The Blue and the John Crow Mountains of Jamaica are:
- 2 of the Caribbean’s 290 Key Biodiversity Areas (BirdLife International, 2010)
- 2 of the Caribbean’s 48 Wholly Irreplaceable Sites (BirdLife International, 2010)
- 1 of the 200 globally important sites for the conservation of plant biological diversity (WWF/IUCN. 1997)
- 1 of the 78 most irreplaceable protected areas for the conservation of the world’s amphibian, bird and mammal species (Bertzky et al.,2013).
The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP) is located in the eastern end of the island of Jamaica. It extends over a planimetric area of 486 km2 (48,600ha) and represents 4.4% of Jamaica’s land surface. When topography is taken into consideration, the area is 78,212 hectares (193,292 acres) which indicates just how mountainous the terrain is.
The mountains of the Park dominate the skyline of eastern Jamaica, and incorporate much of the interior of the parishes of Portland, St. Thomas, St. Andrew and a small section of south-east St. Mary. The steep mountain slopes form the upper sections of ten (10) of the island’s twenty-six (26) watershed management units. The highest point in the island – Blue Mountain Peak (2,256 meters) is located in the southern region of the Park. The BJCMNP is actually composed of three mountain ranges – the Port Royal, Blue, and John Crow Mountains, divided by the Buff Bay and Rio Grande Valleys on the north side of the ranges.
CLOUD FOREST DOMINATES THE BLUE & JOHN CROW MOUNTAINS
Cloud forest has been described as “a rare habitat of tropical mountains” which “make up no more than 2.5% of the world’s tropical forests” but harbouring “a disproportionately large number of the world’s species” and being “even rarer in the America’s forming 1.2% of the tropical forests” (Bubb, P. et al. 2004).
The cloud forests of the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park are unique in Jamaica and the Caribbean as they are over 1,000m high and further, the cloud forest of similar elevation (located in Hispaniola and Cuba) are coniferous, whereas those in BJCM are dominated by broadleaf trees with very few native conifers e.g. Juniper Cedar (Juniperus lucayana) and Mountain Yacca (Podocarpus urbanii).
Natural forests comprise a wide variety of trees and other plants
Over half the flowering plants in the BJCMNP are endemic to Jamaica (found naturally only in Jamaica) and about one third are endemic to the BJCM area. At least 40% of the higher plants (flowering and non-flowering are endemic to Jamaica. The forest is made up of large trees such as Juniper Cedar (Juniperus lucayana), Blue Mahoe (Hibiscus elatus) and Soapwood (Clethra occidentalis) and smaller shrubs such as Hot-lips (Cephaelis elata) and Jamaican Rose (Blakea trinervia). To capture sunlight in the thick forest, many plants climb up the trees, like Climbing Bamboo (Chusquea altifolia) whilst others spend all their lives on the branches of trees, like orchids and bromeliads.
The trunks and branches of the trees are covered with a wide variety of other plants such as lichens (a combination of algae and fungi) which are usually grey-ish green and are either flat against the tree (or even on rocks) or hang from tree branches like Old Man’s Beard. Look out for an amazing photograph of a tree covered in Old Man’s Beard in the section on Holywell (the National Park’s main recreation area).
Ferns and other plants that like a lot of water are common in the Blue and John Crow Mountains including tree ferns. This is an ancient type of plant, believed to have been around since the Age of the Dinosaurs.
Habitat for Wildlife
For most Jamaican land animals, the BJCMNP is their last refuge - a large area of natural forest where they are protected from human disturbance.
The BJCMNP is the last of two known habitats of the Giant Swallowtail Butterfly (Pterourus/Papilio homerus) – the largest butterfly in the Western Hemisphere. The Cockpit Country is the other location but the population there is much smaller than the BJCM population. In addition, National Park Rangers located another BM population a few years ago that has not yet been studied by scientists. Members of the Bowden Pen Farmers’ Association who work closely with the BJCMNP have a tree nursery where they grow amongst other things, the Water Mahoe (Hernandia catalpifolia) which is the only plant the Homerus butterfly caterpillars will eat. The seedlings have been used to reforest several degraded areas, and this has likely contributed to the increasing numbers of the butterflies seen in the area.
The BJCMNP is an important habitat for many Jamaican birds, including all the endemic species such as the endangered Jamaican Blackbird (Nesopsar nigerrimus). The Jamaican Blackbird is often confused with other much more common black birds in Jamaica such as the Greater Antillean Grackle or Cling Cling (Quiscalus niger) and the Jamaican Crow (Corvus jamaicensis) – which are both much noisier and larger than the Jamaican Blackbird. The Holywell area is a good bird-watching spot, particularly for this relatively rare bird. Also, you are likely to hear the call of the Rufous-throated Solitaire (Myadestes genibarbis) and see the Mountain Witch (Geotrygon versicolor). You may catch a glimpse of the Jamaican Tody or Robin Redbreast (Todus todus). The BJCMNP is an important winter habitat for many migratory birds including the Swainson’s warbler (Limnothlypis swainsonii).
Many other animals make their home within and around the BJCMNP including four of Jamaica’s six endemic snakes. All are non-poisonous including the largest and most impressive of them – the Jamaican Boa (Epicrates subflavus).
Jamaica has 23 species of native frogs, all of which are endemic to the island. Frogs are the only amphibians native to Jamaica and they are distributed in two major centres across the island – the Cockpit Country and the Blue and John Crow Mountains. The BJCMNP supports 11 of the 23 endemic frogs, five of which are endemic to the National Park.
Ecosystem Services - Forests provide important services for people
Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation – Forests mitigate against climate change because of the trees and other plants which absorb and sequester carbon dioxide helping to reduce global warming. In addition, forests produce oxygen and help to cleanse the air.
Soil Conservation – Forests help reduce soil erosion including landslides which can damage roads and other infrastructure. Natural forests are better at reducing soil erosion than plantations. The National Forest Management and Conservation Plan (2001) of the Forestry Department (FD) recommends that in forest reserves, natural forests (closed broadleaf) should be preserved for biodiversity conservation and no timber should be harvested. And further that disturbed forests on steep slopes and shallow soils should retain forest cover for protection.
Water Supply – the Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park supplies over 40% of the population of Jamaica with domestic water, in addition to water for agricultural, industrial and commercial usage.
Recreational Opportunities – within the National Park: Holywell and the Blue Mountain Peak Trail/Portland Gap; Trails which pass through the National Park e.g. Cunha Cunha Pass Trail and outside the National Park: several community tourism opportunities exist – see "Blue Mountains Sustainable Tourism"
Agricultural, Horticultural and Pharmaceutical Products - There are a wide variety of plants within the BJCM which may be of use for pharmaceutical or other purposes. Certainly, the Maroons and many people from other communities around the National Park use plants for medicinal and other purposes e.g. craft.