Agriculture Minister Pearnel Charles Jr says efforts must be made to support the island’s 18 fish sanctuaries. The government currently spends $40 million a year to help 10 fish sanctuaries, which focus on preserving and improving marine life.
Charles was speaking at last Friday’s closing ceremony to mark a $17,000 grant from the US State Department’s Office of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs to support the reef restoration project Oracabessa Marine Trust.
The project, carried out over the past two years, has been supporting the restoration of coral reefs, which includes the creation of a sea urchin nursery on land, as well as the planting of 500 corals.
At the ceremony at the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary in St Mary, Charles thanked the US for its assistance and stressed the importance of marine life. He said everyone has a role to play in protecting the environment.
“From our ministry, seriously, we will have to do more; myself and Minister Witter, who is focused on fisheries, as well as seeing the marine space as our biggest opportunity,” said Charles.
“We often comment that in Jamaica we have 24 times or more marine space than land, but because we are here, because this is so immediate, so obvious, we spend much more time and energy on land.
“We have 18 fish sanctuaries; I understand we should have two sooner. Ten of them have the support of the Government, and if you left it to me as a minister, I would venture to say that we should support every fish sanctuary in this country.
As Minister of Agriculture, I say we should do it and we must do it because of the importance. It is discreet; it is distant; but it’s so, so close, and we should support all sanctuaries.”
The US Ambassador to Jamaica, Nick Perry, praised his country’s involvement in the project and commended the Oracabessa community for achieving the positive outcome.
“I am very pleased that these very busy members of government can join us here to celebrate the success of this project,” Perry remarked.
He added: “Over the past two years, with the support of the US Department of State’s Office of Oceans and International Environment and Scientific Affairs, the Oracabessa Marine Trust has made great progress in its restoration project reefs. This US-funded initiative has helped restore the structure and ecosystem of the reef using innovative, nature-based scientific solutions.”
Perry said the project was a wonderful example of a community taking ownership of its natural resources and preserving them for future generations, while maintaining local livelihoods.
Robert Montague, Member of Parliament for Western St Mary, expressed his satisfaction that the US government saw fit to fund the project, noting that the assistance came at a crucial time when sea urchins were going extinct in several regions of the Caribbean.
Golden Eye Foundation executive director and Oracabessa Marine Trust board member Travis Graham welcomed the support from other fish sanctuaries, noting that several of their representatives attended the event .