Introducing The Alligator Head Foundation

AHF Jamaica

In 2015 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary (TBA21) redirected its programming to address climate change, with a focus on the oceans. For the past two years TBA21–Academy, the foundation’s oceanic research division, has been collaborating with the University of the West Indies to create a marine lab in East Portland, Jamaica, to study the health of the reefs, fish stocks and pelagic activity, and the possibility of a future revitalization of the area’s marine life. The Alligator Head Marine Lab has commissioned top marine scientists from Jamaica to prepare numerous reports on the area that lies between the Blue Lagoon and Trident, approximately six kilometers of otherwise pristine coastline. Among the findings presented in these reports are a decline in fish stocks to the point of possible local extinction of certain species, as well as evidence of dying reefs and polluted water.
In 2015 a collaboration with Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park, in Mexico’s Baja California peninsula, was established through visits from the marine biologist Octavio Aburto Oropeza of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, and David and Judith Castro of the conservation group Amigos para la Conservación de Cabo Pulmo. They are eager to see the success of the marine park, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, replicated in other areas. This led to a number of workshops with the local fishermen as the Cabo Pulmo model depends on the participation and good will of the local fishing community. Key to Cabo Pulmo’s success is a thriving diving operation managed by the local community, and the protection of the park is largely the responsibility of those with an interest in maintaining the fish stocks and respecting its regulations.
The experience of Cabo Pulmo reinforced not only our resolve but also the determination of the local community to apply for a fish sanctuary for East Portland, which is long overdue. This application is currently under review by the government of Jamaica and the Fisheries Division, which has received a strong commitment to officially announce the East Portland Fish Sanctuary shortly after the general elections that are presently under way in Jamaica.
To take action in response to this scientific study and begin to conserve one of the most spectacular coastlines in Jamaica, Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza has created and endowed an NGO called the Alligator Head Foundation, which supports the local communities in Portland that depend on fishing as a livelihood. It assists with education and training, empowering community members with the tools needed to move toward a more sustainable livelihood that is not centered exclusively on fishing but is built increasingly around recreational activities, particularly the diving program. Seeing a field of living fish enjoying a healthy habitat while one is diving or snorkeling is far more rewarding than killing a fish that has not grown to its potential as a means of sustenance. We all know that respecting our natural environment is the key to a better and more enjoyable future.
In Portland and the surrounding region, from the bottom of the Blue Lagoon to the tip of the Blue Mountains, there is a massive opportunity for ecotourism. This project is not just the sum of its parts but also the outgrowth of a desire and a will to combine all our efforts to create a sustainable and even profitable future for Portland, based on nature and marine conservation working hand in hand. It is with this in mind that Francesca Thyssen-Bornemisza has invited Chris LaFranchi, founder and CEO of OneReef, a social entrepreneurial venture that supports protection of coastal marine life, to join our initiative. He has extensive experience in assisting willing communities, governments, and investment leaders committed to supporting healthy coastal zones and resilient communities. TBA21 has also invited Alexander Girvan, an environmental economist specializing in eco-finance, environmental assessment, and climate-change projects and initiatives.

Our aim is to help the community of East Portland develop an ecological stewardship program for the whole area, within which the local stakeholders—private landowners, commercial hotel operators, local entrepreneurs, and fishermen—can all learn and understand how to take advantage of the things we all care deeply about without harming what we love most about Portland: its pristine landscape and seascape, which have both been severely neglected. There is an increasing number of projects around the world based on the understanding that supporting a healthy planet can also represent a healthy livelihood. Where sacrifices are needed, alternative solutions are found. Portland is not only a beautiful place but is also full of potential. The local population is extremely proud of its parish. There is a particularly receptive community from the bottom up, willing and able to embark on a new path based on clean living, respecting the laws of nature, and the desire to share responsibility in bringing a new form of tourism to Portland as a model for the rest of the country. It is our job to help bring the best ideas and solutions to this magnificent part of the world, which so far has escaped the kind of exploitation that often rapidly brings communities to the point of no return. Portland is the perfect model of a place that is worth the turnaround in every sense!

Last but not least: on this occasion, TBA21 is officially announcing its collaboration with Parley for the Oceans and joins its Ocean Plastic Program, with the mutual mission of ending ocean plastic pollution in Jamaica through implementation of the Parley’s A.I.R. (avoid, intercept, redesign) strategy. Undertaken in collaboration with the government of Jamaica, nongovernment organizations, schools, and sports communities, the initiative will reduce the use of plastic, retrieve marine debris, and recycle the retrieved plastic debris into Parley Ocean Yarn for the fashion and sports industries. The partnership kicks off with a beach cleanup event, organized in partnership with the Alligator Head Foundation.