Friday, November 19, 2010

Blue Lagoon Restoration, Jamaica: A Sustainable Community Development Project

Blue Lagoon in Portland is one of Jamaica’s most tranquil and striking places of natural beauty. The largest of Jamaica’s spring-fed lagoons, the crystal clear waters of the lagoon change color from turquoise to sapphire to azure blue depending on the light and time of day, a result of its great depth of approximately 180ft. A favorite spot for swimming and diving, and a hideaway for the jet-set crowd who flocked to Port Antonio in years past, this enchanted natural area is in need of environmental protection. Renewed efforts are underway to have it included as a ‘National Heritage Site’ as designated by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust and the Blue Lagoon project has become the catalyst for a new initiative to help promote sustainable community development in the parish of Portland. It is also the first step towards possibly pursuing the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for this jewel of the Jamaican landscape.

Early in 2009, Jamaican Adrienne Joan Duperly was dismayed at the sight of construction garbage piled up by the beach at Blue Lagoon. Her desire to do something to better the environment of Blue Lagoon and assist the community to preserve this special place, led her to partner with Dr. Warren Flint, a sustainability specialist who has worked extensively in assisting communities in the United States and internationally to develop sustainable community projects. Together they will lead the Blue Lagoon Restoration Project taking place in November 2010. They have already done significant research work investigating the potential for sustainable community development in Portland. They plan to conduct a series of assessment meetings with local stakeholder groups in Portland and Kingston and are inviting all individuals and groups who have an interest in this project to participate. Working in co-operation with the Executive Director of Jamaica National Heritage Trust, Laleta Mattis-Davis, they will also be engaged with other Government agencies. On November 20, 2010, they will bring together key stakeholder groups and develop strategies for advancing sustainable community development projects at the Blue Lagoon Summit taking place at Goblin Hill Conference Center. The stated intent for the summit is:

The overall intent of this [Blue Lagoon Restoration] Summit will be to promote a regional economy that binds communities together and keeps people and place healthy while everyone has the opportunity for earning a family living wage and enjoying an acceptable quality of life. We believe the outcome of our assessment effort will be a catalyst for change to advance Blue Lagoon National Heritage Marine Site declaration and to enable pursuit of UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for this coastal area which is so important in enhancing the tourism economy. 

Simply put, the vision for sustainable community development in Portland would encompass economic development to improve the lives of local residents while restoring and protecting the environment. Regrettably, many of Jamaica’s great coastal natural assets have been degraded from shoreline overuse, beach erosion, reef over-fishing and pollution – all examples of possible effects of “unsustainable” development and the lack of taking into account the needs of the environment. For example, in Negril, beach erosion caused by an excess of hotel developments on the fragile ecosystem is a very grave concern. The mangroves of the Great Morass have been significantly reduced and pollution has caused die-off of seagrass and coral reefs. Many other Jamaican coastal sites are also under threat from similar pollution and shoreline overuse threats.

Portland is the one parish in Jamaica with an abundant amount of sites of great cultural and natural heritage that has so far escaped from the sort of over-development seen in Montego Bay, Negril and along the rest of the North Coast. While there are hotels, guest houses and villas, they are small in scale which has allowed the parish to retain its great sense of natural beauty unscarred by large developments. Residents of Portland along with the Jamaica Environment Trust and other concerned Jamaicans have been engaged in other efforts to protect their environment from over-development and retain the unique natural charm of the parish. The recent campaign to prevent the building of villas on Pellew Island is an example of this engagement. The Portland Parish Council’s decision in February 2010 to reject the proposal to build the villas was a rare environmental victory in Jamaica and one that garnered the approval of many local residents.

Portland’s iconic natural and cultural sites include Blue Lagoon, Folly Point, Boston Beach, Reich Falls, Frenchman’s Cove, Long Bay, Pellew Island, Winifred Beach, Somerset Falls, Rio Grande Valley, Nanny Town and San San Beach. Portland tends to draw tourists who are looking for alternatives from the all-inclusive mega-resort type of experience. It is the ideal setting to explore new models of eco-tourism and projects that will bring renewed vitality and economic support to the local communities. The Portland Ecotourism Art Community Endeavour is one organization that has already been offering ecotourism activities in the area with bird watching tours and excursions to cultural sites.
Several sites in Portland are already given the distinction of being Jamaica National Heritage Sites including the Titchfield Peninsula, Folly Point and Nanny Town. It is entirely appropriate that Blue Lagoon should be seriously considered to be designated a Jamaica National Heritage Site. With this distinction it would take its rightful place along side other great places of natural beauty in the island such as the Blue Mountains.

The long-term vision to eventually have UNESCO World Heritage Site designation for Blue Lagoon would be an enormous boon to Portland and a great asset for the country as a whole. World Heritage Site designation brings an elevation of status and international recognition to sites that are uniquely important to the world community in terms of cultural and natural heritage. While Jamaica does not currently have any UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, the Underwater City of Port Royal and the Seville Heritage Park are on a “tentative” list.

The Blue Lagoon Restoration project comes at a time when Jamaicans are more than ever concerned with protecting the environment. The recent Coastal Clean Up of beaches in September saw an unprecedented amount of people volunteering their time to clean up beaches around the island of pollution and waste. The residents of Portland will have an opportunity to join in these forward-looking efforts as they gather to form a collective vision and plan to develop their community in sustainable ways. It will take commitment and a willingness to collaborate with each other; however Portlanders have shown that they can do this. They live in one of the most pristine parishes of Jamaica, a beacon of beauty that casts a spell of enchantment on all who visit. Copyright©Kathy Stanley
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For more on the Blue Lagoon project, please see the following website:
Blue Lagoon Blog

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