Negril businessmen hopeful IWECo project will lessen morass firesThursday, May 13, 2021
BY ANTHONY LEWIS
NEGRIL, WESTMORELAND - Stakeholders in Negril are hoping that a multimillion-dollar IWEco National sub-Project, aimed at rewetting the Negril Great Morass, will significantly reduce the recurrence of fires in that section of the resort town.
The morass was recently the scene of a fire that lasted for three days.
Richard Wallace, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, noted that the recent fire, which he claims harms the environment and the tourism product, was not the first of its kind in the resort town.
“This has been going on for some time and the steps that we have taken as stakeholders… we have brought it to the Government, NEPA (National Environmental and Planning Agency) and through the UN (United Nations) Environment. They have embarked on this IWEco project which will hopefully solve the problem that we are having with the fires, among other things, because there are many facets to the IWEco project,” stated Wallace.
The IWEco project is being implemented at a cost of roughly US$13 million, however, about US$3 million is being spent to address the issues pertaining to the morass.
The project started a year ago and is expected to last for approximately four years.
Lenbert Williams, acting chairperson for the Negril Coral Reef Preservation Society (NCRPS), argued that Negril's environmental problem started in 1958 “with the good intentions of the then Government to create a tourism industry in the area.”
“In 1958, the then Norman Manley-led Government, with all good intent, decided that they were going to build the tourism industry in Negril. So, they drain the wetland to accommodate the Norman Manley Boulevard. Great intent, but it turns out to be the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the Caribbean,” Williams argued.
He said the drying out of the Great Negril Morass and the creation of the tourism industry have damaged the once-thriving crab industry.
He also pointed to damage to coral reefs, which he said, is a domino effect of damage done to the morass.
Williams also disclosed that the Negril North and South Rivers are not natural rivers but man-made canals that were created to drain the morass. However, he noted that to prevent fires and the drying out of the morass, a dam was supposed to have been constructed at both ends of the canals to regulate the flow of the water, but that was not done.
“Those dams were never built. So, we now want to work with NEPA and all the regulators to see if we can put these regulatory dams [in place]. We may not be able to offer the cure, but at least we can offer significant improvements,” Williams stated.
“The IWEco project is very great. I looked at the technicalities of it, and trust me, the study is very good. I must take my hat off to NEPA and the funding agency, but we don't want this to be another study. We want this to be implemented because the rate at which these fires are burning, any day now, you could have a fire that Jamaica does not have the capacity to put out and it could completely choke off the tourism industry,” added the NCRPS chairperson.
One fisherman, who gave his name as Letmond and operates from the fishing village in the town of Negril on the banks of the Negril South River, disclosed that fishermen have been catching less and smaller size fish in recent years.
He added that fewer crabs are also being caught.
The fisherman of over 21 years said he believes the morass has contributed to the challenges they are faced with, adding that in the past, fishermen would bring ashore up to a 100 pounds of various types of fish in catch from the sea on a daily basis. This, he stressed, is no longer the case.
“Sometimes we can't even find gas and all of that to go at sea, you understand, because the catch is not so bright again,” he lamented.
The fisherman, in explaining the connection between the morass and the sea, argued that the morass is the breeding ground for fish, adding that he wants a solution to be found for the frequent fires at the morass.
The Negril Great Morass is said to be the second-largest wetland in Jamaica and one of the largest natural coastal wetland ecosystems in the Caribbean.
It supports internationally significant species, many of which are found nowhere else.
A morass is a low, soft, wet ground that contains below water decomposition materials from plants and animals that often produce marsh gas, which may self-ignite occasionally.
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