Protecting Cockpit Country

Jamaican Prime Minister Andrew Holness appears poised to make a decision about protecting Cockpit Country from proposed bauxite mining. Cockpit Country is a unique, internationally recognized treasure and the Prime Minister should give it the protection it deserves.

Cockpit Country. PHOTO: Jeremy Francis

Cockpit Country is a rugged part of western Jamaica that is the largest remaining natural forest in Jamaica. It is culturally unique — home to the Maroons, descendants of escaped slaves who fought the British to a treaty in 1739.

It is home to unique animals and plants, some of which are found only in Cockpit Country. Its most unique, irreplaceable value is as a source of fresh water — it stores and releases fresh water through almost 40 rivers, streams, springs, upwellings, glades, and ponds. Jamaicans need water from Cockpit Country, as it supplies about 40% of western Jamaica’s water needs.

The U.S. office of the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW) has collborated with partners at the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) since 2006 to secure lasting protection for Cockpit Country. ELAW has helped JET learn from other countries that have seen bauxite mining harm water quality. JET has worked with Jamaicans who would feel the negative impacts of mining in Cockpit Country.

The people of Jamaica have spoken: they want Cockpit Country protected from mining that would jeopardize the natural values, cultural values, and supply of fresh water. The University of the West Indies conducted 18 public consultations across Jamaica and concluded that Cockpit Country should be protected with boundaries that protect the watershed. The University concluded in 2013 that Cockpit Country should be designated a protected area and national park, and eventually recognized as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations.

This year, tens of thousands of Jamaicans signed petitions calling for Cockpit Country to be protected. Jamaica’s government must now respond to these petitions and should protect Cockpit Country.

Jamaicans need the fresh water that Cockpit Country provides. Fresh water is too valuable and irreplaceable to jeopardize it. Groundwater in Jamaica is extremely vulnerable to contamination and Jamaica should do all it can to protect it.

Now is the time to protect Cockpit Country.

Bern Johnson
Executive Director
Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide

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