Community Focus: Cockpit Country is a source of wealth - environmentalist

March 06, 2018
The forests of the Cockpit Country in Jamaica's interior are a world-famous karst (limestone) habitat, home to many plants and animals found nowhere else in the world.
Hugh Dixon
The Cockpit Country offers towering cliffs, limestone caves, underground rivers and waterfalls.

The South Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) has welcomed the Government's announcement that mining will be prohibited in the Cockpit Country. However, the body says it will be pressing for a rethink of the boundaries in certain areas.

"The announcement by the prime minister was a small win, and we have all reason to celebrate. But we will still advocate with Government in an amicable way," said renowned environmentalist and CEO of STEA, Hugh Dixon.

"They need to give further thought to areas left out in St James, St Elizabeth and St Ann because the announced boundaries are somewhat smaller than what comprises the Cockpit Country."

STEA celebrated 22 years of existence last month and has been an advocate against numerous attempts under successive governments to disrupt the ecologically sensitive Cockpit Country that runs through Trelawny, St James, St Elizabeth and St Ann.

Last November, Prime Minister Andrew Holness responded favourably to a petition led by the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET) calling for, among other things, the closure of the area to mining, quarrying and prospecting.


Protected area


According to the PM, the prohibited area will comprise approximately 74,726 hectares and will be referred to as the Cockpit Country Protected Area, which will be protected under specific legislation as advised by the attorney general.

There is an estimated 300 million tons of bauxite, valued at more than $9 billion in the Cockpit area, but Dixon is calling for a more sustainable plan for all the stakeholders.

"We know there will be a huge fallout from the cessation of mining in the Cockpit Country," he said. "But there is greater value in the rare species, pharmaceutical and renewable resources located in the area that will provide far more for the Government and greater benefit to the region."

He added: "Bauxite mining is one sure way of destroying what we have in natural environmental resources. There are over 1,500 endemic plants, and more is being discovered by scientific research, with active ingredients that can make the area rich into perpetuity."

Dixon also pointed out that 40 per cent of Jamaica's water originates from the Cockpit Country, noting that there are "five major rivers in the area from which 13 tributaries emerge.

"You can just imagine the overall negative effect bauxite mining would have on people's lives," said Dixon, in regard to the possible disruption of the water system.

Apart from its ecological value, the Cockpit Country also has significant cultural value and is assessed to hold enormous untapped potential for sustainable tourism.

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