Editor’s note: Peter Espeut, author of the following perspective piece, is executive director of the Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation (C-CAM), a nongovernmental organization in Jamaica. C-CAM is preparing to accept management responsibility from the Jamaican government for the Portland Bight Protected Area, an integrated marine and terrestrial protected area. MPA News has adapted this perspective piece from material that Espeut originally posted to the online discussion forum “Wise Coastal Practices for Sustainable Human Development”, maintained by UNESCO.

By Peter Espeut, Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation

Protected areas based on sound science, created with a robust legal framework, and backed by a good management team are an effective mechanism for the conservation of biodiversity. In less-developed countries where poverty and lack of opportunity are factors in conservation planning, protected areas can be a particularly useful concept. Efforts can be focused on environmental conservation, while human and material resources can be brought to bear on local human development problems.

Jamaica is an island nation with rich biodiversity and pockets of extreme poverty that originate in the skewed distribution of land resources and other social benefits, characteristic of post-slave societies in the New World. Global and regional assessments paint a worrying picture, with the highest rate of deforestation in the world, the second highest rate of endemic plant species in danger of extinction, and Jamaican waters being the most overfished in the Caribbean Community. Unsustainable fisheries and forest-use practices threaten plant and animal biodiversity, and create a socioeconomic context in which poverty persists from generation to generation. Against this background, natural resource management must include improving personal self-image, empowerment of residents, diversifying the local economy to provide new economic niches, and changing cultural practices toward more sustainable natural resource use.

Jamaican society, although democratic, is highly polarized by two strong political parties; government departments are perceived as arms of whichever party is in power. In this context, natural resource management efforts by the state alone could be counter-productive since they will not receive the support of all, and may lead to high levels of non-compliance with management measures.

The Jamaican government has committed itself to create 14 terrestrial, marine and integrated protected areas, representing fully 25% of its land area and about 50% of its shallow shelf (20 meters in depth or less). Wisely, in light of the political situation, the government has created space in this process for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to play an important role. In fact, there are no plans for a national agency to manage the new protected areas; rather, national policy provides for the delegation of management authority to qualified NGOs. While the government will provide the necessary legislative framework for each protected area, an NGO with proper consultation with stakeholders will prepare an approved management plan, source the necessary funding, hire staff, do enforcement, conduct the necessary biophysical and socioeconomic baseline surveys, and involve the local community in implementation.

So far, management responsibility for the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park has been delegated to the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust, and the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust has been given a mandate to manage the Montego Bay Marine Park. The delegation of the management of the Negril Marine Park, the Negril Environmental Protection Area and the Portland Bight Protected Area to local NGOs is imminent.

The experience has not been an unqualified success. Not all NGOs have risen to the task with equal vigor and thoroughness, and the government has been slow to fulfill its side of the bargain. But the approach has the potential to achieve the desired environment and development goals.

The Jamaican government’s plans to implement the system of protected areas have been slowed because of the shortage of suitable NGOs to which to delegate management responsibility. While many NGOs exist, very few are equipped with the necessary skills and experience for natural resource management. Some are excellent members’ clubs with a particular interest, such as SCUBA diving or bird-watching; many biophysically-focused NGOs possess good natural science skills but lack training in the human sciences which are essential since natural resource management is essentially a social science; some NGOs are politically motivated, while others have limited goals and vision. What is required is the emergence in Jamaica of non-partisan NGOs with a clear vision of natural resource management and sustainable development, possessing both natural and social science skills.

It is early days yet, and the challenges of funding and gaining the confidence and collaboration of the resource-users appears immense; the waters are largely uncharted. Once there are success stories, once the incumbent NGOs demonstrate that the co-management approach is workable, new NGOs will emerge to fill the void.

For more information:
Peter Espeut, Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation, P.O. Box 33, Lionel Town, Clarendon, Jamaica. Tel: +1 876 986 3344; E-mail: pespeut@infochan.com.