Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 18th 2013 Contents Four tiny islands dot the clear blue
waters sixty miles south of Jamaica---
the Pedro Cays. Thousands of seabirds
nest. Turtles lay eggs on white sand
beaches. Beyond, coral reefs stretch
through shallow seas. The largest island,
Bird Cay, is a wildlife sanctuary. A few
thousand years ago, when sea levels were
lower, the surrounding Pedro Banks
formed an island larger than Trinidad.
A Caribbean idyll? Perhaps not. Around
500 Jamaicans live on Middle Cay and Top
Cay, six hours or more by boat from
Kingston s decision-makers, and until very
recently well out of mind.
Piles of garbage glisten in the sun---plas-
tic water bottles, cans, styrofoam cups, old
batteries. When it has the cash, the Solid
Waste authority sends a barge. None has
visited since June.
Middle Cay has just four makeshift toi-
lets; most people just go on the beach, or
use the "wrap and throw" method---a
bulging plastic bag tossed into the waves.
Bottled water is expensively imported.
Valuable rainfall is channelled from roofs
into barrels, which are lodged carefully
inside the small houses to deter theft. A
small desalination plant would work won-
There are swarms of flies and cock-
roaches. Giant rats thrive unmolested;
some, say locals, weigh up to three
pounds. Cats have been slaughtered to
protect the seabirds. "From dem tek out
the puss them, a pure rat tek over," one
fisherman told the Jamaica Gleaner.
The Pedro Banks are perhaps Jamaica s
best fishing grounds. Fishers settle on the
Cays, some when still in their teens, and
earn good money from conch and other
catch. "Yuh haffi love it. When the sea
call yuh, is like yuh cyaan refuse," one
told the Jamaica Observer.
Others follow the fishers. There are bars,
cookshops, groceries, a movie house for
blues, and gambling for fast cash. A few
dozen women live there. Many are sex
workers, earning much more than they
would in Kingston. There are no children.
The US State Department reported in
2004 that "smugglers are increasingly
using the area surrounding the Pedro Cays
as a staging/re-supply point."
The coast guard now has a small base
on Middle Cay. There is plenty ganja, but
few recent reports of cocaine transship-
ment. Stories of wanted men jumping to
the Cays to evade the law may be fanciful.
Coast guard officers say much of their
time is taken up with informal dispute
Environmentalist Peter Espeut wrote a
2006 study, The Wild Frontier: Living and
Fishing on the Pedro Cays. He argues that
the Cays have been left outside Jamaica s
governance system. They are not part of
any parliamentary constituency; no parish
councillor takes responsibility.
"The sustainable management of the
cays requires the highest level of collabo-
ration amongst agencies of the state," said
Jamaica s agriculture minister Roger Clarke
in March. To his credit, he has been there
himself. But collaboration between state
agencies does not come easy.
Problems are shuffled from defence force
to police, to fisheries, environment, health
or solid waste. The University of the West
Indies, Scientific Research Council and the
National Environment and Planning
Agency are closely involved. Espeut argues
for a one-stop shop within the prime
minister s office. And clearly, the fishers
themselves need to be involved in decision
Overfishing has damaged stocks of high-
value species. Under current rules, fines
for serious environmental offences are
equivalent to just a few US cents. A new
Fisheries Act has been in the works since
1995. Meanwhile, the Fisheries Division
has to catch a ride with the coast guard
when it wants to visit.
The Jamaica Environment Trust, an
NGO, this year took over the Pedro Bank
Management Programme, which aims to
protect resources and provide sustainable
livelihoods. Current funding of just
US$45,000 will pay a tiny staff---but only
until December. Talks for a memorandum
of understanding with the fisheries divi-
sion are still in progress. There is a letter
of support---but it specifically says that the
government will provide no funding.
Donors do not want to carry the whole
There are plans to determine the carry-
ing capacity of the Cays, and limit the
number of residents. The number of fish-
ing licences will be cut. Enforcement could
give trouble, not least for the "service
The Pedro Cays, and the Morant Cays
further east, allow Jamaica to define itself
as an archipelagic state. As with T&T, ter-
ritorial seas and the Exclusive Economic
Zone are measured not from the coast of
the main island, but from a baseline join-
ing each member of the island group.
That gives Jamaica full control over fish-
ing grounds further south---and over
marine areas where Canadian companies
talk of billion-barrel oil exploration poten-
Fishers earn good money by Jamaican
standards. But most of the annual US$30
million from conch sales goes to middle-
men and processors on the mainland.
Meanwhile, state and private sector cash
are needed to provide good environmental
management and living conditions on the
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt August 18, 2013
JAMAICA'S OTHER ISLANDS CRY FOR CASH
Garbage strewn across
the beach. PHOTO
One of the islands that
make up the Pedro Cays.
PHOTO COURTESY THE
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