Will Mother Nature wait?

As a West Indian, the ocean plays a critical part in my life. Every day, it is there for me, shining as I wake up. Every happy memory I have as a child, teenager – and now as an adult – has it somewhere in the background. It was my nursemaid when I was a baby, my teacher as I was growing up, my dancing partner at teenage parties, my friend when I needed someone to talk to. It speaks to me as I fall asleep; it features in most of my dreams.

I live in the parish of St James in Jamaica, known to both locals and tourists as a beach paradise where one can relax, socialize and experience a superb day of swimming. Because we live by it, the ocean is part of our family. We love it and care for it like an elder brother or sister. The thought of harming it would never occur to us. Most people in the parish depend on it for their livelihood.

However, there are other parts in Jamaica where the ocean does not have a major social or economic impact on people’s lives. I now study in Kingston, the capital, and the contrast is stunning. Every day, I see and hear people who think it is fine to use the ocean as a dumping ground for industrial waste and other rubbish. I read in the papers that conserving it is low in the government’s concerns, as there are more pressing political and economic matters to deal with. And, in my experience, local environmental groups who try to promote the importance of the ocean and other issues are usually mismanaged and always short of money.

Because of this, to my mind, the priority for Jamaica and other West Indian countries must be to attract major investment from first-world states, to help in the environmental care of the oceans that lap our shores. Help from respected countries and governments outside will surely raise the status of concern in my country.

How long?
But I am worried, because it is not just in Jamaica that care for the oceans is accorded low priority. Amid all the impending issues in world politics and economics, there is a paucity of environmental investment. Concern for ‘sustainable development’ appears to be only skin deep. And again, I worry as a citizen of Jamaica that we and other third-world states do not possess enough influence to turn the eyes of first-world governments to such issues as the increasing pollution of the ocean and its impact on our livelihoods. And this is serious: the ocean today is nothing like as clean and sparkling as I remember it as a child. In another few years, if it continues getting dirtier, tourists will stay away; the fish will die and St James will rot and become a slum.

Only, in my opinion, when first-world states assert the priority of the sustainable development of the oceans, will Jamaica and other third-world countries receive the environmental investment that they need, along with other equally important expenditures. But how long will we have to wait? And will Mother Nature wait that long?

The joys and the importance of the seas are not just indigenous to the West Indies. They are shared worldwide. But my perception as a Jamaican, and as one who has grown up in the West Indies, is that our whole lives, economy, culture, sense of well-being and spirituality are heavily dependent on the seas. As small states, we need affluent nations to work with us and Mother Nature to make the investments that will prevent the destruction of our livelihood, the ocean

Jodi-Ann Johnson is studying psychology at the University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.

PHOTOGRAPH: Anthony Pignone/UNEP/Topham

This issue:
Contents | Editorial K. Töpfer | Into the mainstream | Creation’s forgotten days | Restoring a pearl | Stop my nation vanishing | Energy release | Oceans need mountains | People | An ocean corridor | At a glance: Seas, oceans and small islands | Profile: Cesaria Evora | No island is an island | Small islands, big potential | Small is vulnerable | Natural resilience | Books and products | Keeping oil from troubled waters | Redressing the balance | Neighbours without borders | Will Mother Nature wait? | Pacific canaries

Complementary articles in other issues:
Issue on Oceans, 1998
Issue on Small Islands, 1999
Issue on Tourism, 1999
Issue on Globalization, poverty, trade and the environment, 2003

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment: