Growing up in Jamaica was a privilege for which I will be forever thankful. There may be more beautiful places on earth but I have never seen any, and – as a lifelong journalist – I’ve seen a lot of places.
I was born in Black River and spent much of my youth in Malvern, on the Santa Cruz mountain range in St. Elizabeth, but we also lived in the hills above Hope Bay, in the parish of Portland. So I have experienced the contrasting environments created by the towering mountains that divide the island. On the northeast, rainfall is abundant and the scenery is lush (see photo of the Rio Grande, above). I think of it whenever I see pictures of Hawaii. On the southwest plains and the mountains overlooking them, the climate is arid. The craggy cliffs and maypole cacti make me wonder if that’s what Mexico is like.
They say a country’s best asset is its people, and the Jamaican people are, indeed, a priceless resource. Jamaicans can be charming, witty, warm and wise, qualities that bring tourists back again and again. My brother Bill and his wife Faye spend a few weeks in Jamaica every year and even though Faye is from Nova Scotia, she tells me she feels as if she is going “home.”
But it is Jamaica’s natural beauty that takes your breath away. Never has a sea been more shades of blue, so crystal clear, so irresistibly beckoning. Never have mountains been more misty, valleys more mysteriously deep and dark, vegetation and wildlife more varied and appealing, mountain streams and waterfalls more sparkling, winding rivers more entrancing…
This was my magical playground as a child, and memories of it comfort me in my twilight years.
To me, the development of the island’s bauxite industry was a tragic mistake. Well-meaning politicians sold their birthright for a brief interlude of prosperity. But I am told the ravages of the bauxite miners are healing, the slime ponds and denuded hillsides are being reclaimed by Mother Nature. The mining companies have found greener pastures in other parts of the globe, now that they have stripped away so much of Jamaica’s topsoil and shipped it to their aluminum factories abroad.
Fortunately, a small but ever-expanding group of environmentalists have staunchly resisted the trashing of the island through misguided economic policy and the public’s heedless neglect. One area in which the neglect has caused grievous harm is the marine environment. Beaches have been despoiled and overdeveloped, and the sea itself plundered of its marine life and habitat as nature’s precious gifts are sacrificed to the needs of an exploding population.
So you can imagine how it warmed my heart to read an AP report this morning that described the island’s “no take” reserves, where the marine ecosystem is protected from depredation. In a dispatch from Bluefields Bay (near which our friends the Calders used to live), writer David McFadden evokes poignant memories with this passage:
Young fish leap in the wake of a warden’s patrol boat as it motors through waters off Jamaica’s southwest coast that are a brilliant palette of blues. Beneath the surface, reefs bristle with spiny lobsters, and rainbow-colored parrotfish graze on algae and seaweed.
McFadden explains that:
After rampant destruction of local fish habitats over decades, marine life is gradually rebounding in Bluefields Bay now that every minnow and mullet, each sea urchin and snapper is protected from spear guns and nets. This 6½-mile (10-kilometer) long stretch of water, patrolled daily by a small team of wardens and marine police, is one of a growing number of no-fishing zones in the Caribbean, where most coastal reefs have been severely damaged by overfishing, pollution, and more recently global warming.
Across the Caribbean, governments and fishing communities are beginning to use such “no-take” zones to help rebuild severely depleted fish stocks and make coastal ecosystems more resilient to a warming planet and acidifying oceans.
Could this represent an epiphany at last? Have Caribbean leaders awakened to the realization that nature’s wondrous legacy is their true treasure, to be protected no matter what?
I hope and pray that they have.