It was another tight itinerary for Ted, Lisa and myself in Jamaica, the second country visited this summer for the Caribbean Birding Trail. The first was to the Dominican Republic (see posts below). The main objective of our trips is to assess the existing resources available for sustainable tourism and to meet stakeholders. ‘Resources’ refers to a range of things, from birds, butterflies and beetles to roads, lodging and stories.
The two sites we focused on in Jamaica were the Cockpit Country and the Portland Bight Protected Area. Eventually we will cover the entire country, but starting with pilot sites allows us to incrementally implement the project and learn valuable lessons as we progress. The Cockpit Country and the Portland Bight Protected Area are expansive regions in Jamaica, and it took us several days at each to fully take it all it in.
We began first in Cockpit Country (CC), in northwestern Jamaica. The CC covers an area of approximately 749 square kilometers and supports the largest number of globally threatened species of any key biodiversity area in the Caribbean, with 59 (including 11 amphibians and 40 plant species). The area is a unique expanse of wet forest on a limestone karst landscape. Agriculture (and invasive plant species) dominates the low, flat lands, with forest covering the mountains. Cockpit Country is the source for freshwater used by 40 percent of Jamaicans, and the area is essential in moderating the flow and preventing flooding of a number of western Jamaica’s rivers.
The rounded hills of CC were formed when the underlying bedrock made up of soft limestone was dissolved over millions of years by rainwater. Over time, rainwater percolated through the limestone to form underground caverns. The collapsed caverns in turn formed sinkholes, and an aquifer that is the source of water for seven major rivers in Jamaica. This fascinating geology has yielded more than 300 caves in CC, and we had the opportunity to explore one in the community of Rock Spring.
We spent four days exploring Cockpit Country, making stops at Windsor Research Centre, Flagstaff, Albert Town, Kinloss and others. At these stops and through our participatory workshop we met with several stakeholders, including members of the Local Forest Management Committees (LFMCs).
In recent years, the Jamaican Forestry Department has established LFMCs to enable local communities to participate in the planning, management, protection and sustainable use of local forests. In the Cockpit Country Key Biodiversity Area, for example, there are about 30,000 hectares of state-owned Forest Reserve in parcels of differing sizes, interspersed with rural communities. LFMCs there have identified sustainable livelihoods, developed local capacity in forest management and resource monitoring, established environmental education programs, and other activities. One of the branches has been particularly active in Flagstaff, having built a visitor center and various trails in the area.
From the northwest we headed south and east to the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) on the coast of Jamaica. The PBPA covers more than 87,000 hectares and supports populations of 15 globally threatened species. Almost 80 percent of protected area is deforested or developed, yet the key biodiversity areas within this corridor are critically important for their unique biodiversity, and Portland Bight supports the largest intact area of mangrove forest in Jamaica.
Considering that 1,356.4 square kilometers of the PBPA is marine habitat, two of our days were spent on the water. Employing the help of local fishermen, we motored out to a series of cays that provide important habitat for breeding colonies of Brown Noddies and Magnificent Frigatebirds.
One of our primary partners in the PBPA is the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, established in 1997 to promote coastal conservation in Jamaica. When it was first established, C-CAM focused on carrying out baseline studies of the Portland Bight Area to provide the background information needed to manage the proposed protected area. The organization is currently working on developing alternative livelihoods initiatives in the region, including building local capacity for tourism.
We ended our 12 days in Jamaica by holding a third participatory workshop in Kingston with representatives from tourism businesses and government agencies.
After the workshop, we couldn’t resist the draw of the mountains that form the backdrop of the capital city. Just 30 minutes from the buzz of urban life is the extraordinary quietude and splendor of the Blue and John Crow Mountains. We made it as far as Hardware Gap and 5,000 feet above sea level, in the Blue Mountain range.
A special treat on our way back down was stopping in at the cottage of the Twyman family where they roast Old Tavern coffee. Old Tavern Coffee Estate is a 30 year old family-operated business, whose coffee is unique for its beans grown on the high slopes of the Blue Mountains. Delicious!
Look for additional posts about our Jamaican trip soon. In the meantime, check out more of the pictures by clicking here.
The Caribbean Birding Trail assessment work in Jamaica is being supported by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund.