On my children's first nature walk through Font Hill Wildlife Sanctuary, I can't tell you how many times I heard the words "This is so cool!" being whispered. Not shouted - it's the kind of place that inspires even chatty teens and spirited pre teens.
The Sanctuary is home to many of Jamaica's indigenous and protected species. It's also a nesting place for multiple species of migratory birds in the winter months. We heard the call of the John Chewit (the local name inspired by the sound the bird makes) and many other birds. We didn't see any crocodiles on our visit, which was in the middle of the day, but there were signs of them everywhere. Our guide (Mr. Smith) pointed out tracks made by their feet and tails in the sand, their hatched eggs, abandoned nests.
Here are some pictures of our visit. You can pause the show by hovering your mouse pointer over any image.
Hawksbill and loggerhead turtles make their nests in the reserve, travelling hundreds of miles to lay their eggs on the same Font Hill beach on which they were hatched years before. Although we already knew these facts, it was amazing to actually see a sea turtle nest and the eggs inside. My son helped Mr. Smith to try and protect the nest from mongooses which were eating the eggs. A futile attempt - by the time we were heading back two hours later, there were three large mongooses burrowing under the barrier they had erected.
The Font Hill Property is in St. Elizabeth, roughly 3000 acres, of which 125 have been designated (not sure by whom) a nature preserve. It is owned by the Petroleum Corporation of Jamaica (PCJ), who at various points in time have toyed with the idea of drilling for oil in the area. The Fonthill Beach Park was one of the south coast's most popular beaches for locals, until it was closed in 2013. Accessible beaches of good quality are becoming a rarity for the Jamaican public these days.
In 2010, the government announced that the entire property was being sold to a Spanish Hotel chain. Horror of horrors! In Jamaica, these hotels have tended to be huge all-inclusive properties that destroy all things natural in their wake. This sale seems to have fallen through, but who knows what else might be lurking around the corner?
As Jamaica's environment is sacrificed to the highest bidder, where will Jamaicans go to enjoy a good beach? We'll have to check into a hotel, or approach by boat! What experience will Jamaica have to offer future visitors? Even our beaches will be scarce commodities if we destroy the animal and plant life so necessary to the survival of marine ecosystems.
I will leave you with a letter to our leading newspaper, written by my children after their first visit to Fonthill Wildlife Sanctuary.
We are students living in St. Elizabeth. On Wednesday July 27 we went on a nature walk at the Font Hill Wildlife Reserve. It was one of the most spectacular experiences of our lives.
We got the chance to see crocodile nests, and sea turtle nests containing hundreds of eggs that had not yet hatched. We were able to observe crocodile and bird tracks left in the sand, and beautiful shells and marine species washed up on the shore. The water was crystal clear, so much so that we were able to see fish of different colours and sizes swimming in the shallows. We were especially excited when we looked out into the water and saw the dorsal fin of a shark glistening in the sunlight. Our guide told us that up to two days before over a dozen sharks could be seen close by as it was their mating season.
We had fun trekking through the mangroves to a sandbar on the far end of the reserve, and watching the majestic birds swooping over our heads. When we left the reserve, we returned to Font Hill Beach Park for a swim. We have been visiting this beach for as long as we can remember. Everyone we know in St. Elizabeth visits Font Hill when they want to go to the beach.
The visit to the Reserve was an experience we will never forget. If we have children in the future, we would love for them to be able to visit the Reserve and enjoy the beach as well. The Fonthill Wildlife Reserve is a habitat and mating ground for many species of animals and the home of many types of plants. We cannot imagine how anyone who cares about Jamaica could destroy this place for the sake of money. Therefore we are begging the Jamaican people and government to continue preserving this place of measureless value for our country and the world.
Unfortunately the letter was not published. Let's hope that Font Hill as we know it will be here for future generations.