Plastic invasion

Plastic invasion

St Thomas group wants help to stem washed-up waste believed to be from Hispaniola

Senior staff reporter

Monday, February 03, 2020

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A call from one environmental group in eastern St Thomas for local authorities to address plastic waste believed to be drifting from other Caribbean countries has seemingly gone unanswered, an issue the group says is negatively impacting marine life in the area.

President of the Eastern Marine Park Committee Alfred Singh said for years, plastic waste has surfaced at Holland Bay — where the group is based — with predominantly French labels and a few in Spanish.

Singh is theorising that the waste is drifting from Haiti, which, along with the Dominican Republic, forms Hispaniola — the second-largest island in the West Indies.

He explained to the Jamaica Observer in a December interview that, with the island being situated to the north-east of Jamaica, it is likely that Haiti is the source of the problem.

Singh said because Jamaica is influenced by north-east trade winds, not only is moisture being carried from the sea, but also plastic.

“There is a disturbing situation taking place at Holland Bay and Eastern Marine Park, would like to draw the attention of the Government to it. On many coastal clean-ups done by JET (Jamaica Environment Trust) and other environmental organisations, we have found out that there are plastic bottles coming from Haiti that is coming into Holland Bay.

“Our prevailing winds in Jamaica is northeast trade winds. Haiti is north-east of Jamaica and the Haitian people speak French. A lot of these bottles that we are getting here, washing up on the shores of Jamaica, [labels] are actually in French. We want to draw the attention of the Government because we want for all of this to stop. Waste disposal in the Caribbean is a major problem and we know the people in Haiti have their challenges, but if their Government could be made aware of what they are doing to us with their plastic, then perhaps Caricom (Caribbean Community) can help them to address it,” Singh stressed.

The waste products include: TORO, an energy drink launched in 2005 in Haiti; Listamilk from the Dominican Republic; Robusto, a popular energy drink in Haiti; and Planeta Azul Agua from the Dominican Republic, among others.

In October 2019, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reported Haiti as one of the countries with the greatest risk of plastic entering the ocean. IDB said that the country generates a large volume of plastic waste in urban areas due to the high consumption of treated water, soft drinks, and take-away meals sold in plastic containers. It said only 11 per cent of solid waste generated in Haiti is collected.

Singh said the issue Jamaica is facing is the under-reporting of what is discovered after coastal clean-up activities by local groups.

“They are aware of the issue but I don't know that they have reported it. At the end of each beach clean-up, they have documentation that they prepare, in terms of the quality of the pollutant that they take up and the contents. So, the Government should be made aware of this terrible situation — their garbage is impacting us.

“It is important to understand that when these bottles come here, they pile up along our shoreline. The eroded sand coming from coral and other shells would cover them, and at the end of the day, we have a shoreline filled with plastic. That cannot be good for our ecosystem. We're calling on the Government to look into this, because it is going on too long without any of the environmental organisations addressing it,” said Singh.

But the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), in an interview with the Observer earlier this month, said it cannot be certain that the waste is, in fact, coming from Haiti.

NEPA also said only five per cent of plastic waste impacting the country comes from outside.

“It has come up in the past. It is not unlikely that solid waste and, in particular, plastics from other countries can end up on our shores; I'm not saying specifically waste is from Haiti or Hispaniola, because it could be from other countries around the Caribbean. Looking at the currents, it's likely that waste generated from these countries can impact our shores, and also waste generated in Jamaica can travel to other countries,” Anthony McKenzie, director for environmental management and conservation at NEPA, pointed out.

McKenzie said while the agency has anecdotal evidence that waste generated elsewhere in the region ends up on Jamaica's shores, it remains insignificant to the waste generated locally.

“However, ultimately, it could become a problem if we do not have proper waste management in these other countries. The issue is being looked at at a regional level. It is part of the discussion now within the framework of the Cartagena Convention, that's looking at land-based sources of solid waste pollution... This means that the countries in the Caribbean that are a part of that convention have been having that discussion,” said McKenzie.

The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region or Cartagena Convention is a regional legal agreement for the protection of the Caribbean Sea.

“This plastic issue has to be tackled from the source and so you would have noted that a number of the islands in the Caribbean have moved towards putting in measures to reduce single-use plastic. So, ultimately, we're expecting to see, in terms of the Caribbean, fewer plastics being circulated within the basin,” McKenzie reasoned.

At the same time, ecosystems manager at NEPA, Monique Curtis, shared that a 2018 regional assessment study examining and quantifying the types of debris impacting countries' shorelines revealed that 95 per cent of solid waste within the area of study — Hellshire — was attributed to domestic activities.

“So we do acknowledge that, yes, we do have debris coming in from other countries, but, at the end of the day, the significant concern is with our domestic waste and vice versa, where we can have countries impacting our shoreline, we, too, can see where there is the possibility of our domestic waste impacting another shorelines simply because of the dynamics of the ocean,” said Curtis.

She said where debris ends up on the country's shoreline, it ultimately ends up in the marine environment. As a result, shorebirds and sea turtles are often impacted, as well as there is the disruption of nesting activities.

Equally, the NEPA manager explained that the debris, for example, plastic, inevitably ends up in the food chain when consumed by sea creatures, which are then consumed by humans.

The impact is that plastic can ultimately end up in the endocrine system of humans.

She said, however, that the World Health Organization has identified this as an “emerging issue” that has not yet reached a critical level.

An average of eight million metric tons of plastic materials enter the world's oceans every year, increasing at the rate of seven per cent each year since 2015, a 2019 IDB report stated. It noted that if the current trend continues, the amount of plastic in the ocean will exceed that of fish by 2050.

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