Kingston Harbour Project


The purpose of this project is to outline the factors influencing the sustainable development of the Kingston Harbour, Jamaica as a non-living marine resource, as well as the solutions to over-use and degradation of this important resource. It will examine the barriers to sustainability of the harbour, in particular, population and lack of immediacy.

Background information

The island of Jamaica is the third largest in the Caribbean following Cuba and Hispaniola, with an area of 10,946.9 sq. km (4,243 square miles). The capital city of Kingston and the surrounding metropolitan area is located on the southeast coast of the island adjacent to the Kingston Harbour. The harbour, which is the focus of this study, is located between latitudes 17 degrees 55' and 8 degrees N and Longitude 76 degrees 21' and 78 degrees 24'W (See map of Kingston harbour). It is a semi-enclosed harbour bounded on the north, east and west by the mainland coast, and on the south by the Palisadoes spit, which functions to shelter the mainland coastline.

Kingston Harbour has been described as an excellent harbour on the Caribbean Sea. It is the seventh largest natural harbour in the world encompassing about 25.87 sq. km (10sq. miles) of navigable water with depths of up to 18m (59ft). Kingston Harbour has assumed the role of Jamaica's premier port. Located only 52 km from the major east-west arterial trade route via the Panama Canal, the Harbour has developed into a leading regional shipment center for both the Caribbean and Central America. It functions as one of the most important ports on the island from where much of the nations agricultural produce is shipped.

The fact that the city is located along the coast means that the harbour is especially susceptible to pollution from the anthropogenic waste due to urbanization. There has been a gradual deterioration in the state of Kingston Harbour because of pollution from various sources including sewage, solid waste, urban/river run-off and industrial waste. Associated with the large metropolitan area are a large number of industrial complexes such as the Jamaica Flour Mills, Shell, Jamaica Private Power Company, PetroJam, the Jamaica Livestock Association, Carib Cement Company and the Kingston Wharf, which inevitably produce large amounts of waste along the mainland coast of the harbour. The city of Kingston lies on the Liguanea Plain and is drained by several gullies and rivers into the adjacent Hunt’s Bay. Pollutants in these channels are deposited in the bay and harbour which, because of the semi-enclosed nature and low tidal action, are not actively flushed by natural ocean currents.

Since the 1960s studies have revealed that Kingston Harbour has undergone a rapid environmental deterioration and there is increasing concern for mitigating measures to be implemented. The most recent reports conducted in 1993 environmental studies conducted showed high levels of faecal coliform counts present around the entire Harbour and elevated levels of heavy metals in fish. There are also concerning levels of pesticide residues in fish from the Harbour, as a result of agricultural runoff being deposited there. Nitrogen levels measured in the Harbour are high which is an important consideration because nitrogen and phosphorus are principal factors in supporting algal growth and thus eutrophication of the harbour.

The principal sources of the nutrients and faecal coliform in the Harbour are from sewage. Sewage and sludge from the city are deposited in the Kingston Harbour as most of the area’s sewage treatment plants are out of service and only provide primary treatment of waste, if any treatment at all before disposal into the harbour. In fact, heavy metal deposits come mainly from industrial discharges that should be treated in a sewage treatment plant before they are disposed of in the harbour. A review of the existing sewerage facilities revealed that only 1 of 26 area Package sewage treatment plants was reasonably effective in treatment. Major elements of the transmission system pumping stations in particular, are frequently inoperative due to lack of spare parts, pumps and/or standby power generation, with frequent discharge of untreated sewage to the gullies. Sewage reaching the treatment plant to the west receives only limited primary treatment before being discharged into the Harbour, while the amount of sewage reaching other facilities far exceeds their design capacity and the plants are frequently inoperative. Therefore, the majority of the sewage reaching Greenwich is discharged into the Harbour with little or no treatment.

Unfortunately, however, there is no available alternative to direct disposal of this type of waste in the city at this point in time and waste cannot be stored until the proper treatment facilities become available.

