Wetlands on the Decline, Jamaicans Urged to Value and Protect its Resources

Mangroves in Portland

The Forestry Department is reporting a 95.5 percent decline in swamp forest and is calling on Jamaicans to start valuing and protecting the island’s wetland resources which serve to reduce the risk of flood damage to houses, businesses and roads.  

Data from the latest Land Use Assessment Survey which was conducted by the Agency shows that over the last 15 years, Jamaica has lost 2,124.1 hectares of swamp forest, leaving this forest type at only 122.9 hectares, which accounts for less than 0.1 per cent of the 40 per cent of the island’s total forest cover. The survey reports that the decline is as a result of the construction of hotels and other infrastructure.

CEO and Conservator of Forests, Ms. Marilyn Headley is warning that there needs to be a balance between development and the conservation of these resources. “It is said that the environment and the economy are two sides of the same coin and if we fail to sustain our environment, we will fail to sustain the economy. Development is necessary, it’s one way we grow as a country and as a people but when we do it at the expense of our natural environment, we are in big trouble,” Ms. Headley said.

Ms. Headley points out that swamp forests are greatly undervalued and underappreciated when compared to mangrove forests, another type of wetland, which have seen an increase of 1.4 percent over the last 15 years. However, the Conservator of Forests says that they both play a critical role in forest sector, water supply, and fish production. “Wetlands are important for maintaining fresh water supplies as they catch and store rain water, refill underground reserves and protect them from salty water. Our wetlands also act as sponges that hold flood waters, preventing the likelihood of flooding,” she added.

A study carried out by the Planning Institute of Jamaica in 2008 revealed that between 2002 and 2007, Jamaica experienced three major hurricanes and several flood events that amounted to over $73 billion in losses.  “Jamaica is a hazard-prone country and one of the main purposes our wetlands serve is to lessen the impacts of storm events thus reducing the amount of money to repair damage so we have to play our part in reducing the threats to our country by protecting and conserving our wetland resources” she said.

The CEO &Conservator of Forests says that for this World Wetlands Day which is being celebrated under the theme, “Wetlands for Disaster Risk Reduction”, Jamaicans should use the opportunity to learn more about their wetlands, where they are located, what is happening to them and how they can help. “The issue of caring for and protecting our wetland forests is not a Forestry Department business or government business, it is a Jamaican business and it will take each citizen, playing his or her part, to stop the destruction of this valuable resource,” she said.