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Jamaica sanctuary fights to protect coral, fish and the livelihoods that depend on them

The White River Sanctuary in Jamaica strives to protect a delicate habitat from the threats of overfishing, pollution and climate change

The residents of White River are thorough extroverts. They spend hours exchanging stories over meals of freshly caught parrotfish. The music they play thumps from dawn until dusk.

They’re also animated by an overriding sense of purpose: they’re waging a fight to protect their core livelihoods – present and future – against a formidable foe.

“Corals and fish are under threat in Jamaica, because of multiple different factors,” explained Dale Anderson, manager of the community-led White River Fish Sanctuary. “It’s really pollution, non-sustainable fishing and climate change. They’re really going to hit Jamaica hard when it comes to this and these are the threats that we’re trying to work to mitigate and adapt.”

Withering corals and systemic overfishing are a deadly duo for fish populations—and for the livelihoods that depend on them. “If you were to ask a fisherman who is fishing for maybe 50-plus years now, he’ll tell you that he could [once] get a parrot fish of maybe four feet. Four feet long, three feet long. Now, when [he] get parrotfish, it’s mainly under a foot,” Anderson said.

With support from the Climate Investment Funds and Inter-American Development Bank, the White River Sanctuary is mobilizing a grassroots movement to restore coral life and provide habitats that allow fish to grow more sustainably. They’ve zoned a 372-acre sanctuary off-limits to fishing and enlisted a local team of “coral wardens” to enforce it. The community has also rolled out a program to equip fishermen with resources to grow corals and turn the tide against further degradation.

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