Conservationists oppose further bauxite mining in Cockpit Country

Conservationists oppose further bauxite mining in Cockpit Country

October 27, 2006 Filed Under: Bauxite Mining, Lead Mining, Mining Services  

LOCAL conservationists have mounted a campaign to pressure the government against the reissuing of a prospecting licence for bauxite mining in the Cockpit Country, which is believed to be one of the richest sites of biological diversity locally.

The Cockpit Country Stakeholders group, which includes the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), the Southern Trelawny Environmental Agency (STEA) and the Windsor Research Centre (WTC), is leading the effort.
The campaign comes in the wake of information that a bauxite company had applied to renew an exclusive licence to prospect for bauxite there.

“The Cockpit Country is, if not our most significant, certainly one of our most significant natural resources. That would be devastated by bauxite mining,” Diana McCaulay, JET’s executive director, told the Observer Wednesday, following a press conference at the Liguanea Club in New Kingston.

The conservationists said the Cockpit Country is home to 27 of Jamaica’s 28 endemic species and to the giant Swallowtail – the largest butterfly in the Americas. It also accounts for a significant amount of forest cover and up to 95 per cent of the world’s Black-billed Parrots call it home.

It is against this background that they have launched the campaign that would include a public education campaign.
“We are producing material, some of which are (ready for public consumption) and some of which are underway. We are having another lecture on November 16,” McCaulay said.

She said the group had also contacted international lawyers to analyse legislation to determine government’s legal authority to allow prospecting in the Cockpit Country, bearing in mind its rich bio-diversity.

“We have made links with the international groups to help us with some of the legal issues. We are preparing a paper now on the international framework and the international conventions, all the various laws… to see what is the way to proceed,” McCaulay said.
The group, she said, would also be engaging the government in discussions on the issue as part of its campaign.

“We have written to the relevant government agencies (the Ministry of Agriculture and the Jamaica Bauxite Institute)… asking them for dialogue. We have not heard from them. The letters have all been copied to other agencies like the NRCA and NEPA,” she said. “We are basically asking them for information before the reissue of a prospecting licence because once you issue a prospecting licence people can go in their with roads and so on.”

Diana McIntyre-Pike, head of the Country-style Community Tourism Network, is also backing the efforts of the lobby group.
“It (the Cockpit Country) is an extremely important economic asset for tourism, being that tourism is our number one industry and the fact that we have a master plan, which is committed to sustainable development. (Tourists) want to be close to nature and what better place than that?” noted McIntyre-Pike.

“We are going to be a laughing stock. We are having the first international conference on community tourism in 2008 where they coming to look at Jamaica as a showcase. When I hear all these things happening then I realise… the environment and the people are not going to be at peace,” she added.

Meanwhile, veteran journalist John Maxwell, an environmental activist, said the fact that knowledge of the extent of the bio-diversity in the area was lacking was enough of a red flag to oppose prospecting there.

“Nobody knows what’s in there. We have an idea but when we mash it up we won’t have the slightest idea of what we have lost. We just don’t understand the value of such natural wonders because people don’t explain to us,” he said.
He added that the argument that bauxite companies could restore the area after mining was a fallacy.

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