercial
fishers also appear to breach regulations and agreements aimed at producing sustainable
harvests. The consuming public as a whole does not appear to behave responsibly, as they
continue to purchase lobsters during the closed season, and even protected species such as
turtles and manatees.
- Some varieties of agar-bearing seaweed (Gracilaria spp.) locally called Irish moss are
also harvested from the wild as the main constituent in a variety of drinks popular with
Jamaicans at home and abroad. Due to poor harvesting techniques, the yield has decreased
in recent years, and now the wild stocks are unable to satisfy the local and export demand
for Irish moss. Large quantities of a carrageenan-bearing substitute (Euchuma spp.) are
now being imported to address this deficiency. Poor harvesting techniques are fast
reducing the wild stocks of Irish moss. Instead of cutting the algae with a knife leaving
the rest to grow again attached by the holdfast, the standard procedure is to rip the
plant off the substrate.
- Arising out of Jamaica's concerns at the state of coral reefs and related ecosystems,
Jamaica has been actively associated with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI),
co-sponsoring the resolution in 1994 establishing the Initiative. Jamaica has remained
actively involved in the planning of the ICRI International Consultation scheduled to be
held in the Philippines at the end of May 1995 and hosting a regional consultation planned
for early July 1995. Coastal Zone Management is being given significant attention with the
execution of a project emphasizing an integrated approach to Coastal Zone Management with
the support from the Government of Sweden. The national interest also requires that
Jamaica support research and monitoring of global warming and its effects such as sea
level rise which is of critical importance for management of the coastal zone, given the
current patterns of population density and dispersal on the island. The prospect of
increasing sea level rise poses serious implications for the re-siting of important
social, economic and other infrastructure.
- Government will involve the stakeholders in both policy formation and enforcement. This
will relieve the pressure on Government's human and financial enforcement resources.
Stakeholder involvement in enforcement would be cheaper, and would have the best chance
for success. Government will promote the formation and strengthening of stakeholder groups
(fishers, charcoal burners, etc.), and provide the information necessary for sound
- Over the next three years Government will rationalize the utilization of the country's
mangrove resources. It will promote the organization of mangrove cutters into local groups
that will be offered permits to cut based on sustainable harvesting techniques and quotas.
All red mangroves and certain key wetland areas (e.g. Portland Bight) will be protected
and a mangrove replanting programme will be developed.
- More structured coral reef management and protection will commence. Government will
revive the sea urchin populations through seeding. Legal minimum mesh sizes will be
established and anchoring on reefs will be prohibited.
- Over the next three years Government will exercise greater control over fishing
activity. It will license all fishers and promote their organization into groups with
management responsibility shared with the government. Only limited entry to overfished
areas will be permitted. Net and trap mesh size will be restricted. Fishers groups will be
encouraged to lead enforcement. Cage culture of marine species will be promoted alongside
the capture fishery. Mariculture of lobster, conch and marine shrimp will be promoted to
reduce dependence on reef fishery.
- There will be designation of fish sanctuaries and reserves, with active management of at
least five such areas by 1993. Where possible, such areas will be included in
marine/coastal parks to ensure proper management.
- Research programmes in fisheries management, resources enhancement, and mariculture are
to be developed by the Fisheries Division in collaboration with NRCA.
- There will be instituted, an improvement in the institutional capability of the
Fisheries Division to monitor the fishing industry, and to provide information on the
biological and economic status of the industry.
- Approaches and mechanisms to involve the tourism sector in coastal conservation projects
will be formulated.
- There will be zoning of intensive-use areas such as Ocho Rios and Negril, followed by
the determination of carrying capacity for such areas.
- There will be selection of new sites to be used in the development of ecotourism.
- Steps will be taken to expand the present Contingency Plan, concerning oil and chemical
spill incidents, to operational levels in all parishes by 1993.
- Development of guidelines for the design and placement of structures in areas known to
be susceptible to storm surge will be undertaken.
- Government will also focus on rehabilitation of areas of severe degradation, such as
- Community-based projects will be developed as mechanisms for promoting conservation
while allowing income-generating activities.
- Training of personnel in coastal zone management at all levels.
POLICY ISSUES IN COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT
- The outstanding policy which will be addressed include:-
- The finalization of the Clean Sea Bill
- Development of policy guidelines and regulations related to the use of wetland
- Development of regulations and guidelines proposed in the Fisheries Management Plan
prepared by the Fisheries Division.
- Government will become a member of the Inter-American Institute for Global Change
Research (IAI) to improve its understanding and response to the phenomenon of global
warming and sea level rise.
- Government will develop, within the next two years, a comprehensive coastal zone
management plan incorporating all the necessary measures, to facilitate more effective
management of the natural resource base.
Economic Policies for Coastal Resources Management:
- The Mines and Quarries Division of Government has introduce a new regime for capturing
resource rents, based on a set percentage of sale prices (to keep up with inflation), and
major increases in penalties for unlicensed users such as illegal sand quarries.
- A new schedule of fees and rates for licences and activities under the Beach Control Act
has been developed. The revenue generated will be used primarily for coastal zone
management and upgrading of public beaches.
Next Chapter - National Parks and
Protected Areas and Wildlife