Jamaica is best known for its beaches and vacation destinations such as Montego Bay. However, the third largest Caribbean island is more than just beautiful beaches and is home to rich forests and a variety of endemic species. A third of the island is still forested and Jamaica has the fifth highest concentration of endemic plants in the world. Jamaica’s forests are also home to more endemic birds and reptiles than any other Caribbean island. It is also a culturally diverse country with a large population of Maroons who maintained their independence during colonial times.
In a move to safeguard Jamaica’s last viable fishing ground, the Conservancy established the Pedro Bank Sustainable Fishing Demonstration Site on a remote offshore coral bank where over 90% of the country’s queen conch export is harvested. The Pedro Bank is located approximately 50 miles, or 80 kilometers, south-southwest of the island of Jamaica, and is one of the biggest offshore banks in the Caribbean Basin. The bank is composed of a variety of marine habitats such as sand, coral reefs, deep reefs, sea grass beds, and three coral cays known as the Pedro Cays. It is home to the endemic Masked Booby bird. The Conservancy is working with the military and local fishing communities to better manage the precious resources of this key.
Rio Grande, the largest source of surface water in Jamaica, has sustained a major inland fishery and Maroon communities for centuries. It is the country’s last large free-flowing (undammed) river. In the 1990’s, with the decline of banana cultivation in the watershed, rogue fishers escalated the use of agricultural poisons to stun or kill fish for easier harvest, in the process tainting the water and harming the hundreds of people who use river water for household and recreational needs. The highly prized fish and shellfish are sold to unsuspecting consumers. To protect Rio Grande’s wildlife, people, and inland fishing culture, the Conservancy and a broad base of partners implemented an outreach, sustainable livelihoods and enforcement program, culminating in fishing policy improvements for the entire island.
With the Jamaican Conservation Development Trust and the Conservancy, the Government of Jamaica established the country’s first national park, the Blue and John Crow Mountain National Park, in 1990. To support management of national parks like this, the Conservancy brokered a Debt for Nature Swap which transformed a $16 million debt into a $1.5 million Forest Conservation Fund, providing annual funding for forest restoration and protection projects throughout the country. Other funding sources have supported forest conservation efforts elsewhere in the country, such as Cockpit Country, an area of unique limestone hillocks covered with lush tropical forests that provides drinking water for most of western Jamaica.