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Call for stronger law to end history of abuse in Rio Cobre

The CEO of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, emphasized the critical state of the island's rivers and urged authorities to address a range of challenges, including pollution and inadequate law enforcement. Speaking at The UWI Mona FST's  Science for Today public lecture series, dubbed Dirty Water, Dead Fish and Distressed Communities: What do we do?, she proposed higher fines for violations, increased public engagement, and improved monitoring and enforcement of environmental laws. Using the Rio Cobre as a case study, Rodriguez-Moodie highlighted the impact of industrial activities, such as an oil spill linked to Trade Winds Citrus, leading to fish kills and ecological damage.

Rodriguez-Moodie underscored the historical abuse of the Rio Cobre, with toxic discharges dating back to the 1980s. The presentation revealed ongoing incidents in 2011, 2019, 2021, 2022, and 2023, often linked to Windalco's bauxite and alumina plant. Legal consequences for breaches include fines and prison sentences, but Rodriguez-Moodie emphasized the need for more effective enforcement.

The frequent fish kills have devastated local fishers' livelihoods, causing economic losses and ecological impacts. Marlon Green, a fisherman, highlighted the challenges faced by St Catherine residents who rely on the Rio Cobre for sustenance and income. He called for increased efforts to prevent pollution incidents and urged authorities to involve residents in restocking initiatives.

A fish-restocking exercise in July 2023 released over 4,000 tilapia fingerlings into the Rio Cobre. Green suggested restocking multiple fish species, including mullet, carp, drummer, sand, and the rockfish, and emphasized the need for authorities to consider these species in the restocking process.

Rodriguez-Moodie proposed a series of recommendations, including higher fines, strengthening the NRCA Act, rationalizing environmental policies, increasing transparency, implementing environmental impact assessment regulations, and enhancing public participation. Richard Nelson from NEPA mentioned ongoing reviews of increased fines, possibly reaching $5 million.

Anginette Murray, from the National Fisheries Authority, highlighted the significance of the fishing industry in Jamaica, contributing to the GDP and employing over 40,000 individuals directly and indirectly. The discussion emphasized the urgent need for comprehensive action to protect the island's rivers and support the livelihoods of its residents.



Photo caption (L-R): Kent Village residents remove dead fish from the Rio Cobre in St Catherine after a fish kill in August 2021; Theresa Rodriquez-Moodie, environ-mental scientist and CEO at the Jamaica Environment Trust.


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Published on 05 Mar, 2024

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