Thursday, June 4, 2009

Losing our Treasures (II)

Construction on the Treasure Beach canal has stopped, or so I’m told by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). Of course, it “stopped” after the National Works Agency (NWA) had finished what they intended to do in this Phase One, had packed up their bulldozers and headed off to seek other funding to complete the destruction. A NEPA vehicle was then seen in the area shortly after the NWA departed, with the occupants staring morosely at the canal. “You guys are three years too late!” shouted a passerby. I predict there will now be “meetings” and “regularization” and possibly even a “probe.” I further predict no one will be found responsible for this ignorant, lawless and reckless action, and there will be no sanctions applied.

I received two thoughtful emails on my first blog and a case study we had done on the Treasure Beach canal. The case study is not entirely completed, but will eventually be posted on the website of the Jamaica Environment Trust at and on the Treasure Beach forum, if the webmaster will accept it.

Sandy Tatham of Treasure Beach wrote: “Great Bay is unlike any of the other Treasure Beach bays. Sheltered by the Great Pedro Bluff, this bay does not normally experience the “rough and dangerous” seas of the rest of the coastline. Great Bay does not have undertows, the sands are lighter in colour, and the beach more often than not, much wider and deeper than the other bays. This majestic bluff is the saving grace of this little village.The fact that Great Bay is entered by an entirely different approach to the rest of Treasure Beach, and ends at a dead end along side the Bluff, is I believe, its other saving grace. My most important point though, is the fact that Great Bay, has NEVER been subdivided. It is the least developed / developing of the Treasure Beach villages, apart from Fort Charles, which suffers from a lack of water. Very few pieces of land have changed hands in recent years, as most of the lands remain in the hands of large land owners who continue to farm their land as they have done through several generations: goats, sheep, cows and some cash crops. My family are amongst the “newcomers” and we have been here since 1969! The subdivision and developments you speak of have taken place mostly in the areas of Sandy Bank, Olde Wharfe, and along the main Treasure Beach Road, NOT Great Bay. Great Bay, unfortunately, though, has been the village that has suffered the most as a result of these subdivisions and development. Most of the ponds, several springs and few wells are found in Great Bay. I was once took Ann Sutton and fellow scientists to one of our “hidden” ponds and spring. They needed to go by foot, as they had, by plane, determined that this spot had the highest indigenous duck count on the island. All of this is what makes Great Bay so special ..... But since man has intervened by raising the level of the main road to Treasure Beach, allowed the subdivisions you speak of and subsequent building of plazas along the main road, when the rains come, these ponds fill and can no longer flow into the sea, as they once did. Instead, the waters back up and flood Great Bay. The old timers will tell you that the waters used to “walk” from the Great Pedro Pond across the main road through marshy lands and exit into the ocean close to the Treasure Beach Hotel. I even remember walking this in my childhood. Another contributing problem is the building and road works in the higher lands above the bays. These have redirected the flow of water, bringing much larger quantities down into the low lying areas causing destruction of roads and hill side. It is quite devastating. Most only see the destruction where homes and businesses are affected, but there are other areas where entire landscapes are changing due to the mass of water pouring off the hills. While it is imperative to have this canal problem rectified, sadly, the problem is much greater than just this and needs to be examined on a larger scale.”

Andreas Oberli from Irish Town wrote: “In 1979 I walked for the first time from Calabash east to Great Bay. The landscape was very special: Fine yellow grass like a large animal’s fur and here and there these enormous seagrape trees and bull thatch palms, a few little bays with shallow clear water (one of them where now the new canal joins the sea), one new house (large, ugly, surrounded by lawn and coconut trees) which we were able to ignore, the majestic bluff in front of us across the blue bay – and the wide beach of Great Bay!The beach is still there, even now. It went away in the last big storms, and it always comes back quite quickly. But the walk you can’t do anymore....”

And I received a wonderful letter from Artie Parchment of Great Bay in Treasure Beach. Artie says in part: “I am 85 years of age, throughout these years I have never experienced flooding as we had in 2005. Our property value has plunged to zero because the ponds have taken over, or washed away all the fences and tracks to secure and get to it. I definitely agree in regards the ecological problems. Our idea was not to drain the ponds completely but to keep them from overflowing when we have hurricanes with heavy rains…we really have a problem and I sincerely hope a solution will be found before the good Lord takes me away. The problem now is to satisfy the people of Great Bay and the ecology.”

This is an elder from the community who has been personally been affected by the flooding; yet still he writes of the importance of the ecology. If only we had people in positions of authority and power who shared Artie Parchment’s mindset, who valued the beauty and functionality of our land, who would take measured decisions about development based on careful study, considering both the short and the long term, and who respected our Jamaican law. Then and only then, we might have a Treasure Beach with its treasures intact forever.

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