Regional

Messy beaches an eye-opener for overseas volunteers

BY HELENA JALKNER Observer guest writer

Monday, May 19, 2014    

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MANDEVILLE, Manchester — Since it's universally acclaimed as 'paradise' it may come as a surprise to visitors that some of Jamaica's beaches aren't as clean as they should be.

In fact, garbage is an infected subject for many who make a living on Jamaica's beaches.

"Not everyone is taking their responsibility for the garbage that's being thrown on the beaches," says Everald Christian, 44, also known as 'Blackie', owner of Little Ochie Restaurant at Alligator Pond in south Manchester.

Christian has been operating the restaurant for 24 years. Visitors not only enjoy its seafood, but also a pleasant, silvery beachfront.

In such circumstances, Christian can't help but notice the large amount of trash which mars the beaches every day.

"The worst thing is the plastic bottles. It takes hundreds of years before they break down," he says.

It's a sunny day, and the waves are high on their way to Alligator Pond. Today Christian has company with the arrival of a group of overseas volunteers from the organisation Projects Abroad. They are having one of their 'dirty days', when they help out where it's needed, and for the first time they are cleaning up beaches.

"It's beautiful. I'm so glad they came to Alligator Pond," says Christian.

For hours, the volunteers walk around the beaches that border Little Ochi, looking for items that don't belong there. With gloves, rakes and shovels they are prepared to pick up whatever litter comes their way.

"I cleaned my own beach early this morning. Every day it's the first thing I do when I come here," Christian says as he gazes over the beachfront.

The volunteers have big, black garbage bags that are quickly filled with plastic cups, plastic bottles, forks and other types of rubbish.

"It's sad. The beach is a natural environment for animals, and plastic garbage is a bad influence," says Fabio Saelzler from Germany.

Further down the beach, fishermen are gathering around their colourful boats preparing for another working day.

"They also speak strongly about the garbage," Christian says.

"Wright, what do you think about the garbage?" he shouts to a younger fisherman walking by. The latter responds by shaking his head.

"Yeah, they are against it," Christian then said.

The restaurateur says he has spoken to others who live, work, or operate businesses on or close to the Alligator Pond beach area, urging them to take responsibility for garbage collection and disposal. Ultimately, he says, a dirty beach hurts everyone.

"If you go from one beach that is clean, and then to the others that are dirty, you still think it's the same beach," he says. "And I can't walk far away from my own beach just to take care of someone else's garbage. Everyone has to do their job."

The working day for the volunteers has come to an end, and the filled plastic bags are waiting to be collected and taken away.

"Jamaica is such a beautiful island, but if people don't keep it clean it won't stay that way for very long," says volunteer Pamela Bailey.

She is from the United States and says that in her country, garbage bins are deployed on the beaches making it easy for garbage disposal. Maybe that would be a solution at Alligator Pond, too?

"Well, I have put up a lot of bins at my place, but as I said, I can't take responsibility for the others," Christian says.

So should you be worried about the future of Jamaica's beaches? Well, even though the messy beaches at Alligator Pond are a problem, it's apparently better than two decades ago when Christian first got there.

"Overall, I think people have become more responsible when it comes to garbage, so it's getting better; but still, more people must (do something) about it," he says.

Helena Jalkner is a Swedish journalist who spent two weeks in Jamaica recently as a volunteer with international private voluntary organisation Projects Abroad.

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