Hands Off the Cockpit Country
For those who don’t know, the Cockpit Country is an extensive area of western Jamaica characterised by its dense, steep-sided conical limestone hills, biodiversity and general inhospitality. It is the country’s largest unbroken rainforest and home to several vulnerable and critically endangered fauna, such as the black-billed amazon and the E. sisyphodemus frog. The area gets its name from its resemblance to cock-fighting dens.
The question of the Cockpit Country’s preservation has been trending in the local media ever-increasingly, since public discussion began on the proposed boundary for this area. There are over six boundaries to be considered, each varying in extent and historical significance. For most of this discussion, the conversation has been framed around the short term profit to be made and lost from bauxite mining outside each boundary. This is a reckless way of thinking about the Cockpit Country as it ignores the innate value the area holds as an untouched segment of nature. Any profit to be made from the mining of bauxite in this area would hardly make up for the loss of habitat of several flora and fauna endemic to the region. Furthermore, bauxite mining destroys the soil profile indefinitely. Even where “restoration” efforts have been made after mining on the island, they have been shoddy and only allow for the hardiest invasive plants to thrive. Mining this area simply should not and should never be considered as a path to sustainable development, especially since it accounts for over forty percent of the island’s freshwater resources.
In any case, the Cockpit Country, or at least a great expanse of it, belongs to the Accompong Maroons. It is their ancestral home, dating as far back as the Spanish colonisation of the island. Next January will mark the two hundred and eighty years since the signing of the Maroon’s peace treaty with the British, which proclaimed the Cockpit as theirs for the keeping. The Accompong Maroons are recognised by the United Nations as an indigenous group and have been granted a level of autonomy by the Jamaican government. The Maroons are keen on protecting their land from environmental degradation and exploitative outsiders; there is no doubt that they would use force to defend their land, as evidenced by history.
The conversation surrounding the Cockpit Country should be how we can best conserve this rugged rainforest whilst also making the best use of its resources, within the allowances of the Accompong Maroons. The most extensive proposed border, the Cockpit Country Stakeholders’ Group boundary, should be recognised as the official boundary; it encapsulates the territory agreed on by the peace treaty and more. This seemingly “excess” allocation is necessary to provide a buffer zone between the heart of the forest and outside world to prevent incidental degradation along the perimeter.
Sustainable development is the only responsible way to make use of the Cockpit Country’s resources. Eco-tourism has been proposed and is in practice on a small-scale in the area but diversification of economic activity is necessary if development in this area is to be sustainable. Let us not solely focus on eco-tourism but also expand into heritage tourism, so that locals and foreigners can learn about the rich history and biology of this diverse areas; some profit could even be set aside for conservation efforts. The abundant florae in the area also provide opportunity for the development of a nutraceuticals industry, although this runs the risk of being exploitative if it is not managed properly.
If the preservation and conservation of the Cockpit Country matters to you, you can let your voice be heard by signing the petition.