Human activity contributes to death of mangroves — scientists

DON’T blame it on weather systems alone.

Scientists have said that the impact of human activity has also contributed to some of the die off of mangroves in southern Clarendon, where about 45 per cent between Milk River and Salt River are dead.

The University of the West Indies (UWI) Solutions for Developing Countries’ (SODECO) chief scientist, Professor Terrence Forrester told the Jamaica Observer that people and their environments are one, and as a result, people’s actions often time impact their environments — whether intentional or not.

“We are not different from the environment; we are a part of the environment. There are good things that we do but there are a lot of bad things that we tend to do. We really shouldn’t, but we cut down mangrove trees to make charcoal. People are doing it because it is the leading livelihood here — after the collapse of the sugar industry — followed by fishing, and fish are getting lesser and lesser due to overfishing,” Forrester said at a Jamaica Observer Press Club staged in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation at Halse Hall Great House in Clarendon last Thursday.

“This project is meant to understand the socio-economic dynamics and the market forces behind charcoal. In addition to that, we recognise that it damages people’s health,” he continued.

Forrester said that another detrimental practice is the cutting down or bulldozing of mangrove habitats to make settlements.

“When these are unplanned and you find that people in a particular area — that I won’t name — want to get to the sea, they get the municipal authority to lay down a road through the mangroves. They are putting down hard structures that interfere with the water flow, and hard structures that displace mangroves,” he said.

Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, Senator Matthew Samuda told the Sunday Observer that there is a connection between social and economic degradation.

“Cutting down usually happens because of the social degradation and economic impact in the space — it’s not just cutting down for cutting down sake. Economic motivation is one of the issues that forestry officers will have, and not just in this area. It is that economic need to extract in an unsustainable manner,” he said.

Further, improper waste disposal is known to be a cause of flooding but what a lot of people don’t realise, Forrester explained, is that flood waters in turn damage mangrove forests.

“The plastics not only wash up on the shore but they also block up the inlets going in; it’s going to get worse with climate change. And the little bit of rain that comes when we are drought-stricken, we want to ensure that gushes in at the bank, which is why a part of the restoration is to do like NWA [National Works Agency] — clean the channels and keep them open,” he told the Sunday Observer.

Another issue is road construction. Nowadays, roads are usually constructed using asphalt and/or concrete. The construction of modern roads tends to have three distinct processes: setting out, earthworks and paving construction.

Forrester told the Sunday Observer that the dilemma is when roads are constructed that pose a threat to mangroves.

“The construction of transportation infrastructure such as roads and railway lines across mangroves interfere with the flow of water through the mangroves and so damage or kill them. Whenever you build a road across mangroves like the one you see at Jackson Bay [Portland Cottage], of course when the hurricanes come they force sand upon the beach,” he said.

“This is something we don’t often think about. When the natural rain cycle comes and you get flooding, rather than the water coming in and then draining off in a reasonable time, it comes and it sits.”

SODECO unveiled its US$2.5-million UWI Mangrove Restoration project being carried out in partnership with Sugar Company of Jamaica Holdings Limited and a raft of other agencies, including the National Environment and Planning Agency, Ministry of National Security, Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, the Planning Institute of Jamaica, Inter-American Development Bank, and the Government of the United Kingdom.