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The Cockpit Country of Jamaica and the Threats Posed by Bauxite Mining

Cockpit Country Fact Sheet (.pdf)
CCSG Petition - Online Version
CCSG Petition - Hardcopy Download
JCO map of the Cockpit Country
The Jamaican Clown War - Cockpit Country

The Cockpit Country (Apr 22/13)
A meeting of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group took place last Friday, April 19, at the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) offices in Kingston regarding the recently released University of the West Indies (UWI) study (8 Mb pdf), commisioned by the government in 2007 to define the Cockpit Country boundary. RS Stewart attended for the Jamaican Caves Organisation (JCO).

The JCO generally supports the UWI study. It is a close match to what we used as the boundary in 2005 for the Parks in Peril Project, funded by The Nature Conservancy, and agrees with what our group has always thought of as the Cockpit Country. We would like to commend the authors, Mitchell, Miller, Ganapathy, and Spence for producing what we believe is a fine piece of work.

We don't know where things will go from here - whether the GoJ will again consider mining in the Cockpit Country, for bauxite or limestone - but whatever happens, the members of the JCO commit themselves to helping to protect Jamaica's last wilderness area. It's the heart and soul of the island, and can't be lost.

(Oct 31/11)
Representatves of the Cockpit Country Stakeholders group met with Minister Chang on October 12, 2011, with regard to the GoJ's position on the boundary. Minister Chang thought that it was very similar to the CCSG boundary and that there would be no problem reconciling the two, and that it could be declared within six months to a year.

However, the Minister felt that the difficulty was not in declaring a boundary, but in determining the land use afterwards. He stated that he didn't see a problem in mining the Cockpit Country - the mining companies simply had to be told what the conditions of "restoration" were. Evidently, plans to mine are still on the books.

The position of the JCO is that it is impossible to restore the last wild refuge in Jamaica once it has been strip-mined. One only has to visit St Ann and Manchester to see what previous "restoration" work encompassed - ten centimeters of topsoil, which can only support the toughest weeds. We hope that the GoJ, whomever they may be after the next election (which might soon come), will realize that the Cockpit Country cannot be mined, no matter how much money is promised by the likes of UCRusal.

(Jun 5/08)
The government of the day has again stated that it intends to preserve the Cockpit Country, announced at an event recently held in Wait-A-Bit (covered in the Observer, and Gleaner). However, we still do not know how the government defines the Cockpit Country

The JCO would like to ask that the Honourable Prime Minister Bruce Golding, whom some of our group supported during the last election, see to the timely release of the boundary study that defines the perimeter of the Cockpit Country.

(Apr 7/08)
A Press Release was issued today by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG) and the Jamaica Environmental Advocacy Network (JEAN) that urges the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) to finally announce the Cockpit Country boundary decision. Both groups, CCSG and JEAN, include members of the JCO.

We ask that the current governing party in Jamaica, the JLP, release the report of the boundary committee (a creation of the previous regime, the PNP) as soon as possible. If the JLP does not support the output of the committee, it should say so. If it does, it should let the rest of us know what has been decided.

(Mar 7/08)
The current state of the CCSG campaign to preserve the Cockpit Country, in its entirety, is this:

The government of the day, the JLP, has stated that they won't allow mining in the Cockpit Country. However, the boundaries of the CC are still undecided, with it having been in the hands of a govt committee for many months, and now presumably stalled in JLP back-rooms. The group of which the JCO is part, the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group, has proposed a boundary that we consider to be the minimum required to preserve the CC. The committee had industry reps onboard who obviously saw things differently, so we can't predict what the output will be. The Jamaica Environmental Advocacy Network (JEAN) will issue a press release on the situation in the coming days.

(Jan 24/07)
The CCSG online petition is now close to 2000 signatures, but requests to the GoJ to present it are being met with disinterest. Attempts to arrange a meeting with Portia Simpson to deliver a hardcopy of the petition were rebuffed by one of her assistants with, "The PM says a meeting is not possible as the matter is under discussion between the GOJ and the environmentalists and as there is no dispute at this time, there is no need for a meeting."

The Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands has confirmed that a single consultant will be employed to conduct the boundary study, considering the geology only. He has also said that UNDP is doing a study of the Cockpit Country with wider parameters - that is, not just geology. It is not clear whether or not the GOJ will be guided by that UNDP study or the time frame in which it will be completed. The CCSG was also informed that the boundary consultant would have to carry out a public consultation. [From Diana McCaulay, Jamaica Environmental Trust]

On Jan 17, at very short notice, a meeting took place between several representatives of the CCSG, and the GoJ. On the GoJ side, attendees were: Min Roger Clarke, Min Anthony Hylton, Min Donald Buchanan (part of the time), Min Dean Peart, Min Victor Cummings, Min Phillip Paulwell (came late), the Attorney General AJ Nicholson, Rohan Michards from Min of Ag, Leonie Barnaby from Min of Local Govt and the Env, Parris Lyew Ayee from Ja Bauxite Institute and Clinton Thompson, Commissioner of Mines. Most of the meeting was spent discussing the boundary issue. It was announced by the GoJ that the Sub-committee would continue its discussions, and a boundary study would be commissioned, which is expected to take two months to complete. The make up of the government side suggests that the GoJ intends to play hardball on this issue (one of the JCO crew described it as an ambush).

