The Goat Islands may sound familiar, but KÚYA writer Mirah Lim Todd explains the importance of the entire Portland Bight Protected Area
Stretching over the parishes of Clarendon and St. Catherine and extending outward into the waters off the island’s South Coast, the Portland Bight Protected Area (PBPA) is a unique and significant part of Jamaica’s natural environment. It is Jamaica’s largest and most protected area, safeguarded under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) Act in 1999 and three more local laws. It is also recognized by five international agencies for its biodiversity. The area is filled with distinctive scenery as well as plants and animals not found anywhere else in Jamaica, and in some cases not in the Caribbean or, even more impressively, not in the world.
Almost everywhere in the PBPA, there is something special to see. Lining dark emerald rivers or venturing into the rust coloured marshes or the brackish shoreline, there are dense mangrove forests; their gnarled roots gracefully dipping into the water. These trees make up two-thirds of all of Jamaica’s remaining mangrove forests and provide the vital service of cleaning the water of pollutants and removing carbon dioxide from the air. In 2006, these majestic mangroves and their surrounding lands were declared Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.
The turquoise waters of the PBPA hold healthy coral reefs and sea grass beds, which provide nurseries for fish and other marine life. Accordingly, the Government of Jamaica established three fish sanctuaries at Galleon Harbour, Salt Harbour and Three Bays. Also speckled within the PBPA waters are a collection of small cays, many with white sand beaches like Pigeon Island and Big Pelican Cay. Often described as the best cruising spot in Jamaica, these cays are perfect for snorkelling and as well as other recreational and potential eco- tourism related activities. Just off the coast, near Old Harbour Bay, are the largest of these cays, the two Goat Islands. The islands are connected by a network of mangroves and together they cover 900 acres. Towering over Little Goat Island, the dry limestone forest of Great Goat Island climbs 100 meters above sea level. In addition to their natural resources, the Goat Islands are also home to Taino artifacts as well as remnants of a World War II US naval base, located on Little Goat Island.