Jamaican tourist mecca under hazard threat

The world famous white sand beaches “have been experiencing severe and irreversible shoreline and retreat” for more than four decades.

Islands Picture

KINGSTON, Jamaica, Thursday December 29, 2011 – Studies indicate that in the last 40 or so years, the famous resort town of Negril has lost more than 55 metres of beach.

Made world famous by the so-called “flower children” of the hippie generation, the approximately seven-kilometre stretch of powdery white sand and crystal clear waters, authorities say, accounts for just over 25 percent of the island’s tourism earnings.

But the industry that placed Negril on the map, and on which the town depends, has been destroying the fragile marine ecosystem it needs to survive.
Now, Jamaican authorities are turning their attention to Negril, where decades of unplanned development is destroying the local ecosystem and eroding the famous beach.

The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), the agency responsible for the management and protection of the island’s 1,022 kilometres of coastline, has begun the replanting of sea grass beds and mangrove forests in Negril as well as Montego Bay and Portland Bight. The agency said these areas have faced severe negative impacts from the large-scale removal of coastal vegetation.

The replanting is one of several activities in an “integrated” multi-sector, multi-donor effort to halt the decline of the ecosystems that are crucial to the preservation of Negril’s prized beaches, project manager Mary Gooden said.

Partially funded by a 4.13 million-euro grant from the European Union, the project is expected to provide alternative livelihoods for those whose activities negatively impact the environment and to
enhance the resilience of Negril and other vulnerable coastal areas to the impacts of natural hazards.

Gooden, who works with the Planning Institute of Jamaica, which coordinates climate change mitigation actions on the island, noted that the restoration of Negril’s marine wetlands is expected to boost the ability of the ecosystem to protect of one of Jamaica’s most valuable coastal areas from impacts of severe weather. Healthy wetlands dissipate wave actions and minimise their impacts on the shoreline.

The world famous white sand beaches “have been experiencing severe and irreversible shoreline and retreat” for more than four decades, a 2010 report from the Risk and Vulnerability Assessment Methodology Development Project (RIVAMP) warned.

The problems have been exacerbated by inland activities that continue to impact the reefs: unsustainable fishing practices, and the removal of mangroves to increase the number of hotel rooms and to provide material for charcoal and fish pot production.

Jamaica’s State of the Environment (SOE) report 2010 stated that between 2007 and 2010, 2,560 hotel rooms were added, with Montego Bay and Negril accounting for most of the new development at 29 percent and 12.8 percent, respectively.

In 2010, tourism was estimated at 20 percent of Jamaica’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), just over 50 percent of the island’s foreign exchange earnings and a quarter of all jobs. Some say that Negril’s ecosystem may actually account for much as 40 percent of GDP.

In recent decades, Negril has recorded some of the highest rates of coastal erosion in the Caribbean. Studies by the University of the West Indies (UWI) and Smith Warner International for the Negril Coral Reef Protection Society indicate that Negril’s coastline eroded at an average rate of between .5 and one metre a year between 1968 and 2006.

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