County of Surrey, Eastern Jamaica
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1. Natural Features
1. Natural FeaturesThe Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP) is located in the eastern end of the island of Jamaica. It extends over a planimetric area of 495.2 km2 and represents 4.5% of Jamaica's land surface.
When topography is taken into consideration, the area is 78,212 hectares (193,292 acres). The mountains of the Park dominate the skyline of eastern Jamaica, and incorporate much of the hinterland of the parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, St. Andrew and a small section of south-east St. Mary. The steep mountain slopes form the upper sections of ten (10) of the island's twenty-six (26) watershed management units. The highest point in the island - Blue Mountain Peak (2,256 meters) is located in the southern region of the Park. The BJCMNP is actually composed of three mountain ranges - the Port Royal, Blue, and John Crow Mountains, divided by the Buff Bay and Rio Grande Valleys on the north side of the ranges.
The BJCMNP contains the largest contiguous tract of closed broad-leaf forest in Jamaica, and its upper and lower montane rain-forests are recognized globally for their high biological diversity and threatened status. The core, Preservation Zone of the Park consists of closed primary forest with broadleaf trees and makes up 53.2% of the Park. 40% consists of modified forest, timber plantations and ruinate or degraded woodlands and these areas along with about 4% agricultural and residential make up the Preservation Zone Buffer and Recovery Zones. Outside these areas, a 1 km-wide band is considered the Buffer Zone, in which Park management works with the rural communities to promote environmentally sustainable livelihoods and sustained, appropriate management of the area's natural and cultural resources.
The forests of the BJCMNP are:-
• The last of two known habitats of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio homerus) - the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere
• Important habitat for many Jamaican birds, including all the endemic species such as the endangered Jamaican Blackbird (Neospar nigerrimus) and winter habitat for many migratory birds
• A refuge for Jamaican wildlife including the Jamaican Boa (Epicrates subflavus) and the Jamaican Hutia (Geocapromys brownii)
• Home to numerous endemic orchids, bromeliads, fern and other plants (including many on the IUCN Red List)
• Essential for absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen - cleansing the air and reducing global warming
• Necessary for conserving the highly erodible soil of the area - preventing soil erosion and landslides
• Vital for providing water - the Park supplies over 40% of the population of Jamaica with domestic water, in addition to water for agricultural, industrial and commercial usage
• A component of the socio-cultural traditions of the Maroons and rural Jamaican communities. These traditions include food, craft, language, music and dance, are all highlighted at Misty Bliss - an annual festival at Holywell - the Park's main recreation area.
The authenticity of the cultural component of the Blue and John Crow Mountains, in particular the events and living traditions of the Windward Maroons is substantiated by the numerous studies and documents concerning this indigenous people, their history, and their contribution to Jamaica's heritage (Agorsah, 1994). British documents and maps from the eighteenth century attest to the existence of the Maroons, and the guerilla warfare they waged with the British military in the Blue and John Crow Mountains, eventually ending with the signing of a peace treaty in 1739. Nanny, the legendary leader of the Windward Maroons is one of Jamaica's National Heroes, and the only female amongst them.
The peace treaty granted land to the Maroons, which was not as deep in the forest as many of their war-time villages, and thus the main Windward Maroon community at Moore Town is within the National Park's Buffer Zone and the other at Charles Town, is just beyond. The Maroons retain their sovereignty and traditions including language, music, dance, craft, religious rites and knowledge of medicinal plants. UNESCO has recognized the "Maroon Heritage of Moore Town, Jamaica" as a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humantiy" and is working with the Moore Town Maroon Council to assist them in conserving this heritage.
The influence of the Maroons and retention of African traditions has resulted in a strong "afro-jamaican" culture in the deep, rural communities in the mountains around the National Park. This is reflected in the living traditions of the local communities in their religious and spiritual beliefs, dance, music, food, stories, agricultural and other practices. There are numerous sites and trails of significance to the heritage of the Maroons, slaves and freed slaves for example, the recently restored Cunha Cunha Pass Trail.
