Last updated: 03:50 PM ET, Wed July 08 2015

Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains Named UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | July 08, 2015

Jamaica's Blue and John Crow Mountains Named UNESCO World Heritage Sites

PHOTO: Jamaica's Blue Mountain has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. (Courtesy of Jamaica Tourist Board)

Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains were designated World Heritage Sites Tuesday by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The mountains are Jamaica’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites and are the first mixed sites (representing cultural and natural significance) in the Caribbean region awarded the key UNESCO designation, according to Jamaica Tourist Board officials.

Located on Jamaica’s eastern side, the mountains are part of a Jamaican national park that features 7,400-foot high Blue Mountain Peak, the country’s highest point. The entire 193,000-acre site represents 4.5 percent of Jamaica’s land mass. The peaks stand within the Blue Mountain and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP), which is actually composed of three mountain ranges: the Port Royal, Blue, and John Crow Mountains. The peaks are divided by the Buff Bay and Rio Grande Valleys on their northern side.

The BJCMNP contains Jamaica’s largest contiguous tract of closed broad-leaf forest according to UNWSECO officials. The park’s rain forests are globally recognized for high biological diversity and threatened status, and are also the last of two known habitats of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the Western Hemisphere’s largest.

Culturally the site is among Jamaica’s most important concerning the social and cultural traditions Jamaica’s Windward Maroon community, composed of the descendants of escaped slaves, who battled Britain’s military until a 1739 peace treaty.

In fact BJCMNP’s World Heritage designation is due in part to UNESCO’s regard for the site’s importance as “a refuge [for] the Maroons in their fight for freedom and self-determination.” The 1739 treaty granted land to the Maroons, who today retain their sovereignty and traditions including language, music, dance, craft, religious rites and knowledge of medicinal plants.

The main Windward Maroon community at Moore Town is located within BJCMNP territory, and UNESCO has recognized Moore Town’s Maroon heritage as a "masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity" and is working with the community’s Maroon Council to “assist them in preserving their heritage.”

BJCMNP traditions include food, craft, language, music and dance, all featured at Misty Bliss, an annual festival at the park's main recreation area. The region also supplies more than 40 percent of Jamaica’s population with water for domestic, agricultural, industrial and commercial uses.

The UNESCO designation “Will enhance the appeal to visitors from around the world who travel for culture and heritage,” said Paul Pennicook, Jamaica’s director of tourism. “Jamaica has a rich cultural heritage and our addition to the World Heritage list will serve to boost our standing as a competitive destination in accordance with the Word Economic Forum’s Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index,” he added.

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