Wed | Dec 11, 2019

Earth Today | Storm brews over Cockpit Country

Published:Thursday | August 22, 2019 | 12:20 AM
The undulating hills of the Cockpit Country. File

STORM CLOUDS are once again gathering over Jamaica’s biodiversity-rich and ecologically sensitive Cockpit Country, as environmental and community stakeholders dig in their heels to prevent bauxite mining in the area.

This is so as Special Mining Licence 173 has been granted to Noranda Jamaica Bauxite Partners, 51 per cent of which is owned by the Goverment, by the Mines and Geology Division for a section of the Cockpit Country landscape that stakeholders insist is too close for comfort to the area to be designated under law as the Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA).

Further, they say this was done in the absence of an Environmental Impact Assessment, which was only recently completed and the report submitted to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA).

Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced in Parliament in November 2017 the boundary for the Cockpit Country as the one described by the Parris Lyew-Ayee Jr 2005 report. However, as reflected in an August 11, 2019 opinion piece from stakeholders, including the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) and the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA), that boundary ”excludes Accompong, Maroon Town, Cuffie Ridge, Quashies River Sink and Mahogany Hall”.

“So this geomorphological definition excludes Maroon heritage and Jamaican history,” they said.

As for the CCPA, the PM said at the time that it would “include existing forest reserves, significant hydrological and ecological features and cultural and heritage sites. This area comprises approximately 74,726 hectares”.

He went on to promise that “the Government is declaring that no mining will be permitted in the CCPA. In this regard, the Mining Act and any existing mining licences will be amended to close these areas to mining”.

“The Government is of the view that this area is too valuable in terms of its ecological and hydrological importance and uniqueness to allow mining which may result in permanent and irreversible harm and deprive future generations of the benefit of this national asset … While we will forgo the extraction of millions of tonnes of high-grade bauxite and limestone with potential earnings of billions of United States dollars, we cannot put a price tag on the loss to our water resources and biodiversity,” Holness added.

Stakeholders want boundary revisited

STEA boss and long-time champion for the Cockpit Country’s protection, Hugh Dixon, said stakeholders now want the entire boundary revisited.

“We want them to withdraw the licence, revisit the boundary of Cockpit Country and make it be the full landscape represented by the Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group that is protected,” he told The Gleaner.

The Cockpit Country Stakeholders Group boundary takes in St Ann, St Elizabeth, St James, and Trelawny and is estimated to deny access to some 300 million tons of bauxite or US$9 billion in earnings.

“We were of the view that the PM’s presentation in November 2017 was a kind of conclusion to the business of Cockpit Country. Even if the boundary the PM presented was to be presented as the core protected area to be followed by a buffer, we wouldn’t have minded. But to come to the realisation that the mining area is juxtaposed against the CCPA was a surprise,” Dixon said.

“We expected, based on all that was discussed, that we would protect something and then negotiate what was left. The trick is that the so-called CCPA is really a diagram of Cockpit Country that is leaving out a lot of what is known to be Cockpit Country to facilitate it being mined out,” he added.

The fear, Dixon said, is that the invaluable ecosystem services of the Cockpit Country could be undermined. They include area as a source of freshwater for some 40 per cent of the population in the face of a changing climate that could undermine water security; a home for some 1,500 rare and endemic species of flora and fauna, including the Giant Swallowtail butterfly and the Jamaican Yellow Snake; and a source of local livelihoods, including in tourism and agriculture.

JET chief executive officer Suzanne Stanley agreed.

“We acknowledge the PM has promised there will be no mining in the CCPA and trust that the Government will stand by that. But there are these large sections of Cockpit Country that have been left out of the protected area that do need to be protected from mining,” she maintained.

“They are ecologically sensitive, they are important for the hydrology of western Jamaica, for the hydrology of Cockpit Country, they are home to many Cockpit Country communities who do not want mining and who have made it clear that they do not want mining in their communities. The risk is really too great to public health, the environment and livelihoods of the people who live there,” she added.