Keeping Jamaica’s shorelines trash-free
FOR centuries, the ocean has been viewed as a dumping ground for waste. Vessels heaved their garbage overboard, and viewed it simply as “taking out the trash”. Due to environmental groups like Greenpeace, ocean dumping is now illegal. However, laws are not enough to stop pollution; compliance, enforcement, and education are crucial to its eradication.
The Wildlife and Environmental Conservation Action Now (WECAN) Youth Club, formed in 1991, held its eighth annual cleanup last Saturday along the Causeway strip in Portmore.
“The first WECAN cleanup was in 1993 at the Old Harbour fishing beach,” Shae-Tongee Stewart, co-ordinator of WECAN Youth Club and island co-ordinator of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) in Jamaica, said. He explained that the project is funded by the Canada/Jamaica Green Fund Project through the Canadian International Development Agency.
The cleanup is a voluntary effort and is not isolated to Jamaica alone. In fact, it is a collaboration with the ICC which is the world’s largest volunteer organisation in the field of marine environment. More than one million people in over 100 countries affiliated to the ICC have participated in cleanups since it became an international event in 1989.
The ICC’s mission is to remove debris from the shorelines and underwater of the world’s lakes, rivers and oceans; collect valuable information on the amount and types of debris; educate the public on the issue of marine debris; and use information collected from the cleanup to implement policy changes as well as other measures to reduce marine pollution and enhance marine conservation.
On Saturday, the Observer spoke with Anne Morgan, programme director of the National Environmental Societies Trust (NEST). NEST is the umbrella organisation for environmental non-governmental organisations (NGOs) of which WECAN is a part.
“We provide technical and administrative funding for our environmental NGOs,” she said. “This is the kind of activity that we hope will not be a one-day activity but a community effort as to how to dispose of their solid wastes.”
A member of the WECAN Youth Club pointed out that during last year’s cleanup, a number of plastic bags with dead dogs were found along the beach.
She also mentioned that compared to last year, fewer PET bottles were found at the beach, which could be a direct result of recycling programmes put in place. Most debris can create aesthetics or environmental problems.
Plastic trash is a special problem because its qualities — its light weight, strength and durability — have made it a persistent threat to the aquatic life in oceans and waterways, let alone divers who spend time there.
Earth is the ocean planet: sea water covers more than two thirds of the globe. The ocean was once seen as vast and limitless, able to absorb whatever trash humans dump into it.
However, instead of disappearing forever, marine debris persists in the environment, choking waterways and fouling beaches, threatening human health and endangering marine wildlife.
Marine debris can be found throughout the world. Close to 80 per cent of waste found on beaches is washed, blown or dumped from shore. Trash continues to be dumped into streams, rivers and gullies that flow to the sea from countless inland sources.
Beach cleanups help document the detrimental impact of marine debris as well as the enormity of the problem. Such information is a compelling tool for changing attitudes against debris production and ultimately the face of our planet.
On Saturday, Paul Hallieman, an environmental enthusiast, stopped to help the WECAN volunteers.
Said he, “This is something I had a passion to do for a long time and I believe that the club (WECAN) stole my idea. “However, I am still happy to be able to help.”
Linton Harper, president of WECAN Youth Club, expressed his concern for the growing contamination of the island’s marine resources.
“The responsibility for the immediate disposal of our garbage ultimately rests in the hands of every citizen of this country and we need to inculcate responsible values and actions with regards to the proper disposal of our wastes, to ensure cleaner and healthier surroundings,” he said.
He continued, “a lot is being done to educate people about caring for the environment, especially in the primary and secondary schools but more needs to be done in order to involve the adults who are the main polluters until people start treating our streets, and open lots and gullies as they would treat their front lawn or back yard garden, then the problem of dumping will always persist.”
The data collected from the cleanup will be posted on the ICC’s website at www.cmc.ocean.org.