FOLLOWING an announcement by environment minister Robert Pickersgill
that the Goat Islands are being seriously considered for the site of a
logistics hub to be built by the Chinese Government, environmentalists
have been up in arms about the move.
The Goat Islands are located less than a mile off the coast of Old
Harbour Bay and can be accessed in about 15 minutes by boat. The cays
are among 14 small islands that are part of the Portland Bight Protected
Area and are officially a part of the parish of St Catherine.
Great Goat Island is approximately 600 acres while Little Goat Island is about 300 acres.
According to environmentalist, member of the Jamaican Caves Organisation
and the Jamaican Iguana Research Project, Jan Pauel, any form of
industrialisation of the Goat Islands will have a devastating effect on
the environment and will cause untold suffering to the many persons who
make a living off the sea.
"Those islands are a nursery and breeding ground for every kind of
seafood that we eat in Jamaica ... fish, lobster, crabs, conch. It is
not suitable for any kind of industrialisation. There is a lot of
undiscovered stuff out there. It's jobs versus conservation. It is not
about saving lizards and animals and it is not about jobs, jobs, jobs.
First of all, the jobs are going to go to the Chinese, as we have seen
with the road in Palisadoes, the Chinese Embassy and the Spanish hotels
on the North Coast who are all managed by Spanish, Spanish front desk,
Spanish housekeepers," Pauel said.
On Friday, Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Anthony Hylton
sought to reassure Jamaicans that protocols were already in place to
ensure that a fair ratio of local to foreign workers are employed on all
existing Chinese projects.
Hylton said that the hub would integrate Jamaica into the global
economy, given its worldwide connectivity and the integrated activities
with global value and
"We must get our people ready for the jobs and they must have
world-class training and world-class standards. The Logistics Hub is a
global asset, so there can't be two standards, a Jamaican standard and a
global standard — there can only be one standard," he said during a
press briefing at his office in Kingston on Friday.
But Pauel would have none of it.
"How many workers you would need to be ancillary staff, to clean the
floors, cut the grass and be security at the gate?" he asked.
The Sunday Observer visited the islands last week to get a first-hand look at what would be destroyed if
a logistics hub were to be
Both islands have beautiful white sand and mangroves on their coasts
which serve as sanctuaries for reef fish which breed in the area and
whose fry use the roots of the mangroves as protection from larger
Small fish could be seen swimming about less than one foot from
There were also starfish and oysters in the pristine waters.
On Great Goat Island there is a variety of plant life including cacti,
aloe vera and large trees. Many species of butterflies, birds and green
lizards and the common Jamaican Anole lizard were also seen on the
islands which were overgrown with thick brush.
The islands were once the habitat of the threatened Jamaican Iguana
until the 1940s, when the population was thought to have become extinct,
mainly due to predation by mongooses and wild goats who destroyed the
lizards' natural habitat.
Surprisingly, the water around the western side of Great Goat Island
If the Government gives the go-ahead for the Chinese investors to build
the logistics hub, both islands will most likely be bulldozed, the sea
floor dredged and connected nearby wetlands of Cabarita Point on the
It may also require filling in thousands of acres of wetlands, using
limestone mined from the hills and spoil dredged from the sea. The
resulting loss of the wetlands, seagrasses, coral reefs and coastal
forests would result in a massive loss of biodiversity and possible
extinction of several species which are only found in Portland Bight.
This, according to Pauel, would sound the death knell for the livelihood
of the approximately 55,000 persons who live in the Portland Bight
Protected Area as the area around the Goat Islands is only 11 feet deep,
which is too shallow to accommodate the large vessels that would most
likely dock at the logistics hub.
"They keep talking about a deep-water port; this is a shallow bay. No
matter what, this is of tactical importance, food, water and
protection-wise for Jamaica. There is nothing that is worth giving that
up for," he said.
Environmentalists have often been labelled as being anti-development
zealots who go to great lengths to protect the environment even if it
means the loss of earnings and non-creation of employment.
However, Chief Executive Officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)
Diana McCaulay told the Sunday Observer that the goal of the
environmentalists was not to block development at all cost, but to make
sure that Jamaica's natural heritage was protected and not mercilessly
raped in the name of development.
"JET is not against development on Goat Islands. We are against the
development of a large transhipment port in the most protected area in
Jamaica, without any information on the criteria for site selection, the
alternative sites that were considered, or any public consultation,
even with groups involved in managing the protected area," she said.
She said that JET was particularly anxious that consultation takes place
before any agreements are signed - the consultation that takes place as
part of any Environmental Impact Assessment process takes place far too
late when the decision has already been taken to go ahead.
She agreed with Pauel that the proposed hub was not suitable for the Portland Bight Protected Area.
"We believe that to protect an area by law must mean something; it must
mean that great care is taken to ensure the type of development done in
that area is appropriate, sustainable and does not damage the protected
natural resources," she said.
McCaulay was also critical, and labelled as inept the way the matter is being handled by the Government.
She pointed to leaked details, speeches and newspaper columns from
unofficial sources, Pickersgill's statement from China, a speech by
Hylton at a private sector function to which the media was invited and
then asked to leave as proof of the Government's bundling of the matter.
A group of environmental experts, including Marcia Ford environmental
data manager- UWI Centre for Marine Sciences; Robert Stephens, chairman
Jamaica Protected Areas Trust (JPAT) and Jamaica Conservation
Development Trust (JCDT); Professor Dale Webber, chairman Environmental
Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ); Susan Otuokon, executive director, Jamaica
Conservation Development Trust (JCDT); Richard 'Dickie' Crawford,
chairman, Jamaicans United for Sustainable Development (JUSD); Peter
Espeut, environmentalist and natural resource manager; Michael Schwartz
Windsor Research Centre (WRC), and Dr Ann Sutton — have all come out
against the proposed site of the hub.
"The entire Portland Bight Protected Area, including the Goat Islands,
is totally unsuitable for the proposed Chinese logistics hub. If Jamaica
needs this project, Jamaica needs to find a different site," a news
release from the group said.
The group is arguing that not only would the project destroy
livelihoods, but also destroy the mangroves which are a natural
protection from storm surges, and would increase vulnerability to
"Portland Bight is already the most disaster-prone area of Jamaica.
Floods, storm surges and hurricane damage have caused massive and
widespread damage to property, infrastructure (including ports) and
livelihoods. In 2004, during Hurricane Dean, the people of Old Harbour
Bay had to moor their boats to the upper parts of their houses. The
problems come from a combination of storm surge from the sea and
flooding from the land on a scale that could not be reverse-engineered,"
the news release stated.
The Portland Bight Protected Area, declared under the Natural Resources
Conservation Authority Act in 1999 and is a wetland of international
importance, declared under the Ramsar Convention in 2006.
"We are calling on the Government to carry out a thorough, scientific
and transparent assessment of all the options for sites before making a
decision. We believe that there are other more suitable sites for this
development. Portland Bight cannot be one of the options — it is the
worst possible location and will have much more negative than positive
implications for the people of Jamaica," the news release said.