Jamaica’s Cockpit Country is still 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 boundary (i.e. on-the-ground verification), and the boundary be gazetted, before the mining act can amended. Meanwhile, bauxite prospecting and mining has been expanding in Cockpit Country communities which were left out of the designated protected area. Since the Prime Minister’s 2017 announcement, new mining leases have been granted by the Government of Jamaica which will allow bauxite companies to mine right up to the edge of the CCPA boundary.
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 the ‘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 which are also closed to mining and quarrying, and the involvement of civil society and local communities in management planning for the CCPA.
To keep up-to-date on the latest developments in the Save Cockpit Country campaign, follow the hashtag #SaveCockpitCountry on social media.
Cover Photo Credit: Ted Eubanks