Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Save The Goat Islands in Jamaica


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Little Goat Island along with Great Goat Island are the cays that make up the Goat Islands, located less than a mile off the coast of Jamaica, southwest of the Hellshire Hills. It is part of Saint Catherine Parish. Little Goat Island is adjacent to the northwest portion of Great Goat Island, and both are within the Portland Bight Protected Area. Until the 1940s, these cays were home to a population of Jamaican Iguana. However, as with most mainland populations, the Little Goat Island population was thought to have become extinct, mainly due to predation by introduced small Indian mongooses and habitat alteration by feral goats. These areas are of high conservation value due to the numbers of vulnerable and endemic species that live there.

The Government of Jamaica is engaged in negotiations with China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) to establish a large transshipment port in the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) in the vicinity of the Goat Islands. The Portland Bight Protected Area contains significant environmental assets. The coastline includes the largest mangrove system in Jamaica (about 2/3 of all Jamaica’s mangroves, according to land use 1998) which together with extensive seagrass beds and coral reefs, likely contains the largest nursery area for fish and shellfish on the island.

Coral reefs are found mainly in the shallow waters surrounding the nine small islands or cays within the PBPA. The PBPA includes some of the most extensive areas of coral reef in Jamaican waters, and although, like reefs island wide, they are under stress, in 2003, hard coral cover at six reef sites surveyed ranged from 5.8 to 33.4 percent and “fish counts were generally higher than at other Jamaican sites surveyed using Reef Check method”. The Galleon Harbour area, in particular, is a major nursery and critical habitat area for fishable species of all types, including snapper, grunt, lobster, shrimp, and oysters. Beaches in the PBPA and on its cays are considered the most important nesting areas for sea turtles in Jamaica, with at least four species of globally endangered sea turtles nesting there. The beaches of the PBPA are valuable to local communities as fishing beaches and for recreation.