Saturday, February 6, 2010
So here are the new links:
My website: http://www.dianamccaulay.com/
Thanks to those of you who check this site regularly, even in the absence of posts...hope you'll begin to check the above links too - so my site counter graph thingy can look slightly less pathetic!
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
So there was the usual flurry by the regulators, once they had seen the photographs sent to them by the Windsor Research Centre, based in Cockpit Country. The work was stopped the next day, but it rained and the soil sheeted off the hillside – it is unclear whether it ended up in the Martha Brae – but it ended up somewhere, possibly in the very harbor that we are now preparing to dredge for the pier.
The contractor was summoned to a meeting at NEPA, no doubt attended by a cast of many. A site visit to the area was done. There are promises of mitigation measures. But the damage has already been done, the trees have been removed, soil erosion has commenced and the peaceful and pleasant aspect from the river itself has been ruined.
The de facto regulatory framework for quarrying and associated roads in Jamaica is utterly inadequate. Although it is clear that under the NRCA Act mining, quarrying and mineral processing activities require an environmental permit, the practice has been NOT to issue environmental permits for mining or quarrying. Environmental oversight of these activities is deemed to be carried out by virtue of representation by NEPA on a quarries control committee.
The obvious direct consequences of this particular large scale forest clearance are soil erosion, river pollution, harbour siltation and loss of wildlife habitat, but there are others. Civil society members have tried hard to educate individuals about the consequences, for instance, of clearing of forest for agriculture or charcoal burning. In this particular region, there is growing acceptance of the importance of the watershed and the consequences of its deterioration. This highly visible clearance on the edge of the Martha Brae River must raise questions about the legitimacy of our arguments and the credibility of our regulators and planners.
The situation at Martha Brae well illustrates why the destruction of Jamaica's natural resources continues unabated. Large scale clearance of forested land, in close proximity to a major river, is carried out illegally by a private sector company without being noticed by the regional NEPA officer. It is reported by a member of the NGO community. There will no doubt be extravagant promises to “plant back” trees, but whether this is done or not, the forest has been lost and the impact to the river and the harbor has already occurred. If the past is anything to go by, there will be no prosecution and no sanctions for the quarry operator or the contractor and the Falmouth Cruise ship pier will get its marl.
You have to wonder about the decision making process that results in already heavily indebted Jamaica borrowing money to dredge Falmouth Harbour, while simultaneously doing our best to silt up the same harbour by destroying the watershed a couple of kilometres away! It’s equally mystifying to plan to bring cruise ship passengers to an area, hoping they will want to raft in the “unspoilt” beauty of the Martha Brae, while destroying the vista and ensuring the rafters will be accompanied by overloaded marl trucks charging along the narrow, riverside road, air horns and “Jake Brakes” blasting…
This is what we call “sustainable development…”
Sunday, August 23, 2009
(You know, I'm not sure about the "my country" business, because it seems the idea of the nation state has got the human race into a lot of trouble. What is it that makes a Jamaican anyway - an accident of birth? Of race? Of history and culture? Jamaicans who live abroad still identify themselves as Jamaicans; as we watch our magnificent success at the track and field world championships in Berlin, we point out the atheletes running for other countries who have Jamaican parentage. "She a Jamaican," we say of US runner Sanya Richards. "Don't him have a Jamaican father?" we wonder about the Panamanian sprinter Edwards. Despite my pale skin that suggests some other nationality, I have always fiercely loved this island of my birth, loved the physical place itself, the mountains, the sea, the beaches, the rivers - all of it. Yet I don't idealize Jamaica, I don't belong to the posse that rejects unpalatable truths as negativism; we can be a difficult, noisy, aggressive people, in many ways we have failed ourselves and squandered our opportunities. Living here is not easy. And I have often thought of leaving, and I know well what benefits that would bring, but I also know that if I am not here in Jamaica, I am in exile.)
