Kevon Palmer finds life in the river
“It’s a source of life.” That is how Kevon Palmer, 26, describes the Rio Cobre in St Catherine.
“When all doors are closed, you can come to the river. If you have a fish pot, you can set it and catch some crayfish or some fish and that’s a day’s meal, or you can sell it and put money in your pocket,” he explained.
Palmer works under a mining licence, extracting river sand to earn his keep. The Mines and Geology Division has the statutory responsibility to exercise general supervision over all mining and quarrying operations across the island.
“I basically use my feet to search for the sand in the water and when I find it, I test it out with the shovel to see the depth of the sand and the quality of it,” he told The Gleaner.
As he mines, Palmer piles the sand on a raft and then transports it to the riverbank, where it is picked up by a truck.
“It depends on the depth of the water. If it’s deep, I use the row stick to come across, but if it’s at a level where I can stand in the river, I walk it out,” he explained.
Professor of Sedimentary Geology in the Department of Geography and Geology at The University of the West Indies, Mona, Simon Mitchell, told The Gleaner that the extraction area is typically the riverbed and not the banks.
“The real problem with river mining in general is the fact you’ve got to have new supplies of river sand or river material which comes down the river, especially in periods of heavy rain. During periods when there isn’t much rainfall, what tends to happen is that the sand is not replaced,” the professor said.
He explained that excess sand mining can result in river migration or its banks becoming mobile.
“People say they are training the river, in terms of controlling flooding. Now, there are cases where that is required, for instance, in Bull Bay when a large amount of sediment recently came down and that had to be removed. However, there are cases when they are exceeding what should be mined in some of these rivers,” he reasoned.
Mitchell added that mine inspectors are charged with examining legal operations, to ensure that rivers are not being damaged, but he is uncertain how frequently these checks are carried out.
“Also, they have the right to stop a mining operation if they see that it is damaging to the river, so they can revoke the licence,” he said.