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Goat Islands, Important Iguana Habitat SAVED

The Goat Islands, home to many threatened and endemic species including the Jamaican Rock Iguana, have been saved!

Last week when I opened my email I received one of the greatest messages ever: protection for Jamaican Rock Iguana habitat on the Goat Islands had been assured!

The Goat Islands are part of the Portland Bight Protected Area, an area that contains significant environmental assets, including the largest mangrove system in Jamaica. Together with extensive sea‐grass beds and coral reefs, this mangrove system likely contains the largest nursery area for fish and shellfish on the island. The land area includes miles of dry limestone forests and wetlands. Overlooking Portland Bight is the largest remaining area of intact dry limestone forest in Jamaica, where 271 plant species have been identified, including 53 that are endemic and found nowhere else on Earth. These areas are of high conservation value due to the many threatened and endemic species that live there.

In 22 years of dedicated and effective conservation work, the Jamaican Rock Iguana has gone from being believed extinct to being rediscovered, and is now on the road to recovery.

In 2013, plans were made to turn over the Goat Islands to the China Harbour Engineering Company for conversion into a massive transshipment port. This project–if allowed to go through–would have destroyed Jamaica’s largest protected area, including the Hellshire Hills, a region containing the world’s only remaining wild population of Jamaican Rock Iguanas (Cyclura collei). The loss of this protected area would almost certainly guarantee extinction of this Critically Endangered species.

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Jamaican Rock Iguana (Cyclura collei) photo by: Rick Van Veen

In 22 years of dedicated and effective conservation work, the Jamaican Rock Iguana has gone from being believed extinct to being rediscovered, and is now on the road to recovery. The Hellshire Hills has been a key location for Jamaican rock iguanas, as it is here we have seen them make an amazing comeback.

Collectively, the International Iguana Foundation (IIF) and partners, including the Iguana Specialist Group (ISG), have successfully reintroduced 278 head-started iguanas to Hellshire Hills, seen an increase in the number of nesting females in the wild, collected and released thousands of hatchlings from protected nests, and built iguana head-starting facilities at the Hope Zoo. The plan for the final stage of this strategy was to move iguanas to the nearby Goat Islands, where they can live and reproduce naturally, without conservation interventions. The establishment of the port would shatter our plans to protect the Jamaican Rock Iguana.

Fortunately, after 3 years of concerted efforts and undying perseverance from a lot of people, the incredible news broke just last week that this port is not going ahead and that it would instead be built in a less environmentally sensitive area.

This announcement marks an unprecedented win for conservation and the culmination of intensive efforts to preserve Jamaica’s natural heritage and one of the rarest lizards in the world. This is yet another example of the amazing achievements we can generate when we work together to save and protect our species. In addition to protecting land, we can support threatened species like the Jamaican Rock Iguanas by making sure their habitat is free of threats like invasive species. Hopefully, with additionally conservation efforts, the Jamaican Rock Iguana can rise up from its Critically Endangered Status.

All things considered, this is a great moment for Jamaican Rock Iguanas and biodiversity in the Caribbean indeed!


Featured photo: Portland Bight Area. Credit: Robin Moore.

About Cielo Figuerola

Cielo is currently finishing her doctoral studies in Ecology and Evolution at the University of Puerto Rico. She has worked with Island Conservation since 2012 to protect endangered species, especially on Mona Island where she works to protect the Mona Island Rock Iguana. Traveling, exploring the outdoors, and discovering the simple but amazing details of the natural world are among the things she enjoys the most.

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