One of the major constituents of municipal sewage is decomposable organic material that reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water ultimately leading to eutrophication, which is detrimental to the health of the marine system. The deposition of sewage in the harbour also introduces pathogens such as bacteria and viruses into the delicate marine ecosystem and poses health risks to the human population who makes use of the resource. Some of the waste products introduced into the Harbour, which are industrial and municipal in nature, are frequently toxic to marine organisms. This results in a change of the prosperous environment into one in which few can survive, therefore significantly diminishing the carrying capacity of the harbour system.

In the studies conducted in 1993, it was reported that levels of solid waste were low. However, recent observations reveal that the quantity of solid pollutants in the Harbour has increased significantly. Gully storm flows are said to contribute notably to this due to the loading of pollutants from run-off. Solid waste disposal is a major problem in the city of Kingston, and gullies (overland man-made storm-water drainage channels) are frequently used as dump sites for domestic waste. All the material deposited in there is transported through the channel, which drains into the Hunts Bay, adjoining the Harbour (See figure 1).

Sand mining, deforestation and poor farming practices lead to soil erosion in the watershed area of the Rio Cobre. The sediment is transported by the river and deposited in the Hunts Bay adjacent to the Kingston Harbour. The Rio Cobre is also a source of industrial and agricultural pollutants from upstream which lead to the deterioration of water quality in the Harbour environment. Studies conducted on the region indicate that the Rio Cobre has the largest negative impact of siltation of the harbour. This has long-term implications on the sustainability of efforts to rehabilitate the harbour. Dredging is another activity, which is potentially detrimental to the coastal marine environment of Kingston Harbour. Deposition of sediment from dredging has adverse effects on coastal water basins can severely degrade the carrying capacity of large areas of the harbour floor.

There is an urgent need to deal with the pollution and degradation of Kingston Harbour, as it is a very vital resource to the development of Jamaica. The concept of sustainable development does not, and cannot exist in a vacuum, because it must incorporate factors of politics, and technology, which make it even more problematic to attain.

Actions to reduce the consequences of anthropogenic activity on and environmental system are significantly reduced by a number of barriers, namely, population growth, the predominance of the free market system, national sovereignty issues and a general lack of immediacy or dragging-of-the-feet when it comes to dealing with this issue. Not all of these barriers, as we will see are entirely relevant in the case of Kingston Harbour, but they are general characteristics, which one would expect in theory, so they must also be examined.

The Barriers

1. Population.

Jamaica has a population of approximately 2.6 million people based on the 1998 population data provided by the World Watch Institute. The Kingston Metropolitan Area, which consists of the Central Business District of Kingston and the surrounding urban areas in the parishes of St. Andrew and St. Catherine, is estimated to have a population exceeding 1 million. The entire population of Kingston makes use of the Kingston Harbour either directly or indirectly. Activities such as fishing, swimming and transportation take place in the harbour on a daily basis.

As a developing country Jamaica experiences a high level of population growth at a rate exceeding 1.2 per cent per annum, which has negative implications on many aspects of the economy, society as well as the environment. The carrying capacity of the country is already limited, and expanding the population may cause this capacity to be exceeded. The situation of developing nations such as Jamaica is a delicate one which cannot really be compared with that of industrialized nations such as the United States. Development, to be achieved, requires the consumption of resources and due to the economic constraints faced by the nation, this consumption is often not done in a sustainable manner. In fact, with the rapidly growing populations of Third World nations, the rate of consumption of non-renewable resources is often on par with that of the developed world.

The Jamaican population is highly dependent on its natural resource base for both the economic development and quality of life. The wise use of the nation’s natural resources is thus of critical importance to current and future generations of Jamaicans. This is where sustainable development comes into play. The 1987 Brundtland Report defined sustainable development as "development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." When applied to the Kingston Harbour, it can be defined as the use of the resource without causing the degradation of the marine ecosystem or a reduction in the overall health and aesthetic appeal of the area. Jamaica was among the more than one hundred countries participating in the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio in 1992. The majority of the countries present endorsed Agenda 21: the declaration of principles, which commits the international community to the concept of sustainable development.

