The Forestry Department has commenced its assessment of 7,000 hectares of mangrove forests across Jamaica as the Agency moves to develop a plan to manage this resource by 2021.
The management of mangroves is new to the Agency which is pursuing this activity with funding being provided to the forest sector by the European Union under its Budget Support Programme. The assessment and plan are also deliverables of the forest sector plan called the National Forest Management and Conservation Plan (NFMCP).
“The goal is to assess 7,000 hectares of mangroves over the next three years. At the end of April, we’ve assessed over 2,500 hectares so we are on track to meet the target. We are finding patches of healthy mangroves that we didn’t know existed and we are seeing firsthand how our mangroves are helping to keep our beaches clean and are serving as a habitat for a number of marine life,” Mr. Brahim Diop, Senior Research Officer and head of the Research Branch at the Agency said.
He says that work has begun on the north-west section of the island which covers the parishes of Trelawny, St. James and Hanover as well as the south-east section covering Clarendon, St. Catherine, St. Thomas, Kingston and St. Andrew.
The Forestry Department began it’s on the ground assessment of mangrove forests in January 2019. Given that most swamp forests are in close proximity to Mangrove forests the Agency will also use the opportunity to assess the remaining swamp forests.
According to the NFMCP, a national mangrove conservation plan is to be developed within the next four years. This plan will set out the strategies and accompanying actions to conserve and protect the remaining mangroves (private and public). To develop a practical mangrove conservation plan, implementable by relevant stakeholders, the Forestry Department will be collaborating with the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), and the University of the West Indies to develop the plan.
Ms. Donna Lowe, Senior Manager for the Forest Science and Technology Services Division says the plan will provide a detailed document on the distribution, assessment; management and analysis of these forest cover classes to ensure their longevity and maintenance.
“This will also assist us in the process of the transferring of Government-owned mangrove and swamp forest parcels outside of our management responsibility from the National Land Agency to the Forestry Department for protection, rehabilitation and management. Also, in addition to assessing and mapping what we currently have, we are also seeking to identify suitable areas to restore mangrove forests to compensate for areas lost to development which will eventually become habitat for species that have been displaced,” Ms. Lowe said.
Ms. Lowe says this is even more critical with the Climate Studies Group Mona projecting that there will be an increase in the sea level in the region of 0.24 to 0.30 metres during the period 2046-2065.
“The projections of the Climate Studies Group suggests that the impacts will not be felt before 2040 so given the relatively slow rate of forest growth, this provides the country with a twenty-year timeframe to take action, starting now, for the timely restoration of the country’s mangroves which have been recommended as the more effective method of shoreline protection,” she said.
Between 1998 and 2013, Jamaica has lost 2,123 hectares of mangrove and swamp forests, cumulatively. Mangroves and swamp forests provide several economic benefits to communities, which in many cases are extracted at an unsustainable rate for construction, for use as yam sticks, small-scale farming, charcoal production and artisanal fish pots. In addition, mangroves are threatened by permitted coastal development projects including housing solutions as well as hotels and tourist attractions.