Jamaica’s Cockpit Country is under threat from bauxite mining, which would remove forest cover, block and pollute waterways, displace residents, threaten agricultural livelihoods, compromise air quality and threaten the health and well-being of thousands of Jamaican citizens.
On November 21, 2017, Jamaican Prime Minister the Rt. Hon. Andrew Holness announced the designated Cockpit Country Protected Area (CCPA) boundary in Parliament. In his announcement, Prime Minister Holness said the area would comprise of approximately 74,726 hectares and will include existing forest reserves, significant hydrological and ecological features and cultural and heritage sites. Prime Minister Holness also indicated the CCPA would be closed to mining.
Cockpit Country is the largest remaining natural forest in Jamaica. The fresh water it stores and releases via almost 40 rivers, streams, springs, upwellings, glades and ponds supplies about 40% of Western Jamaica’s water needs. Jamaica is facing major negative impacts from Global Climate Change – unpredictable rainfall, and extreme weather events including drought. Ensuring the preservation of Cockpit Country promotes climate resilience, is an investment in the future, and literally means fresh water in the bank.
Although boundaries of the CCPA have been designated, the protected area has not yet been declared and closed to mining under law. To do this, the Government of Jamaica must ground-truth the designated CCPA boundaries (on-the-ground verification) and the boundary gazetted before the mining act can amended.
Cockpit Country is a symbol of resistance and triumph, as well as an important cultural and historical site for Jamaicans. Cockpit Country was a sanctuary for the Maroons, who still live within its borders.
The plants and animals of Cockpit Country are extraordinarily diverse. Some are found only in Jamaica, and others, especially a multitude of plants, are found only in Cockpit Country.
Through their ‘Advancing the Protection of Jamaica’s Cockpit Country’ project (2018 – 2019), the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), other civil society groups including Cockpit Country community leaders continue to advocate for an expedited ground-truthing of the CCPA boundary, establishment of buffer zones around the protected area and the involvement of civil society and local communities in management planning for the protected area.
Cover Photo Credit: Ted Eubanks