So I came back from the road trip to find in my In Box one of those e-mails sent to multiple and growing lists of addressees, sparked by a news story about the closure of a beach in Cancun in Mexico as a result of the theft of sand. Here in Jamaica, we had a large and well reported theft of sand from a north coast beach last year - see my blog of November 28th, 2008 at http://snailwriter.blogspot.com/2008/11/gleaner-discovers-sand-issue.html - and the thread of e-mails emphasized the need for inland tourism, asked questions about the Jamaican sand case and suggested an environmental summit as a solution. The list of addressees included government ministers of both political parties, civil servants, business people, academics and a few folks like myself, working in the environmental non profit sector. Here we go again, I thought, discussing the placement of deckchairs on the Titanic. Not even moving them, you understand, just talking about them. So I sent this e-mail to that list - I've slightly edited it:
I received this thread (about sand being stolen in Mexico and sold to a hotel in Cancun - authorities closed the beach) with the mixture of anger, cynicism and sadness that is a daily feature of working for an environmental non profit agency in Jamaica, perhaps in the world, I don't know. The sand case (in Jamaica) is in court, where it will wind its way through the justice system, witnesses will be hard to find, lawyers will have other cases, the police will not turn up to give evidence, and after many years, perhaps - PERHAPS - the people who drove the truck that stole the sand will receive a small fine. The real crime - that of politicians, government agencies, boards and officials giving environmental permits to hotels on coastlines where there is no beach without the first idea as to where their sand was to come from - will remain unpunished.
I have just come back from ten days driving around Jamaica with my son and visitors, in effect saying good bye to some of our gorgeous natural assets - Pellew Island, ironically immortalized on a Jamaica Tourist Board poster in the early days of our tourist industry, about to be villa-ized; the luminous lagoon near Falmouth, to be risked by a mega cruise ship pier of the most dubious economic benefit; Treasure Beach, on the edge of "development," trying to cope with a disastrous drainage canal constructed with public money, never finished, and without a shred of environmental due diligence undertaken; Cockpit Country - who knows - we still await the GOJ's decision on the boundaries years after the commissioned study was completed and now that bauxite is uncertain, limestone mining is about to be considered our savior with no doubt dire consequences for our forests, air quality and aesthetics. I went in a fishing boat right up the Black River, such a lovely trip, but a place which used to be a small bar and swimming hole had been venue-ized, all the vegetation cleared and is now a place for fetes. I went to the Coral Spring beach from which the sand had been stolen, most of that coast privately owned, with only a small protected area left, a stunning white sand bay with forested headlands to the east, and due to some trick of the wind, the kind of silence that is no longer available on the north coast. There, the swimming is shallow, and I am sure the owners will legally dredge it, and groyne it, and marina it, and the forest will be replaced by landscaping, and perhaps in a decade, there will have to be a study of what happened to the beach at Coral Spring and environs. On the culture side, I went to the ruin of Stewart Castle, also on privately owned land, no evidence of any protection by the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, and the land around it had been cleared by fire and bulldozers.
While I was on my trip, I learned that Dornoch Head (River Head, some people call it), the source of the Rio Bueno, has had the trees cut down, and I was sent photographs of the large cuts in the Blue Mountains, allegedly to build a mountain biking track without, apparently, the knowledge or intervention of the National Environment and Planning Agency.
An environmental summit is not going to help us, even if we could stir ourselves to organize it. Were we to get it off the ground, the people who need to be in the room will either not come or simply give greetings and go about their business. We have had many such meetings in the past. Basically, the problem we have is that except for the few small, exhausted voices that have been raised over the years, hardly anyone thinks this issue is of sufficient importance, let alone understands it. Hardly anyone in the PNP, hardly anyone in the JLP, hardly anyone in business, hardly anyone in the civil service, and hardly any ordinary Jamaican thinks the sacrifice of our natural assets for a few short term, low paying jobs is a decision we will BITTERLY come to regret.
I know many people on this e-mail list do have concerns – but I regret to say that these concerns have too infrequently become action and our collective failures – and I include myself in that collective– are all too apparent.
I'm sorry to write at such length - but truthfully, this email is actually short, in comparison to the many words and great sadness in my heart.