It is important to recognize that as countries develop they tend to increase their consumption of environmental resources. Waste disposal and transportation are just two of the means of ‘consuming’ the Kingston Harbour in order to allow for increased economic activity of industries and the city on a whole. For a vulnerable ecosystem such as the Kingston harbour, even a moderate level of consumption or use tends to cause environmental strain. This is one of the constraints of sustainable development in my opinion, as it seems that in the majority of instances developing nations are unable to attain sustainable development due to economic pressures and lack of financial ability.

2. Prominence of a free market system

While the free market system is an important barrier to the sustainability of many other natural resources, it does not significantly apply to the marine resource of Kingston Harbour.

3. Issues of National Sovereignty

It is recognized that the achievement of sustainable development is not the responsibility of Government alone. The general public, the private sector, environmental NGOs and other interest groups, the education system and churches all have a major role to play in this critical national effort. However, as the government acts as the lead decision-maker of the country, environmental actions lie largely in their hands.

4. General lack of immediacy

Environmental issues in Jamaica are closely linked to the national sovereignty or politics of the country. It is for this reason that the protection and rehabilitation of environmental resources is an issue often met with much hesitation or “dragging of the feet” because in Jamaica they are not often seen as high priority.

The rigmarole of environmental action and policy development in Jamaica begins with extensive research, usually costing tens of thousands to millions of Jamaican dollars, then numerous reports and projects are completed and submitted to the various environmental agencies and relevant ministries of government. At this point, any action is delayed for many years, and often through changes of government in the democratic process causing the issue to be neglected all together.

There are however a handful of non-profit organizations, such as the Jamaica Environmental Trust (JET), that, with the funding of large, non-governmental, companies, take some environmental action. JET performs an annual beach cleanup of the Palisadoes area along the harbour, during which volunteers remove solid waste, some of which is hazardous, from the coastline. Over the last few years, hundreds of bags of plastic bottles have been removed despite the government’s “anti-litter” campaign, and the problem still persists.

In 1991 the Jamaican Government began a series of studies which concluded in the preparation of an Action Plan aimed at the renewal of the Harbour. On the basis of those studies it was identified that attention needs to be paid to the collection and treatment of sewage in the Kingston Metropolitan Area (KMA), reducing the pollution of the area by solid wastes and controlling the other significant sources of harbour pollution. Very few of these activities, if any, have passed the planning stages.

5. Valuation of the resource

An important barrier to sustainable development that has been overlooked by Smith in his report is the difficulty of valuation of the natural resources. Kingston Harbour has economic usefulness which can be quantified, for example, in terms of imports and exports through the harbour per year. However, the harbour also has usefulness and value that is not easily quantified in a dollar amount, such as its historical, recreational or aesthetic uses and its ecological value. This is important because the value of a resource is the factor used to determine whether or not the resource should continue to be exploited or if it should be sustained. One has to examine if it more feasible for the government of Jamaica to continue to use the harbour and suffer the environmental consequences, or to conserve this marine resource at the expense of its economic benefits.

In order to compute the economic benefits of the harbour, the Total Economic Value approach is often applied. Direct usage values include fishing, recreation, biodiversity and transport. The total value of the benefits derived from Kingston Harbour in 1993 was estimated to be US$510.31 million per annum (direct and indirect). This estimate does not include the likely benefits gained from protecting biodiversity, reefs or improved water quality. While the benefits of the Harbour are quite extensive, it must be recognized that the cost of pollution of the Harbour if current conditions continue is immeasurable, as Jamaicans would experience the loss of the aesthetic value of the harbour, recreational activities and the destruction of commercial fisheries.

Overcoming the barriers

The project was intended to minimize the future environmental impacts of development and economic activities along the coastal zone of Jamaica.

A protected area is a region of environmental or ecological systems that is managed in order to preserve the biodiversity and/or specific natural, cultural or aesthetic resources. With its extraordinary diversity of flora and fauna, land and water habitats, and wild and human landscapes, Jamaica needs a system of protected areas as a key part of its national development strategy. It has been suggested that Kingston Harbour should be included as a protected area so as to promote environmental protection, conservation of essential resources for sustainable use, helping to expand and diversify economic development, and contributing to public recreation and education. The Harbour and its surroundings are major components of Jamaica's natural and cultural heritage, including wildlife, vegetation, habitats and landscape types, prominent natural features, and historic sites.

