MONTEGO BAY, St James – Scuba diver Kaniel McKenzie was not prepared for what he saw under the waters of the popular Dead End Beach in Montego Bay on Thursday.
"It's like a garbage heap," he told the Jamaica Observer.
He said the sea floor was littered with plastic bottles, Styrofoam boxes, and "just a lot of garbage".
McKenzie collected three bags of waterlogged waste from under the sea, not an easy feat as the liquid made items heavier than if they were on land. He was part of a team of volunteers who turned out to clean up the beach to mark World Ocean Day. More than 250 pounds of waste was removed from the seabed. In addition to the food-related items McKenzie saw, volunteers also removed tyres from water. They were unable to remove a submerged engine block because it was too heavy.
Volunteer Alanna Shaw was also shocked by what she saw.
"It was mostly plastic, cups, straws, and so forth. There were some different types of clothing. I never expected to find so much garbage because you can't see it from the surface, you have to go under to actually find it and it looks like it has been there for a while," she said.
Nasya Jones of Sustainable Ocean Alliance (SOA) Caribbean said what this is cause for concern and she wants to see a change in people's behaviour.
"A lot of people think that their contribution is minor because it's one person [throwing away] one fork. But you could see a lot of forks down there, so it does make a big impact," she stressed.
Executive director for the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) Audley Gordon was among those who helped with the clean-up. He used the opportunity to repeat his frequent appeal for a less messy Jamaica.
"We are in the embryonic stage of the hurricane season and we want to say to people, 'Stop tossing things through the windows of cars and other motor vehicles. Travel with your waste, don't dirty up the place!'," Gordon urged.
Items thrown out the windows of moving vehicles, he said, eventually end up in the sea.
"We see them along the sides of the roadway but garbage travels in water and underwater. So when we toss garbage out, it invariably follows waterways and into the sea; and when it ends up in the sea, it attacks the marine life," he added.
The NSWMA provided volunteers and resources throughout the day for the clean-up of the shoreline.
Four trips were made out to sea with volunteers, some outfitted in scuba gear that allowed them to comb the seabed. Those with snorkelling gear stayed closer to shore.
Natasha Parchment, who played the main role in coordinating the day's activities, explained how it all came together.
"I've been doing beach clean-ups for the last decade and a few people called asking what's happening for Ocean's Day. Sharnon Williams from WPM [the NSWMA's Western Parks and Markets] called and said, 'Let's do something' and partners just came from everywhere," she remarked.
In addition to the NSWMA, those that came on board included Sandals Resorts, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), power company JPS, and Poly Glass Bottom Rides.
Parchment stressed that a big part of the day's activities included repurposing some of the waste taken from sea. Young members from various environmental clubs at Montego Bay schools used their art and craft skills to transform some of the garbage into useful items including plant holders and craft items.