August 22nd, 2009
The e-mail made its rounds and some people wrote to me with words of encouragement and support, words I tried to hear, over the drumming of a different internal narrative of personal failure. I have been an advocate for the natural environment for more than twenty years, left my private sector job to work first as a volunteer and then as full time CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, an agency I helped start, and now I must face the fact that still, after all the effort, our natural resources are put on the auction block, day after day, and the price we accept for our irreplacable assets is a rock bottom, last chance sale price, a going out of business giveaway.
Pellew Island. Cockpit Country. Falmouth. The Luminous Lagoon. Dornoch Head. The Black River Morass. Treasure Beach. Coral Spring. The Blue Mountains. These I saw over the past ten days, all up for grabs, these I said good-bye to, hiding my tears from my son and his friends.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
The organisms that cause the phenomenon of luminescence are called dinoflagellates (Pyrodinium bahamense). They are common, tiny animals the size of a pinhead. These are little critters that shine. The conditions that lead them to clump together and to persist over time, however, are extremely uncommon. The Luminous Lagoon near Falmouth is one of only FOUR such places in the entire world.
Essentially, the mechanisms that cause the persistently high concentrations of dinoflagellates at Oyster Bay are unique to this particular location. They are: (1) the position of the Martha Brae River causing a certain pattern of currents in the bay, a stratification of brackish and sea water and a concentration of nutrients favourable to these organisms; (2) the presence of sea breezes, starting at mid morning; (3) the absence of wind at night.
What happens is this: At night, the water column becomes stratified into brackish and salty water. At dawn, the dinoflagellates congregate upwards towards the light into the least dense salty layer, but not into the topmost layer. The morning trade winds then move this top layer of fresh/brackish water in a westerly direction. The sub-surface, uppermost layer of saline water, full of the dinoflagellates, is moved in an easterly direction towards the eastern shallows of the bay where the dinoflagellates find conditions to their liking –salty and warm. In short: it's complicated.
The question thus became: what will happen to these local conditions during and after the construction of the enormous solid cruise ship quay?
Smith Warner International carried out a hydrodynamic study to assess the currents in Oyster Bay, using a computer model. They tested the predictive power of their model by using a combination of a current meter as well as drogues (floating items). Current measurements were collected over only 45 days, using the meter. Two drogues were used to track currents over two days in May. This limited period of data collection will not capture any kind of seasonal variation – Smith Warner’s study had to meet a deadline that was apparently too short. Further, the data were averaged over the entire water column, and did not incorporate any of the stratification described above. As a result, the modeling done is extremely limited in its ability to predict how the proposed Falmouth Cruise Ship Quay will affect the Luminous Lagoon and its concentration of dinoflagellates.
This notwithstanding, it was clear at the July 29th public meeting that a decision has been taken to go ahead with this project, regardless of its potential impact on the heritage or natural resources of Falmouth and its environs. It was clear in the exuberance of the meeting Chairman, who, despite NEPA’s requirements for neutral chairmanship, was obviously in favour of the project. It was clear in the slick presentation on the new quay which did not mention the written reservations of the Jamaica National Heritage Trust – who did not see fit to attend the meeting themselves, to let the public hear of these reservations. It was clear in the speed with which the hydrodynamic study had been conducted, and in the references to work starting “shortly.” It was clear when NEPA reduced the requirements for notice of a public meeting from 21 to 10 days, and reduced the public comment period from 30 days to 14. It has been clear for several weeks in the advertisements in local newspapers for concessionaires. And it is crystal clear that new permits will be granted and this project will go ahead, as equipment has already started arriving at the port area.
Not even questions about the economics of the project were welcome at the public meeting. The Chairman of the Port Authority, Noel Hylton, initially responded to a request from a member of the public (that would be me) as to the financing with a brusque: “Submit your question to the Minister of Finance.” In response to murmurings from the crowd and encouragement from those around him, he did then take the microphone and say that yes, this is a loan of US$121 million at 4% over ten or eleven years, and yes, it will have to be paid back by already struggling taxpayers. There was no detailed information given on the economic benefits to the people of Falmouth or Jamaicans in general, beyond a mention of the amount of visitors that will result from these ships and a vague promise of jobs. Mr. Hylton’s reluctance to take the microphone suggested he felt no need to involve the public in these decisions.