(Jan 10/07)
Disturbing news has reached us from JEAN. Mr. Donovan Stanberry, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands, has advised the CCSG that the GoJ has commissioned a boundary study that will be made up by way of a "a selective tender process". He expects the boundary study to be completed in 30 days, and until such time, no further meeting with stakeholders is considered necessary.

In the opinion of the JCO (we do not speak on behalf of the CCSG on this), the fact that the GoJ intends to appoint the members of the study group without consulting or informing the public suggests a continuation of the backroom arrangements that have been evident from the start. We can predict the presence of at least one of the participants: Dr Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr, son of the executive director of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute, with Parris Jr having gotten his PhD in the field of Cockpit Country geomorphology. It should be understood that Dr Lyew-Ayee is far from being an impartial expert on bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country, or its boundary, and if, as we predict, he is one of the study group, their output will be tainted. If the study group includes even more associates of the bauxite industry, with little or no representation from the life sciences, then their conclusions can be expected to support bauxite exploration, and ultimately mining, in at least the northwestern Cockpit Country. Barbecue Bottom Cave 2, and its absolutely pristine troglobitic biology, will be history. Belmont Cave, and Dunns Hole, near Stewart Town, will be destroyed. Many other important speleo sites, and vital parts of the water system, will be polluted, obstructed, or filled. All to feed a little more money into the pockets of those who already have more than their fair share. With all due respect to Portia and the PNP, this is a total disgrace.

(Jan 9/07)
The JCO would like to congratulate the Maroons on their successful gathering on Jan 6, the Quanza, in the sovereign territory of Accompong, Jamaica, and we'd like to thank Colonel Peddie for his pledge to "fight for the Cockpit Country". We're with him all the way in this battle. Also, the JCO would like to thank the Council of Overseas Maroons for the certificate of appreciation given to our group for the work we've done on the CC campaign; it means a great deal to us.

The Observer has an interesting editorial in the Jan 9 edition that supports the Maroon's recognition of the potential for pharmaceutical discoveries in the Cockpit Country. We'd like to note that the Observer has been a great help in the campaign, and their regular input is much appreciated.

(Jan 1/07)
We enter the New Year with partial victories in the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG) campaign to save the Cockpit Country, but these fall far short of what's required. At the moment, prospecting has been suspended, but recent statements made by the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) indicate that mining is a real possibility in the future, at least in some parts of the CC:

Dr. Carlton Davis, the Cabinet secretary and chairman of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI), the agency that set policy for the bauxite/alumina industry, was reported in the Dec 27 Gleaner to have said, "If it is going to cause a world war, I wouldn't support any exploration being done. But let's talk about what is the Cockpit Country. I think what is needed is that once we come to some sensible agreement of what is the Cockpit Country we put in some decent management systems." Apparently, Dr. Davis is of the opinion that the Cockpit Country cannot continue as a wilderness area unless the bauxite industry is given a voice in its management, and access to the parts they choose to call something else, such as east of the Barbecue Bottom Road.

Roger Clarke, Minister of Agriculture and Lands, is then reported in the Dec 29 Gleaner as having stated that the GoJ "considered it important to meet with the environmental lobby groups to come up with a practical and sustainable solution to the concerns raised in relation to prospecting in the Cockpit Country." The position of the JCO is that to ensure the continued biological and hydrological integrity of the Cockpit Country, all forms of mining, including bauxite, limestone, and marl, must be prohibited. The choice of words, "practical and sustainable solution", suggests that this is not the approach favoured by Mr Clarke. In this sense, "practical" includes the need to supply ore for a new refinery planned for the north coast.

Another meeting between the CCSG and the GoJ is to take place in early January. We will post the date and time as soon as they've been decided on.

