The dream of a clean, healthy Kingston Harbour
An aerial view of theKingston Wharveswhich sits on theshoreline of theKingston Harbour

Many Jamaicans remember with pleasure the annual cross-harbour swim of decades ago in Kingston.

Midway the last century the race was from Bournemouth Beach (close to Rockfort in east Kingston) across the Kingston Harbour to Gun Boat Beach on the Palisadoes Strip. In later years, Victoria Pier in downtown Kingston became the starting point.

Anyone who completed that cross-harbour course commanded huge respect, able to boast about it for life.

Sadly, by the late 1980s, the authorities had to put a stop to the cross-harbour swim because of the rapidly deteriorating water quality.

Embarrassingly for all Jamaicans, more particularly their leaders, despite plenty of talk about plans to clean up Kingston Harbour, today the water quality is said to be only marginally better — if at all.

Currently, huge quantities of human-generated waste of every description still finds its way into the harbour — famous for being the world's seventh largest natural harbour. Such pollution not only endangers health for those who, against all official advice, choose to enter the water, it does great damage to marine life.

Indeed, it seems questionable whether fish caught there is safe to eat.

To be fair, there has been effort — though not nearly enough — to improve the situation.

For example, the Soapberry Wastewater Project in St Catherine, which began operations in 2008, has reduced, even if only marginally, untreated wastewater entering the harbour.

Additionally, improved monitoring and modernisation of production methodologies at the largest industrial plants close to the Kingston waterfront are said to have reduced the leak of industrial chemicals and other pollutants.

We would expect, as well, that the ban on various types of plastic in recent years will have cut the huge volumes of such material which choke Jamaica's coastal waters, including Kingston Harbour.

Yet, there remains a long, long way to go.

Hence, our relief at news that GraceKennedy Foundation (GKF) is collaborating with Dutch-based environmental agency The Ocean Cleanup, local-based Clean Harbours Jamaica (CHJ) Limited, and others, for a pilot project to prevent solid waste such as plastics from entering the harbour.

We are told that it involves installation of interceptor barriers to trap debris that flows from Kingston's gullies.

Ms Caroline Mahfood, Grace Kennedy Foundation CEO, tells us that the project — which is starting with three gullies — is “expected to eventually extract an estimated 900 metric tons of waste a year, once installations in all 11 gullies have been completed”.

Obviously, it's just another step in the mammoth task of, as Ms Mahfood describes it, restoring Kingston Harbour to its “former glory”.

Importantly, all infrastructural projects such as this must be allied to educational and socialisation programmes aimed at encouraging Jamaicans to desist from the current wholesale pollution of their environment. We are very encouraged that GraceKennedy Foundation and its partners are reaching out to people in their communities, including fisherfolk, to ensure this clean-up project works.

We are not naïve. We know that many Jamaicans, perhaps most, will never see the glorious day, as envisioned by Ms Mahfood, of a clean, healthy, Kingston Harbour. But we should all rejoice at every step towards that day.

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