And so it is that in all likelihood, the light of the little critters that shine will be dimmed, even extinguished entirely from that special place. It is also likely that this murky experiment with Jamaica's natural resources - I have not here described the cutting of the coral reef to accommodate the giant ships, or the dredging - will bring very small economic benefits to the people of Falmouth by way of short term, low paying jobs. It is very likely that an authentic place of history will be part Disneyfied, wholly faked, and this old town constructed on a crime against humanity - for Falmouth's wealth and status was built on the enslavement of Africans - will welcome cruise ship passengers with rum punches and mento dancers. And the little critters that shine will become part of history, perhaps part of a report headed "lessons learned," a story told by old people, perhaps eventually assuming the realms of myth.
So to anyone reading this living in Jamaica, my advice is this: go and see the Luminous Lagoon. And do it very soon...
Friday, July 31, 2009
Pellew Island was given a title in 1953 – part of the land titling of Goblin Hill and San San Bay. The original plan was that there would be gracious houses on the land, each with a title to a small coastal plot, where the owners could have boathouses or cabanas. Decades of official disregard for the intentions of these titles have allowed cabanas to become mansions more or less sitting in the sea.
The Portland coastline is one of the most gorgeous in Jamaica, edged as it is by the soaring Blue Mountains. And the San San coast is nothing short of stunning, curving from Alligator Head to Whale Head and Blue Lagoon, with the jewel of Pellew Island set just offshore.
The early advocates for tourism saw this beauty and immortalized it in a 1960s Jamaica Tourist Board poster, the caption of which said: “In a world of bad air, poisoned water and litter, there are still a few virginal places. Enjoy. Quickly.” Serious t’ing.
Generations of Jamaicans – not just Portlanders – have stopped at the side of the road and looked out at the island, generations of Jamaicans have swum or rowed or rafted to the island, over the shallow seagrass beds to lie on the tiny beach, or to climb to the top and look over the miracle of the reef, and listen to the surf, rolling over and over and over.
Pellew Island is a jewel, and like a jewel, it has been privately owned - mostly by women - since the 1950s. It was bought by Baron Heinrich Thyssen in 1953 for 60 pounds Sterling, as a valentine’s gift for his fiancée, Nina Dyer of New York. The marriage didn’t last, and they divorced two years later. Nina then married Prince Saddrudin Aga Khan. I remember the island when it was owned by the Princess Aga Khan – Princess Island, was another of its names – she built a bamboo raft to one side of the little beach and scandalized everyone by sunbathing nude there. Even when owned by a Princess, though, the island was undefiled by concrete and there were no gates or security guards to keep people off. The Princess committed suicide in 1965, and in 1983, Betty Estuvez, a close companion of the Princess, bought the island for US$7,000. In 1995, the island was sold again to its current owners.
Now Pellew Island is to be “developed.” The owners seek to construct two villas – one seven bedroom and one four bedroom – on this steep, fissured, forested, fragment of limestone in the Caribbean sea. There will be decks and plunge pools and a bathroom for every bedroom, and electricity and water will have to be taken to the island via underwater conduit, and somehow a barge like boat will take the construction materials across without any damage to seagrass beds or corals, although the draught of the boat exceeds the depth of the water close to the island. The island is said to be “lightly vegetated” and virtually no trees will be touched, no land clearing will be done in the rain, there is little diversity of flora and few birds, although those who are fortunate to gaze out on the island every evening report many flocks of birds. A plateau at the summit of the island will be used – but there is no plateau worthy of the term, just a small, flattish area in a grove of bamboo. Promises, promises, I thought as I sat in the public meeting, hearing all this.
But the island is privately owned, and as we understand it, the private ownership of land conveys the right to do anything at all to that land. The Government of Jamaica could, of course, acquire the island for the public, deem it part of a scenic coastline, and keep it in its natural state for all of us. The GOJ purchases land all the time when what is needed is a road or a bauxite mine. But for a natural asset – I doubt the GOJ has ever done it.