(Dec 22/06)
Following its decision to suspend all licences for prospecting for bauxite in the Cockpit Country, Cabinet has appointed a sub-committee to do a comprehensive review of its mining policy. "Cabinet felt that a broader representation of interests within the Jamaican society, from a Cabinet standpoint, should be appointed to oversee this project of finally determining our overall mining policy and the strategy for going forward," Information Minister Donald Buchanan said Monday. [Jamaica Observer - Dec 22/06]

(Dec 21/06)
A meeting was held yesterday between representatives of the CCSG and the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) regarding the granting of prospecting licenses and mining leases in the Cockpit Country of Jamaica. The current GoJ position, as presented in the meeting, is:
(1) There will be no prospecting allowed in CC or environs until the boundary is settled. Consideration will then be given to the area within the boundary being "protected."
(2) The Min of Ag & Lands will seek other inputs on the boundaries, especially scientific ones.
(3) A review of the regulatory framework governing mining generally and bauxite specifically is underway.
(4) Donovan Stanberry has directed the Commissioner of Mines to be forthcoming with information, especially all info covered by the Access to Information Act. He said the provisions of the ATI Act are to be met in every case.

Bauxite Mining in Newport, Manchester (Dec 20/06)
A meeting will take place today at 10:00 AM at the Ministry of Agriculture between the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG) and the Government of Jamaica (GoJ) regarding bauxite prospecting and mining in the Cockpit Country. The CCSG will be represented by Diana McCaulay (JET), Hugh Dixon (STEA), and Michael Schwartz (WRC). We'll post news on the outcome tomorrow.

(Dec 15/06)
This morning, during an interview on Mutty Perkins with Minister Roger Clarke and Diana McCaulay (JET), Min. Clarke gave his WORD and committment that he would suspend the prospecting licence pending a meeting with the CCSG and other relevant governmental authorities. The purpose of the meeting he said would be to resolve the boundaries of CC.

(Dec 14/06)
It was announced this morning by Donovan Stanberry, Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, that Roger Clarke, the Minister of Agriculture, has approved and signed the renewal of Alcoa's prospecting licence for the Cockpit Country. This decision has been made with no public consultation, or even details of what exactly they intend to do. The CCSG and JEAN have issued a Press Release regarding this, and a Press Conference was held this afternoon.

(Dec 12/06)
The Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group (CCSG) has begun a petition to save the Cockpit Country. We invite visitors to download a copy and use it to gather signatures. The signed forms can be faxed back to CCSG at 876-926-0212, or just emailed to jamentrust@cwjamaica.com as the .doc with the names and contact info filled in.

Mr Parris Lyew-Ayee, executive director of the Jamaica Bauxite Institute (JBI), issued a Press Release on Nov 27 regarding bauxite exploration and mining in the Cockpit Country. This was reported on the JIS website on Dec 7, and mentioned in an Editorial on Dec 9 in the Gleaner. First, we will present a reply to this by Dr Byron Wilson, Lecturer in Conservation Biology, Department of Life Sciences, UWI, who does a very good job of demonstrating the absurdity of Mr Lyee-Ayew's arguments. Following that is the JCO's response to the Press Release, which is not as well stated, but does present our views.

"Saving the Cockpit Country with Noah’s Ark?
Dr Byron Wilson
There has been much recent debate over the issue of bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country. The much maligned 'environmentalists' have maintained that even the prospecting of the Cockpit Country’s interior forest would have disastrous consequences for the endemic wildlife species that occur there. And the environmentalists are correct..."
Read more. (.doc)

JCO Reply to the JBI:
JBI continues to be vague about exactly where it intends to explore for bauxite. Efforts by the CCSG and JEAN to get real information on current plans, rather than the historical account of past agreements and cursory overview of the Cockpit Country offered in the Press Release, have so far met with little success. JBI assures us that it will not mine "the heart of the Cockpit Country", but does not say where this area is. If it means the lands serving as Forest Reserve, then this leaves a large part of the Cockpit Country within the Prospecting Licence #SEPL 535 area at risk. Unfortunately, Forestry lands are not as encompassing as they might be. However, JBI may be referring to something else - we don't know, because they won't tell us. This lack of openness is not reassuring for those concerned about the bauxite industry's intentions. Lastly, in the Press Release, Mr Lyew-Ayee refers to the CCSG campaign as "almost hysterical". The JCO would like to inform Mr Lyew-Ayee that our members never get hysterical, as it is not a good trait in a caver who hopes to survive for any length of time. In fact, we invite Mr Lyew-Ayee to join us for a visit to Smokey Hole Cave, and its 450-foot sheer vertical drop, and we'll see who becomes hysterical first.

(Nov 26/06)
ALCOA has recently applied for an exploration permit to determine the potential for bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country of Jamaica. Various NGO's and concerned parties, based both in Jamaica and abroad, have rallied to put a stop to this, and the JCO intends to also do its part. Not only is the Cockpit Country important to us professionally (we carried out the caves component of the Parks in Peril Project in the CC for The Nature Conservancy in 2005, and visited 88 caves in the process), but it is the part of Jamaica that we care for the most. The Cockpit Country is the last wilderness area on the island, and if it is destroyed, or even seriously interfered with, it will be a tragedy. None of us can stand aside and watch the destruction of the final remnant of the original flora and fauna of Jamaica.

