Jamaica's First National Marine Park
Throughout the 1960’s, famed underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau made a habit of exploring the shallow water reefs just outside of Montego Bay. Along the likes of Harry Belafonte, JFK, and other celebrities who found respite in the tranquil coves of The Bay, Cousteau helped fuel MoBay’s popularity as atop-rate dive destination. As the city’s population grew, however, the dive community began to notice that the health of surrounding reefs were declining. Fishermen were also growing increasingly alarmed by their deteriorating catches. Preliminary studies were launched and indicated that coastal development, water pollution and unsustainable fishing practices were largely to blame.
After years of grass-roots lobbying, a small protected area was declared off the popular Doctor’s Cave Beach in 1974. Though important, it neglected the broader seascape of fringing reefs, mangrove wetlands and sea-grass beds that were truly responsible for making the area unique.
In a promising move, the Bogue Lagoon was established as a Fish Sanctuary in1979. This afforded legal protection to a significant tract of mangrove wetlands and fish nurseries, but left to self-regulation, it failed to demonstrate the intended spillover effects. In the face of continuing deterioration (and community skepticism as to the benefits of conservation), the international dive press fingered government inaction as the cause of coral decline. In the face of a rapidly crumbling industry, the local dive community launched a frontal assault for the establishment of a larger, more meaningful, and actively managed protected area.
After decades of fits and starts, Jamaica’s first national park was created in 1992,along with the Trust who was to oversee its management. By 1996, the Natural Resources and Conservation Authority (NRCA) had delegated management of the Park to the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust under an innovative co-management agreement. With this responsibility, came with the expectation that the Trust would also generate the financing needed to run the park.
While some support was derived from intermittent projects (USAID and World Bank), the Government of Jamaica could only provide limited financial assistance. Vacillating support has obligated the Trust to subsidize its own work through fund-raising, projects and annually renewable management agreements with key partners.
Divers begin to notice the reduced fish size and the damage to the marine environment.