Portland Ridge and Bight

Site description (2007 baseline):

Site location and context
17044’ N; 77010 W The most southerly point of the island Portland Ridge, together with Hellshire Hills and Brazilletto Mountain, represents the largest remaining relatively intact dry limestone forests in Central America and the Caribbean. It is Ja-maica's largest protected area to date - he whole area is called The Portland Bight Protected Area, with a total area of 724 sq. miles (1876 km2) [see Conservation section below]. The protected area includes a marine section, Portland Bight, that encompasses all the area out to the 200 meter depth contour, as well as inshore mangroves. This latter is the Peake Bay Forest Reserve (516 ha) and part of the terrestrial section is Crown Lands (2271 ha).

Key biodiversity
This IBA is internationally important for the West Indian Whistling Duck Dendrocygna arborea (VU), the Plain Pigeon Patagioenas inornata (NT) and White-crowned Pigeon Patagioenas leucocephala (NT), as well as the restricted range (and endemic subspecies) Bahama Mockingbird Mimus gundlachi hillii. Other species include the three Myiarchus Flycatchers, and the Jamaican Lizard Cuckoo Coccyzus vetula . Portland Ridge dry forest may provide a critical resource for the Plain Pigeon, perhaps at a time when fruit abundance is low on other parts of the island. Given the globally significant number of Plain Pigeons that use this site, protection from further development should be a priority (Strong and Johnson, 2001). The Portland Bight cays are the only ones nearshore which host nesting colonies of a variety of seabirds, such as Brown Noddy Anous stolidus and the Magnificent Frigatebird Fregata magnificens; also the mangroves provide nesting locations for columbids and other species. Migrant shorebirds are numerous – the last reported sighting of the Piping Plover Charadrius melodus (NT) was in this location. The forest and surrounding areas are habitat for many terrestrial migrants.

Non-bird biodiversity: Many of the hillsides that appear as intact forests are in fact secondary forests. Jamaican dry for-ests are dominated by plants of the Rubiaceae Euphorbiaceae and Myrtaceae and have a high degree of endemism, of which several require special protection including species of Orchida-ceae and Cactaceae. No comprehensive vegeta-tion survey has been carried out, but due to pres-sures from recent fires and hurricanes, it is sus-pected that much may have been lost or at risk. Also, replanting of ‘bird-feeding trees’ by hunting clubs has created semi-monoculture in some ar-eas. The tree frog Eleutherodactylus cavernicola (CR) has only ever been found in 2 caves in Portland Ridge, while the Blue-tailed Galliwasp Celestus duquesneyi (IUCN DD 2004), last collected in Portland Ridge in the late 1930s, was rediscovered in Hellshire Hills in 1997, so it is possible it still exists here. Other endemics pre-sent in the area include the Jamaican Boa Epicrates subflavus (VU), and the Jamai-can Fruit-eating Bat Ariteus flavescens (VU); also two endemic Thunder snakes Tro-phidophis stullae and Trophidophis jamaicen-cis are entirely restricted to Portland Ridge. The area also houses caves of importance for “a diverse assemblage of late Pleistocene and Holo-cene vertebrate remains…” (McFarlane et al. 2002).

Habitat and land use
There are recognised several wetland types within the Portland Bight area. Wetland types include stands of Black Mangrove, White Mangrove, Red Mangroves and Buttonwood. Also there are stands of Mixed Mangroves, Cashaw, areas of Herbaceous plants and Strand Woodland.

Pressure/threats to key biodiversity
The new protected areas stretched the already limited resources leaving protected areas man-agement close to nonexistent, and subsidiary leg-islation has not been enacted to permit planning action. The presence of a number of hunting clubs has provided some unofficial conservation, but hunting of Columbids occurs annually for 6 weeks from August to September. Residential communities abound, many are lo-cated directly on the coast, and about thirty towns or settlements are situated just inland within the protected area. These and other settlements suf-fer from the usual problems arising from un-planned urban sprawl. Some residents within the protected area as well as other folk who live fur-ther away, derive all or some of their livelihoods or their entertainment from exploiting the natural re-sources in the Portland Bight area. There are some 4,000 fishermen who harvest the finfish, lobster, shrimp, conch and oyster stocks in the waters of the Bight and beyond. An undetermined number of persons cut mangrove poles and forest trees for timber, fuelwood, fenceposts, stakes, yamsticks and to produce charcoal. Two major ports are located within Portland Bight. Port Esquivel is a major alumina storage and shipment complex, where bulk cargo is brought by rail and off-loaded directly to bulk-cargo ships, and oil and grain are imported. To the south, the alumina ter-minal at Rocky Point handles oil and other bulk cargo.

Protected areas
In 1999 a new protected area was declared which included Portland Bight, the largest protected area to date covering 187,615 hectares and manage-ment delegation to a local NGO was proposed.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Important Bird Area factsheet: Portland Ridge and Bight. Downloaded from on 21/02/2024.