Presented in partnership with the Jamaica Environment Trust, with thext by Dr David Smith and Professor Byron Wilson of the University of the West Indies, Mona
In the Caribbean’s small island developing states, the opportunity cost of deferring foreign investment for environmental protection is high, but sometimes necessary. In this two-part AMG series, we explore the proposed Chinese-led development of a transshipment port near to Jamaica’s Goat Islands, and the ensuing Save Goat Islands campaign.
Great Goat Island and Little Goat Island lie approximately 1.5 miles from Jamaica’s Old Harbour Bay in the Portland Bight.
The islands themselves are large – Great Goat Island is about 242 hectares and Little Goat Island about 120 hectares. Great Goat Island rises to a height of roughly 100 metres, while Little Goat Island is much flatter and was cleared to build a US Naval base in the 1940s.
Jamaica’s largest native land mammal, the Jamaican iguana, once roamed freely over the islands. After the Indian mongoose was introduced in the early 20th century however, the Jamaican iguana struggled to survive, and eventually became extinct on the Goat Islands. The critically endangered iguana survives only in captivity and in small populations in the Hellshire Hills.
Foreign direct investment and protected areas
The Portland Bight Protected Area was created in 1999 to protect 1,876 sq. km of coastal area, including the two Goat Islands.
The area contains important natural resources: mangroves, seagrasses, forests, coral reefs, and fresh water, which provide critical services for Jamaica.
In August 2013, Robert Pickersgill – Jamaica’s Minister of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change – issued a statement from Beijing, confirming that the Government of Jamaica was giving “very serious consideration” to the construction of a proposed transshipment port by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) in the vicinity of the two Goat Islands on Jamaican’s south coast. This location lies within the PBPA, and the proposed port raises serious questions for the future of conservation in the area.
Public opinion was immediately sharply divided on the project. Considered to be part of a larger logistics hub initiative for the entire island, many Jamaicans were in support of the Goat Islands development, especially given the Jamaican context of negligible economic growth over three decades and high unemployment. Others were concerned about the port’s proposed location in a protected area, the atmosphere of secrecy that prevailed, and the potential impact to existing livelihoods, particularly fishing.
One of Jamaica’s leading environmental groups, the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) led a Save Goat Islands campaign, which sought to raise awareness about the important natural resources of the protected area and insist that more information was needed in the public domain before any assessment could be made on the proposed project’s long term costs and benefits for Jamaica’s land and people.
Part 2: In part two, the authors venture to the Goat Islands, hosted by the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce (JCC) and the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI), to familiarize readers with the area slated for the port development.
Dr. David Smith is an ecologist and the Coordinator of the Institute for Sustainable Development at the University of the West Indies. Professor Byron Wilson is a conservation biologist with 17 years’ experience conducting ecological research in the Portland Bight Protected Area.