Geography and climate

Jamaica is the largest Anglophone island in the Caribbean Basin, with an approximate total land area of 4,442 square miles (10,991 km2). The island is 146 miles long with widths varying between 22 and 51 miles and is comprised of 14 administrative districts or parishes within three counties – Middlesex, Cornwall and Surrey. The capital city, Kingston, is located to the south of the island. The island’s interior is mountainous especially in the eastern and central regions, with the highest peak (Blue Mountain Peak) reaching 7,402 feet (2,256 masl). Approximately 120 rivers flow from this mountainous central interior to the narrow, somewhat discontinuous northern and southern coastlines where multi-character beaches are present. Rich, fertile soils occupy the river-dissected valleys and numerous interior plains where small and large-scale agriculture operations are located. Other natural resources present and extracted include limestone, gypsum and bauxite – the latter being the major resource foundation for the island’s mining industry.

Jamaica’s climate is predominantly a tropical marine climate with an average annual temperature of 27° C, and average annual rainfall of 78 inches (198 centimetres). Most of the island’s rainfall is recorded during the “wet season”, corresponding with the Tropical Atlantic Hurricane Season, where Caribbean countries are affected by a range of low-pressure and hurricane events roughly between June and November each year. Other natural hazards that affect the island include floods, landslides and earthquakes. Several regions within Jamaica are affected by microclimates which diverge from national weather trends, specifically areas of high altitude which have more rainfall and lower ranges of temperatures than other lower altitude areas.

Socio-economic and political status

Ocean-front tourism resort developmentJamaica’s population stood at approximately 2,698,800 at the end of 2009 (STATIN-JA, 2010). Jamaica is defined by a mixed free-market economy with tourism and mining being the two most important economic sectors, with major contributions also coming from the manufacturing and agriculture sectors.

Local governments in Jamaica are subdivided into parishes which each have a Parish Councillor for Local Government. Negril is located across two parishes: Westmoreland and Hanover.

Kingston, the capital, is the centre for much of Jamaica’s government and foreign investment offices. Some tourism development is found throughout the south-eastern part of the island, but much of the large resort tourism development is located in the north-west of the country, around Montego Bay and Negril.

The economy is heavily dependent on services, such as tourism, which contribute approximately 60% to the island’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (Economy Watch, 2010).  There was a 47% increase in stopover arrivals from 1999 to 2009, and during this same period, gross foreign exchange earnings from tourism increased by 50% (Source: Jamaica Tourist Board Annual Travel Statistics 2009.

Table 1: Estimate gross foreign exchange earnings

Year Jamaican $,000 **US$,000
1999 50,323,994 1,279,532
2000 57,728,110 1,332,597
2001 56,950,407 1,232,960
2002 58,938,155 1,209,484
2003 78,366,236 1,351,142
2004 88,191,462 1,436,577
2005 99,269,770 1,545,055
2006 123,232,473 1,870,560
2007 131,911,828 1,910,105
2008 144,054,881 1,975,519
2009 155,959,234 1,925,423

* Figures for 1998 – 2008 include estimated expenditure of non-resident Jamaicans** Exchange Rate used is taken from the Bank of Jamaica’s published Average Annual Exchange Rate .

Table 2: Visitor arrivals to Jamaica 1999-2009

Year Stopovers Cruise ship passengers Total
1999 1,248,397 764,341 2,012,738
2000 1,322,690 907,611 2,230,301
2001 1,276,516 840,337 2,116,853
2002 1,266,366 865,419 2,131,785
2003 1,350,285 1,132,596 2,482,881
2004 1,414,786 1,099,773 2,514,559
2005 1,478,663 1,135,843 2,614,506
2006 1,678,905 1,336,994 3,015,899
2007 1,700,785 1,179,504 2,880,289
2008 1,767,271 1,092,263 2,859,534
2009 1,831,097 922,349 2,753,446

(Source: Jamaica Tourist Board Annual Travel Statistics 2009

Tourism is currently Jamaica’s second largest foreign exchange earner after remittance inflows. In 2008, net foreign exchange earnings from tourism totalled over U.S. $1.7 billion or 12.2% of GDP (BOJ, 2008). Formal employment in the tourism industry grew steadily, albeit slowly, between 1999 and 2005, averaging 30,531 persons (3.2% of employment) per annum, with a further 9.6% of the labour force indirectly employed as a result of tourism (McCatty and Serju, 2006).

