Apr 30

The recovery of the Jamaican iguana is hard work, as introduced predators like the Asian Mongoose are continually captured to relieve predator pressure. “We catch them and kill them. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. The way it has to be”, says Booms, whose real name is Kenroy Williams, with a bashful smile. Booms is a handsome young Jamaican who grew up in southern Kingston before moving seven years ago to work on the Jamaican iguana recovery project.

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest conservation success stories

The Jamaican iguana is considered to be one of the greatest  success stories in conservation science

I ask Booms what his friends and family think of his career choice. “Some think I am crazy when they hear that I am touching the iguanas and the crocodiles. But if they were here like me, they would understand, and they would do everything that I am doing”, he says. As he cradles a young American crocodile, a Vulnerable species, found at night in one of the lagoons fringing the Hellshire Hills, he adds, “You’ve got to respect another life, so that the other life can respect yours. It’s all about respect”.

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

“Booms” cradles a young American crocodile, a threatened animal found during a nighttime search with flashlights in a mangrove lagoon in Portland Bight Protected Area

In order for the iguana to survive without the life support system provided by Booms and team, the Jamaican Iguana Species Recovery Plan outlines steps to establish Goat Islands as a predator-free haven for the large lizard. That was the dream – until now.

“I just returned from Jamaica, and it’s bad”, began an email I received last month from Rick Hudson at Fort Worth Zoo. Hudson has devoted more than twenty years to recovering the iguana, and was distraught. The Jamaican government had announced that it was going to sell Goat Islands to a Chinese conglomerate that had been disbarred by the World Bank for fraud, to build a massive trans shipment port. The development would involve bulldozing the islands, dredging the sea around them, and building a coal-burning plant – in addition to razing forest and concreting over wetland on the mainland for an associated logistics hub. With opposition from local groups led by the Jamaica Environmental Trust falling on deaf ears, Jamaicans were crying out for some international intervention.

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

The Portland Bight Protected Area contains the largest intact mangrove forest in Jamaica

Tourism brings in half of all foreign revenue and provides one quarter of all jobs in Jamaica; most tourists who visit the country do so to enjoy pristine beaches, clear waters, ample wildlife and a landscape free from the scars of industrial development. The proposed development is akin to the UK government selling off the Lake District for a quick profit, and could hurt tourism if potential tourism outfits are outraged by the destruction of a natural national treasure. And so, in the humble hope that I could do something to shine a spotlight on what was happening in the international press – to alert potential tourists to Jamaica what the government has planned in the hopes that the government may listen – I boarded a plane to Kingston.

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

A coal burning plant, as seen on Old Harbour Bay, could be built on Goat Islands

Diana McCaulay, co-founder and CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust, meets me at the airport and we drive an hour south to the Portland Bight Protected Area, a 187,515-hectare area mosaic consisting of the largest dry limestone forests in the Caribbean and the largest intact mangrove forest in the country. This, the largest Protected Area in Jamaica, contains the Hellshire Hills and Portland Ridge Key Biodiversity Areas (KBAs), defined by IUCN as “places of international importance for the conservation of biodiversity through protected areas and other governance mechanisms”. The area was deemed so special that it was under consideration as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, until last year when the government backtracked on the proposal.

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

A curious pelican in Old Harbour Bay, a community that fish in the waters of Portland Bight Protected Area

Diana introduces me to residents of a fishing community in the heart of Portland Bight Protected Area, Paulette and Herman Coley, who invite me to join them on the water the following morning. I return the next day a little before 4:30 am to join them and their six-year old son Jabari, who seems less than thrilled about being hauled out of his bed at 4am and dressed in a bright yellow lifejacket and facemask.

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Jabari does his best to stay awake after being rudely awoken at 4am to join us on our boat trip around Goat Islands

Find out more about the Save Goat Islands campaign

Find out more about the Jamaican iguana on ARKive

Find out more about the American crocodile on ARKive

Discover more Jamaican species on ARKive

Find out more about Robin Moore and his photography

Read Guest Blog: Darkness in Hellshire – part one

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