So here’s what I’m thinking. The Tainos "owned" Jamaica until the men in Columbus’s ships took it and killed off the Tainos. And then the British captured Jamaica. There’s been a fair amount of taking and capturing, and I figure I have as much right to do some capturing as anyone. So I’m gonna invade Pellew Island with my flag of Taino symbols and I’m gonna declare it mine – mine; and the world’s. Ours. Ours to see and love and visit and snorkel the waters around and lie on the beach and sit in that grove of bamboo and hear the wind in the trees and the surf on the reef and the solider crabs rustling in the dead leaves. Ours.
I know my invasion will be symbolic rather than real; but it will be my statement that some things belong not to a single person, no matter how monied, but to humankind. Pellew Island is one such thing, and so, while we’re on the subject of Portland, is Blue Lagoon. Anyone who wants to join my invasion can e-mail me at email@example.com And I will accept all suggestions for other precious places, whether private or public, in dire need of similar invasions.
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
OK, I give up. I’m not snoozing and will not soon go back to sleep. I’m officially awake. Brain churning. That **** public meeting. That **** chairman of the public meeting. Those **** farmers/vendors/fishers – why do they believe the rubbish they have been told for generations, if not centuries, when the lies are evident?? Why don’t they believe ME? And what the **** is wrong with regulatory authority? Why don’t they ever SAY anything at a public meeting? Wonder what the cash flow at the office is like. Did we pay the motor vehicle insurance? Think that was donated. But not the health insurance. That must be due now. Wonder if anyone is pregnant and not telling me. Love my young, all female staff, but there are…issues.
5.30 a.m. Get out of bed, groggy, sweaty, due to energy conservation commitment to not use air conditioning. Couldn’t sleep? Husband asks. He is up early, due to long daily commute in giant vehicle, therefore eliminating all hope of family attaining carbon neutrality. Let us not even discuss my overseas travel schedule. Husband hands me a cup of Jamaican coffee. I sip the deforestation of the Blue Mountains. Being an environmentalist, I reflect, means being comfortable with cognitive dissonance.
6.00 a.m. Am seated at my venerable computer. I have three computer devices – (1) the wood burning computer at home. (2) A donor funded laptop at work. (3) A Blackberry that my tech savvy sister gave me. I can never remember where anything is. E-mail count this morning – 16. 12 are work related. I start to reply.
7.00 a.m. The landline rings. It’s a radio station. Can I do an interview on global warming and the hurricane season at 7.20 a.m.? I say OK, abandon the e-mails and Google the latest research on global warming. I’ve got an 8.00 a.m. meeting with a consultant who wants to find out the definitive answer to corruption/overfishing/squatting/debt while he gets paid and I don’t. That means I’ve got to get dressed while doing the radio interview. Don’t want to print out the Google research on global warming, because of the toll on trees somewhere. Try to memorize a figure or two in order to sound totally up to date.
7.20 a.m. Phone rings while I am in the shower. Radio interview is not about global warming but about an illegal development I’ve been making a fuss about. Other person being interviewed is the irate contractor whose bulldozers have been stopped by my anti development meddling. All like you, he bawls to the radio listening public, all like you waan sen us back to di day of bullfrog and peenie wallie. That’ll have to be the last word, I’m afraid, says the radio talk show host. I take a mop to the bathroom floor.
8.05 a.m. At work. Internet is down. This is a several times a day occurrence, for which Internet Service Provider blames person who installed the Local Area Network who blames Internet Service Provider or possibly the computers themselves. Tech savvy sister’s advice has been this: Every computer has a duppy (a ghost, for any non Jamaicans). Some days the duppy wins and some days you win. For this she went to college for four years??
Consultant calls to say he will be late. Weekend e-mail count on laptop – 19. Only two are SPAM from people telling me I have won the lottery.
8.30 a.m. Consultant arrives, straight from DC, apparently. He’s already sweltering. Office has no air conditioning. I invite him to take off his jacket and he does. I give him my stump speech about corruption/overfishing/squatting/debt and he writes furiously. I will never see his report and corruption/overfishing/squatting/debt will continue apace.