Additionally, tourism is one of the principal sources of foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows into Jamaica. In 2008, it accounted for 13% of FDI, after Information and Communication Technology (Bank of Jamaica, 2008). Tourism investment is estimated at 28.7% of total investment in 2010. However, the World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) ten-year projection indicates a decline to 28.1% of total investment (WTTC, 2010).

The agriculture sector represents a critical component of Jamaica’s national development as an important contributor to GDP, employment, foreign exchange earnings and rural livelihoods. Jamaica has greater resilience and potential for food security than most other Caribbean SIDS, in that local substitutes for imported staples are widely produced. However, like in most Caribbean countries, there has been a reduction in agricultural production in recent years (Planning Institute of Jamaica, 2009). It has been recommended that the tourism sector fully support local production and engage in agreements that are mutually beneficial, whereby the farmer has a guaranteed market for produce requested by tourism facilities.

Natural resources and environment

Jamaica has considerable surface and groundwater resources; however, local demand is met mainly from groundwater supplies. The country is predisposed to seawater intrusion into its coastal groundwater supplies and over-abstraction of this finite resource is already a management challenge, especially because drought is a recurrent problem. The agricultural sector has the greatest water demand and accounts for 75 to 85% of the water consumed in the country (Government of Jamaica, 2009). These trends suggest an inherent vulnerability in this sector.

Jamaica’s natural environment and ecosystems have experienced changes as the country has developed and the population has grown. Given that there are heavy concentrations of people in coastal areas, coastal ecosystems have become degraded around the island. For example, many coastal roads cut off mangrove swamps from the sea, preventing them from functioning effectively as nurseries for marine fish and shellfish. Coral reefs and seagrass beds have suffered from the impacts of overfishing, sedimentation and agricultural runoff. Furthermore, there is increasing recognition that small changes in climate can trigger major, abrupt responses in eco-systems.

Further threats to the health of ecosystems are projected under future climate. Recent sea level rise studies found that under the smallest SLR scenario (0.5 m), 35 to 68% of the highly valued beach resources in Portland Parish would be lost (Simpson et al., 2012). This is one tourism development area, Negril and Montego Bay in the north are also at risk to similar impacts from SLR. For example, a recent UNDP study looked at the impact of SLR on the international airport in Montego Bay; the main entry point for tourists to this region of the country (see Table 3 below).

Table 3: Approximate future return periods for storm surge static water levels that would flood current elevations above sea level at Sangster International Airport.

Approximate return periods (years) for flooding the current elevation.
  Current elevations Present day return period SWIL 1999 2050 projection (based on IPCC, 2007 SLR projections) 2050 projection (based on Rahmstorf, 2007, SLR projections)
Sangster Airport 0.5 3.5-4 about 2 1.5
1.0 7 about 5.5 5
1.5 15 11.5 9
2.0 100 56 33

*NB*: Data based on empirical examination of modelled return periods by Smith Warner International Ltd. for most likely static water elevations at Sangster (SWIL 1999). Wave run-up not included. (Source: Robinson and Khan (2008) in Simpson et al., 2012).

The coastal road near Sangster Airport has already been severely damaged, likely as a result of storm surges and coastal erosion, as demonstrated in the photo below from December 2011.

Damaged roadway near Jamaica airportSea level rise, storm surge and beach erosion are the main processes that threaten coastal areas in small island states. Quantification of the impacts from SLR and beach erosion in Jamaica (see Table 4), generated from beach profile and survey work conducted by University of Waterloo graduate students (Simpson et al., 2012).