We urge all visitors to this page to read up on the threats, and to send letters and emails to both the Jamaican press and appropriate Jamaican government departments (start with Portia, and then work your way down). We also encourage expatriates to bring this to the attention of the press in their adopted countries. To put a stop to this, pressure must be put on the Jamaican government from every possible direction.

In the coming days and weeks, more information, and links to resources, will appear on this page. Included in this will be a report on the speleo sites of Newport, Manchester, recently investigated by the JCO. This district has been mined by ALPART, and serves as an excellent example of the damage that can occur to karstic hydrology and cave biology during mining activities. It should serve as very good heads-up of what will happen if ALCOA, and it's backroom friends, are let loose on the hills and valleys of the Cockpit Country.

Pertinent Links:

Jamaica Environmental Advocacy Network
Dr. Alan G. Fincham [Author of Jamaica Underground]
Letter from NJCA to NRCA regarding bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country [PDF (Acrobat Reader)].
Maroons prepared to die for Cockpit, says Colonel Peddie [Jamaica Observer, Jan 4/07]
Bauxite Mining Threatens Unique Jamaican Wildlife - Birdlife.Org
Bauxite Mining Poses Major Threat to Cockpit Country Wildlife and Watershed - Jamaica Environment Trust
Environmentalists move to 'Save the Cockpit Country' [The Gleaner, Oct 20/06]
The Land of Look Behind - John Maxwell [Jamaica Observer, Oct 1/06]
Conservationists Oppose Further Bauxite Mining in Cockpit Country [Jamaica Observer, Oct 27/06]
The Splendour of the Cockpit Country [Jamaica Observer, Nov 14/06]
Cockpit Country Worry [Jamaica Observer, Nov 19/06]
My grandfather's bones - John Maxwell [Jamaica Observer, Nov 19/06]
No mining in Cockpit Country! [Jamaica Observer, Nov 23/06]
Leave the Cockpit Country Alone - Mark Wignall [Jamaica Observer, Nov 26/06]
From the Frying Pan into the Red Mud - John Maxwell [Jamaica Observer, Nov 26/06]
The Chemistry and Processing of Jamaican Bauxite - UWI

Cockpit Country Hydrology:

The Cockpit Country holds the headwaters of a number of the island’s major rivers, including the Martha Brae River on the north, the Hectors/Black River system on the south, and the Rio Bueno on the east (via the subterranean flow from Quashies River, Freemans Hall, to Dornock Head Rising, Stewart Town). The municipal and agricultural water supply for a large section of Jamaica is dependent on the input from these Cockpit Country sources. Because much of the hydrological connectivity is based on underground passages and fissures, the systems are highly prone to damage through in-filling, siltation, and rafting of solid waste. These changes manifest themselves as reduced flow, and reduced water quality at the downstream risings, as well as flooding in the upstream catchment areas. As of 2006, the hydrology of the Cockpit Country is not yet thoroughly understood (many sinks and risings remain untraced), and further research is greatly needed.

We present below maps that show the caves found in the prospecting licence area, starting with the sites in the Rock Spring and Freemans Hall districts of south Trelawny, and the northwest Cockpit Country near Deeside (more to follow). This is being done to make it clear how many important hydrologically active speleo sites will be inevitably interfered with if bauxite mining were to go ahead in the Cockpit Country.

Map 1: The Caves of Rock Spring, Trelawny (the headwaters for Fontabelle Rising), which are within the prospecting licence area #SEPL 535. Many of these caves serve as an integral part of the hydrology of the Cockpit Country. The positions are GPS derived and were recorded by the JCO during an inventory carried out in 2005 for The Nature Conservancy, as part of the Parks in Peril Project. Information on the individual caves will be found in the fieldnotes section of this website.

Rock Spring Caves within the Prospecting Area

Map 2: The Caves of Freemans Hall, which are within the prospecting licence area #SEPL 535. Many of these caves are sinks which feed water to Dornoch Head Rising, the headwaters of the Rio Bueno. The positions are not GPS derived (although we do have several of the sites georeferenced), and are from Jamaica Underground, by Alan Fincham.

Freemans Hall Caves within the Prospecting Area

Map 3: The Caves of Deeside, which are within the prospecting licence area #SEPL 535. Hope River Glade Caves and Duppy Cave are part of a flow from Flagstaff to Springvale, with this aboveground in sections, and underground in others. Deeside Roaring River Cave is one of the main risings for the waters that come underground from Maroon Town and Tangle River. Clear River Cave is a rising with the associated upstream sink undetermined at this time. Dromilly Cave is a biologically important chamber cave that has been the subject of research in the past. The positions are GPS derived and were obtained by the JCO.

Deeside Caves within the Prospecting Area

Other Maps

Bauxite Mining in Jamaica - UWI

Bauxite Mining in Jamaica - UWI

The Jamaican Caves Organisation.