10.00 a.m. Staff member advises office environment intolerable due to rat infestation. Are the cats not working? I say. We have a flock? pride? fleet? herd? of cats at the office – well, they just appeared, along with a rooster – we didn’t organize them or anything. Staff member shrugs and mentions leptospirosis. Call pest control then, I say. Start Googling impacts of rat poison on soil and ground water, but Internet still down. Muse on likelihood of raising money to pay pest control bill. Conclude nil.
10.10 a.m. Continue with e-mails, all piling up in outbox. Note am being berated by other environmental people for insufficient consultation. Feel aggrieved.
10.20 a.m. Phone rings. It’s a woman unable to breathe due to neighbour’s constant burning. She waxes eloquent about deficiencies of environmental regulators and health ministry. Phone beeps – call waiting is destroying my sanity, I think. I ask the breathless woman to hold and pick up the beep. Is that the Hotel Four Seasons? A man says. No, I say. You don’t have any rooms? The man says. No, I say, this is the Jamaica Environment Trust. But see yah now, says the man, rhetorically.
Return apologetically to the woman with the pyromaniac neighbour. She wants to know what I can do for her. We can help you take legal action, I say. Who me? She says. No way! Turns out she thinks neighbour might unleash the horsemen of the Apocalypse on her. Not much I can do then, I say. Well, what good are you, she says, and hangs up the phone.
10.30 a.m. Am sweltering myself. Go to ask administrator about Internet. She is sitting at her desk, staring into the middle distance, holding on to speak to anyone at service provider. Looks like she’s been there awhile.
10.32 a.m. Programme Director advises multiple project proposals for education/advocacy/tree planting/cleaning beaches projects have all been turned down. We’ll figure something out, I say, seeing the worry about her job in her eyes. But what?
11.00 a.m. Mail arrives. Two requests for talks to service clubs, both mentioning that no payment can be made. One request for materials for inner city group, no payment possible. One request for free collaboration on summer camp at uptown high school. Very likely that children going to that school have higher pocket money than my salary. Feel more aggrieved. Two invitations to workshops on corruption/overfishing/squatting/debt. Must be the policy flavours of the month. Three responses from regulators on Access to Information requests, saying they have got our requests and will soon respond. One invoice from auditors approaching J$300,000.00. Bill from pest control now looks like champagne picnic.
11.15 a.m. Whoo hoo! Internet is up. Send out e-mails. Landline rings. Environmental person on the other end tells me about land clearing on large scale in wetland area on north coast. Do something, Diana, environmental person says. (With or without consultation, I wonder, but do not say so.) But be careful, environmental person continues. I hear man behind it is dangerous. Great.
11.30 a.m. Call regulators to report devastating land clearance. Get only voice mail. Send e-mail. Error message. Internet down again.
11.45 a.m. Staff attorney brings in affidavit on sewage treatment plant that has not worked in 25 years. Start reading it. Blackberry buzzes. Is reporter asking if I know anything about devastating land clearance on north coast. Yes, I say. Do I have a comment, reporter wants to know. Bad thing, wetland protects us from flooding, storms, habitat for fish, bla bla, I say. Hear guy behind it is a badman, the reporter tells me. Uh-huh, I say.
Straight line rings. Is that the cabinet office? A man says. Sounds like the same guy who wanted Hotel Four Seasons. No, I say, but if you get them I have some suggestions. What? He says, annoyed. Never mind, I say, my attempt at humour falling flat. It’s NOT the cabinet office? the man says again. Is this 555-5555? It is, I say, but trust me, it’s not the cabinet office. Well, says the man, that’s the number on their website! He slams down the receiver. I wonder if the cabinet office is likely to be able to solve more complex problems if it can’t get the right telephone number on its website.
12.15 p.m. Lunch at desk. Cheese crunchies. Wonder about environmental impact of cheese crunchies – seems like nothing can be eaten anymore without causing poverty and environmental annihilation somewhere. Look at watch. Gosh. It’s not even NEARLY time to go home!