Table 4: Impacts associated with 1m and 2m SLR and 50m and 100m beach erosion scenarios in Jamaica.

    Major tourism resorts Sea turtle nesting sites Transportation infrastructure
        Airport lands Road networks Seaport lands
SLR 1.0m 8% 25% 20% 2% 100%
  2.0m 18% 32% 60% 2% 100%
Erosion 50m 32% 43% - - -
  100m 50% 57% - - -

Jamaica’s coastal ecosystems and fisheries have been negatively impacted by extreme events in the past. These impacts have had negative effects on the resilience of the fisheries. After Hurricane Gilbert in 1988, observers in Rocky Point, St. Thomas, Discovery Bay, Ocho Rios and Falmouth reported significantly reduced abundance of juvenile fish, and these areas also suffered damage to seagrass beds and coral reefs (UNEP/CEP, 1989). Official estimates of the economic cost of that Hurricane amounted to approximately Jamaican $25 million in damage to fishing beaches and Fisheries Division infrastructure, fishing gear and boats. Some of the traditional fishing villages experienced severe impacts because of their proximity to the shoreline (20m away) and the low elevation above the sea (UNEP/CEP, 1989).

Overfishing and degradation of coastal ecosystems (sea grasses and mangroves in particular) have also had negative impacts on the fishing industry in Jamaica. The Jamaican Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries have enacted “no-fishing zones” to help promote the regeneration of fish populations in the coastal waters (Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, 2011). Local environmental groups, including ParCA’s Partner organization the Montego Bay Marine Park Trust, are working to protect the fisheries as well.

CBVA study site: Negril

The study area for the ParCA project is in the north-west of the island, around the major tourism destination of Negril. Negril is located on the coast near the Great Morass, a wetland area that plays an important role in the coastal marine and terrestrial environments.

Negril beachNegril, “the Capital of Casual” is home to the ‘Seven-Mile Beach’ and is a favourite destination for families and honeymooners ( There are many all inclusive resorts, cottages and good nightlife, as well as white sand beaches, blue waters and black cliffs with beautiful views.

With the intense coastal development, coastal protection is common place. Sea walls, break waters and groynes are structural features that help to slow the erosion process and maintain beach width or to protect buildings from wave action.

Climate change vulnerability

Construction of groyneJamaica’s greatest vulnerability is to tropical storms and hurricanes. The island is located in the ‘Hurricane Belt’ and has been impacted with strong storms with some regularity (Government of Jamaica, 2011). The Second National Communication (2011) indicates that vulnerability and adaptive capacity assessments have been conducted in 5 sectors: water resources, agriculture, human health, coastal zones and human settlements, and tourism.

Coastal zones in Jamaica are vulnerable to beach erosion from storm events, but SLR is the more progressive, long term threat and the loss of coastal wetlands is also expected in Jamaica (Government of Jamaica, 2011). However, all of these impacts are overshadowed by non-climate forces which create greater vulnerability. These non-climate factors include: deforestation, increasing riverine floods from destruction of forest and from poor farming practices leading to increased near‐shore sedimentation and turbidity, increased chemical pollutants from agriculture and industrial wastes, and from increasing coastal population growth (Government of Jamaica, 2011, pg. 14).

The Negril environment and its communities are vulnerable to climate change in a few ways. An assessment using the semi-quantitative Index of Coastal Vulnerability (CVI) to sea level rise indicates a relatively high vulnerability in Long Bay Negril (Government of Jamaica, 2011). One adaptation need identified as a result of this assessment demands that a thorough revision of the published setback guidelines, and also there is need for a mechanism for the rapid dissemination of warnings for sudden events in heavily populated tourist areas (Government of Jamaica, 2011, pg.15).

The CBVA field work will aim to reveal further vulnerabilities and adaptation actions taken by persons to deal with the already changing environment and economic changes in Negril.

Road next to the coast and a tiki hut in the water