The integrity of the natural heritage of the Blue and John Crow Mountains has been secured by the steep and rugged nature of the terrain, the vast expanse of the landscape, and the early protection of the site as a Forest Reserve in 1950. Ecological assessment of the area (Muchoney, D. et. al., 1994) indicates that 53.2% of the National Park has retained natural forest or "Closed Primary Forest with Broadleaf Trees". The vast majority of this forest is within the central and eastern mountain ranges and forms the Preservation Zone of the National Park. This is in fact, the largest contiguous area of such forest in Jamaica, and accounts for one-third of the remaining natural forest in the island (JCDT, 2005).
One of the significant features of this site is the wide range of elevation - from 150m to the highest elevation in the island at 2,256m (JCDT, 2005). Whilst the majority of the island has a limestone geology, the Blue Mountains have a complex geology reflecting a varied history which includes volcanism and metamorphic activity. The planimetric area of the National Park is 495.2 km2 and it covers three different mountain ranges. The diversity in geology, elevation, rainfall
and other physical factors has resulted in very high biological diversity and the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park is listed in the WWF/IUCN (1997) List of 200 Globally Important Sites for Plant Biodiversity. The wide variety of plant communities, the thick forest and the relative isolation of the site (only one road traverses the property, and this does not pass through the Preservation Zone) has made the BJCMNP one of the last refuges in the island, for native and endemic wildlife, some of which are threatened e.g. the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Papilio homerus) which is the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere, and listed as ‘Endangered' on IUCN's Red List.
The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park is arguably the best managed protected area (PA) in Jamaica, being the only PA with a current management plan, and an almost full complement of staff implementing and reporting on the Park's management programmes. The site is legally protected both as a Forest Reserve (since 1950) and a National Park (since 1993) and is managed as a national park by a non-government organization, the Jamaica Conservation and Development Trust (JCDT) through a delegation agreement from the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) through the relevant government agency - the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). A co-management agreement with both the NRCA/NEPA and the Forest Department also recognizes the JCDT as being responsible for operational management of the national park. The JCDT through the Park's Education and Public Involvement Programme is in the process of empowering local communities to play a greater role in managing the rich cultural and natural heritage of the BJCMNP.
The authenticity of the site's cultural heritage and the integrity of its natural heritage are well documented and are evident at the site, and from its management.
Within Jamaica, there is no directly comparable site, since the BJCMNP is much higher in elevation than any other site in the island and includes soils of volcanic, igneous and metamorphic origin. These physical differences make the site the only place in the island where one can find upper montane rainforest on shale amongst other plant communities. The most similar site on the island, in terms of universal value, is the Cockpit Country in central Jamaica, which is a Forest Reserve of similar size to the BJCMNP. The vegetation however whilst high in biological diversity is montane rainforest on limestone, and the elevation within the property does not exceed 800m. Further, much of the Reserve is broken into separate blocks and the karst landscape of repeating hills and valleys has allowed significant human intrusion into the lower elevations. Whilst planning for management of the area is in train, there is only limited holistic management of the property in comparison to the BJCMNP.
The Caribbean has been identified by Conservation International and other organizations, as one of the world's hotspots for biological diversity. Within the Caribbean, the BJCMNP contains the second highest peaks, with the highest being located in the Armando Bermudez and Jose del Carmen Ramirez National Parks in the Dominican Republic. In terms of insular endemic plant species, the BJCMNP houses 33% of Jamaica's endemic plants whilst these two national parks together house 25% of Hispaniola's endemics. A comparison (Tanner, 1986) of the forests of the Blue Mountains with those of montane forests in Cuba, Puerto Rico and Colombia showed that there was little similarity between the sites in terms of the species. Tanner concluded that forests of the Blue Mountains of Jamaica are unique in many respects from montane forests in the rest of the Caribbean.
The direct association of the BJCMNP with events and living traditions of the Maroons sets this site apart from other properties in the Caribbean which may be similar in terms of flora and fauna.
This association between cultural and natural heritage, which reflects the successful use of the Blue Mountains as a refuge by the Maroons in their fight for freedom and self-determination gives the BJCMNP a special significance nationally and globally. Currently, no other sites in the Western Hemisphere have been inscribed on the World Heritage List for criterion (vi) in combination with criteria(vii) through (ix). Although relatively small (as is typical of properties in the Caribbean - a region typified by small islands) this association between the events and living traditions of an indigenous people, and natural heritage puts the BJCMNP in a category similar to that of World Heritage Sites such as Kakadu National Park in Australia.