INTERNATIONALLY, mangroves are valued anywhere between US$200,000 and US$900,000 per hectare per year, but Jamaica is having a hard time capitalizing on the income, largely because it has sold much of the resource to private landholders.
As such, head of the Centre for Marine Sciences at The University of the West Indies (The UWI) Dr Mona Webber is advocating a government buy-back of mangrove-bearing lands that would have been sold for development projects.
“We sold a lot of those lands on the north coast and elsewhere with prime mangrove forests and now NEPA [National Environment and Planning Agency] is trying to protect them and they realize we don't own them anymore.
She was speaking with the Jamaica Observer recently to discuss her research paper titled Smothered in Plastics – The Refuge Cay Rescue which will be featured during UWI Mona Research Days, starting today and running until Friday.
As Professor Webber explains it, the value of mangrove forests is calculated according to the range of services they offer, from direct economic livelihood, environmental protection, drug manufacturing, fish nurseries, filtration of waterways, and tourism.
“Mangrove ecosystem services are numerous,” she said. “People get timber and honey from mangroves, they get oysters, anything that you can extract and sell. Then there is buffering. Mangroves will protect shorelines from hurricanes, and that has been published. The tsunami in India [in 2004], for example, showed where there were reduced deaths in areas that had mangrove forests.
Mangrove forests also produce drugs; sponges and acidinas with bioactive compounds have been extracted, even from our mangroves. There are educational and tourist opportunities. They provide nurseries for fish; the shelter and food provided in a mangrove lagoon are very important for a nursery habitat,” she continued.
In that respect, Webber said the government environmental watchdog has been using the valuation data to block applications “from hoteliers or others who want to take out mangroves to put in something that looks more economically viable”. She added, however, that while there is legislation to prevent encroachment on mangrove forests, and “some level of enforcement”, the greater problem is presented by “people trying to circumvent the system”.