The Goat Island Controversy

I Allen/ Staff Photographer, “Bridging the Gap on Goat Islands” The Jamaica Gleaner (Kingston, Jamaica 25 September 2013)

Around late August, the Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, Robert Pickersgill, made an announcement after returning from a conference in China with the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) that the CHEC had expressed the need for 3000 acres of land to build a port. He stated that the Chinese had an interest in the Cay off the coast of St. Catherine and that it is under heavy consideration. There was backlash from the Jamaican people and environmentalists. Both these parties were concerned with the environmental risks of implementing a trans-shipment hub on Goat Island.

The Jamaica Environment Trust listed the devastating impacts on the coastal environment: mangroves, seagrass beds, coral reefs and the repercussions that opening up access to currently inaccessible land may cause such as further degradation of the ancient dry limestones of the Hellshire hills. In late August, The Urban Development Chairman (UDC) chairman, K.D. Knight, reassured the Jamaican people that there are stages to assessing if the area is suitable for the proposal. However, at the recent PNP’s 75th conference on September 22, 2013, the Prime Minister showed signs of leaning towards accepting the proposal. The government stresses the point that there will be employment and other economic gains for the country. On the other hand, the Jamaican people are concerned with losing the history of the islands. The controversy has resurfaced historical facts about the Goat Island. Apart from its remarkable beauty, it is said to have Arawak dwellings and used to be a safe place for run-away slaves.

Although Great Goat Island contains a lot of history, is it necessary to cling to history when there are economic benefits? But then again, should the government disregard the obvious implications and inconvenience from the project? The Chinese investors have shown interest in the Goat Islands before but were discouraged it due to environmental prohibitions. Yet, the government fails to see that if they go ahead with the project the environmental risks still exist. Is it that the environmentally prohibitions that existed before have changed now or is Jamaica plain desperate?

It seems to the Jamaican people that the government usually favours the Chinese investors, or international investors, over the opinions of the Jamaican people. As mentioned above, K.D. Knight pressed the fact that there will be an assessment of the environment before any decision is made. The question is will the results of the assessment even deter the government from choosing the eco system over the investment? A newspaper article of the “Jamaica Observer” (November 11, 2011) quoted the Honourable Portia Simpson- Miller on the issue of Urban Development Corporation (UDC) divesting Green Grotto and other attractions. The then opposition leader stated that “The PNP will be defending the natural resource and heritage of the Jamaican people and will not allow them to be sold”. Now that the Honourable Portia Simpson- Miller is in power she seems to have forgotten her promises or it may just have been a cozenage to get patriotic Jamaicans on her side.

The Jamaican government needs to think ahead and concentrate on the eco system and environmental implications of this project. Without the wood, coral reefs, mangroves and other wildlife, it is hard for fishes to thrive which is to the detriment of the fishermen. In a Gleaner article (May 24, 2011) the Honourable Portia Simpson- Miller expressed the need to have a ministry dedicated to the changing environment and climate. As a result, the PNP implemented the Ministry of Land, Water, and Climate Change. Now, the party is considering altering nature after altering the cabinet to protect the Jamaica and its beauty. It is safe to say that the party plays a hypocritical part in this controversy. The Jamaican government should remember what they say is good for the country and develop these areas for sustainable tourism. Sustainable development is guaranteed for the future. We need to stop relying on outside forces to rescue us from our economic quagmires.

Rushell Malcolm 


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