Days after standing tall at a President Joe Biden-led summit on climate change, Prime Minister Andrew Holness is facing a tidal wave of criticism as demolition trucks continue to raze several acres of mangrove forest in Hanover.
A viral video by the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET), captured via drone, shows the scope of the mangrove forest’s destruction—as recently as Wednesday (April 28)—in the Green Island area along the north coast.
The shoreline-saving vegetation is being stripped to make way for a 2,000-room, all-inclusive beach property, Our Today has learned.
The Spanish-based Princess Hotel and Resorts is pumping some US$500 million into the development, according to a statement from its website.
Princess Hotels AIE claimed that its hotels are integrated into the surroundings, “showing full respect to natural peculiarities”.
“The architecture is adapted to natural spaces, respectful of the flora and fauna of each site, with each installation being supervised by professionals dedicated to the conservation of the environment in these emblematic locations of great beauty, which have been selected for their peaceful and tranquil characteristics. All this is achieved without detracting from the dynamic and spectacular environment,” the Tarragona-registered company wrote.
Princess Hotels AIE operates several resorts in its home country Spain, the Canary Islands, Mexico and the Dominican Republic, with Jamaica being its first entry into the English-speaking Caribbean.
Scores of Jamaicans, however, saddened by the wanton destruction, took to Twitter to berate the Government’s shortsightedness; even juxtaposing the Holness administration’s repeated insistence of its ‘environmentally sound’ decisions with regards to economic growth and job creation.
Founder of JET and outspoken environmental advocate Diana McCaulay decried the development, adding that at no time, past or present, was Jamaica ever a leader in tackling climate change.
McCaulay, in an interview with Our Today on Friday (April 30), warned that Jamaica could bitterly regret these instances of poor foresight in the near future.
“We think that, of paramount importance at this point, our mangrove forests need [more] protection because we need them to prevent the worst impacts of climate change,” she said.
“JET, for a very long time, has been reviewing Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs), which is the main tool the government uses to control the impacts of [these] developments. We reviewed this EIA last year and pointed out the many dangers involved in removing the mangroves. We are very concerned about it,” McCaulay told Our Today.
The National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), in its December 2020 EIA on the Princess Hotel and Resorts Development, concluded that the risks far outweighed any economic benefit.
“This proposed development is slated to increase the room offerings of the island, thereby creating jobs and economic benefits, growing the tourist clientele and in the process enhance and diversify the Jamaican tourism product,” NEPA began.
“On the contrary, the degradation, loss and adverse effects of natural habitats as well as impacts on the noise climate, air quality and solid waste facilities, are some of the potential negative impacts of the project,” the agency added.
Having reviewed the EIA thoroughly, McCaulay and the JET were not satisfied that this kind of action “is consistent with the Government of Jamaica’s speeches and utterances on the climate crisis.”
“The concern is it demonstrates an approach to development which shows we have not understood that we have to change the way we have done things in the past. We have to understand that we’re not standing at a point where we still have lots of mangroves and lots of forests—we’ve already lost much,” the advocate explained.
“When I see something like this, it has implications for the [parish] of course, but it also tells me we really don’t understand what we’re facing; we have not changed the way we define and think about development,” McCaulay added.
In her eyes, there are two different aspects to the climate crisis, the most prominent being the reduction of carbon emissions, which McCaulay argued is a developed country problem.
The second is simple but also critical to the climatic adaptation process: protecting our forests (which in turn reduces soil erosion and naturally lowers temperatures islandwide), safeguarding freshwater supply, and ensuring coastal resilience—which is where mangroves play a critical role.
“Yes, Prime Minister Holness has been very effective in positioning himself as a climate leader and was invited to that conference, but a country like Jamaica has not contributed a whole deal to those emissions,” she said.
“There are a whole suite of measures we should be doing and what I see is the rhetoric, the talk about how serious the climate crisis is and how badly it will affect Jamaica—but then a completely different set of actions,” the JET founder told Our Today.
McCaulay highlighted two more recent objections to planned developments at Long Mountain in St Andrew and Dry Harbour Mountain in St Ann, hitting home the glaring contradictions of government statements compared to its actions.
“We should be protecting our forests and not removing them for development. We have announcements on one hand that [Jamaica] will plant three million trees, which will take 20-30 years to grow depending on the species of the tree, while at the same time, taking out forests. This to me is regulatory incoherence,” she contended.
As the island approaches another above-average hurricane season, McCaulay argued that for a parish like Hanover, which is regularly beset with flash-flooding due to storms, destroying natural barriers like mangroves is counterintuitive.
“Mangroves protect the coastline from storms but they also extend the land outwards because they trap sediments. They are literal sponges that take up excess water, they provide habitats for all manner of marine organisms, including the fish we like to eat at a juvenile stage [and] for birds. They are a critical part of a tropical marine ecosystem and they protect human life and property,” she said.
“There are going to be these extremely serious impacts [to climate change], some have already started and more of them coming our way,” McCaulay added.