The first step in finding a solution to the sustainable development problematic of Kingston Harbour is the development of a sewage action plan, which was proposed by the National Water Commission (NWC) in 1997. The key aspect of the plan is to reduce the impact of sewage pollution on the Kingston Harbour is the implementation of an alternate sewerage scheme and an expansion of the existing treatment facility to take into account expanding population of the city of Kingston. The use of Lagoon treatment facilities has been recommended to replace the existing overloaded sewage plants. The estimated cost of the implementation of the NWC project is US$388 million over a period of 24 years. The benefits of this project include the substantial reduction in the Biological Oxygen Demand (BOD) and nutrients entering the Harbour, improvement in fishery, water quality and biological conditions, reduction in the toxic substances and the improved aesthetic appeal of the Harbour area. The potential value of this to the island is increased opportunities in tourism, fishing and related activities.

Another solution includes conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) to ascertain the possible adverse impacts of a development project on the Habour environment. Environmental impacts should be incorporated into the land use legislation of the city of Kingston.

Other action plans that are in progress include the Rio Cobre Watershed Management Action Plan which is aimed at rehabilitating the Rio Cobre Watershed to reduce the negative impacts it has had on the Kingston Harbour. Part of this plan involves the periodical dredging of the Hunts Bay to remove excess sediment deposited by the Rio Cobre, and cleaning out other drainage channels which flow into the Harbour system.

The authorities are also encouraged to undertake a Solid Waste Action Plan run by the governmental Metropolitan Parks and Markets (MPM) to reduce the amount of solid waste entering Kingston Harbour via gullies. This is to be carried out by improvements to the city’s garbage collection system and increasing the capacity of dumpsites.

Public education is another important step in the maintenance and renovation of the Kingston Harbour, and ultimately its sustainable development. Increased public awareness of the environmental status of the Harbour should reduce the pollution of the region. For this purpose, public education is being undertaken by the government through a “Save the Harbour” campaign.

Ships using the Harbour for trade and industry are a major source of pollution to the area. Ships contribute to the concentration of oily wastes, solid waste, sewage and hazardous wastes in the Harbour. A solution to this is incorporated in the Harbour rehabilitation programs and involves the construction of the facilities necessary to handle the waste generated by ships thereby improving Jamaica’s capacity to comply with MARPOL Annex V.

It has been projected that, without these various Harbour rehabilitation projects the poor ecological condition of Kingston Harbour will continue to decline. This includes a reduction in fish yield from the Harbour and use of the surrounding beaches. A modest estimate of the total cost of these projects over time is US$211.6 million, which is a significant under-estimate if the cost of the NWC sewage action plan exceeds this amount.


While the barriers to sustainable development of Kingston Harbour are many and significant, they are not insurmountable. Issues pertaining to the rapidly expanding population, such as pollution by solid waste and sewage, can be overcome once the necessary authorities recognize the need to act with urgency. For Jamaica, the most significant barrier is that of the lack of immediacy, however, with pressure from the public and other organizations, this may soon become less of an issue. The sustainable development of the Harbour requires thorough environmental cleanup and management projects such as those discussed above, however, the real barrier to sustainable development is that it requires enormous investment, which is often impossible for a Third World country to acquire.


Barnes, R.S.K. (1977) The Coastline, John Wiley & Sons, London

Clark, J.R. (1977) Coastal Ecosystem Management, John Wiley & Sons, London

Kingston Harbour Rehabilitation Project to Address the Rio Cobre Watershed Related Issues Which Impact on Kingston Harbour Environmental Quality, Kingston, Jamaica

N.W.C. (1997) Sewerage Action Plan, National Water Commission, Kingston, Jamaica

Smith, A. (1994) The sustainable development problematic, Unpublished course project, Florida Institute of Technology, Melbourne.

U.N.O.P.S. (1998) Regional Project: Planning and Environmental Management of Heavily Contaminated Bays and Coastal Areas in the Wider Caribbean, Caribbean Ecosystems Ltd. And Lawson & Assoc.

World Resources Institute (1998) World Resource: A guide to the global Environment.

Kingston Harbour Project continued
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