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Marine Debris in Jamaica: Impressions of a Brief Visit

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“…Marine debris is difficult to address because it comes from a wide variety of sources, both on and off the shore. While marine debris is a global problem requiring international cooperation, many of its negative impacts are experienced at the local level and require local involvement…” –US Commission on Ocean Policy: An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century pp 264. Washington, DC, 2004

Marine debris IS a global problem, and the best way to learn more about this is by going abroad, visiting different countries, talking with marine debris experts there, and seeing conditions with your own eyes. I had an opportunity to do that in April 2009 when on a visit to Israel. I walked on several beaches there, met with the dedicated team of the Marine and Coastal Environment Program, and learned about the way they handle marine debris and the innovative Clean Coast Index program they developed.

Just last month, I had another chance to learn about the global nature of marine debris; this time in Jamaica. I went there to visit my son Raz, who serves as a Peace Corps volunteer in this beautiful country. I did a presentation on marine debris for the faculty and graduate students at the University of West Indies (UWI) Department of Life Sciences, and later visited a mangrove forest impacted by marine debris. Special thanks to Raz for his coordination, Dr. Dale Webber for his invitation, and the gracious help of the Port Royal Marine Laboratory staff!

Photo: Raz at Port Royal Marine Lab Biodiversity Center.

The talk I gave covered the NOAA Marine Debris Program and several projects we have been involved with. The faculty and students asked excellent questions and shared with me some of the marine debris challenges that Jamaica faces.

Photo: Group photo with UWI after the talk.

Most of the country’s population is concentrated along the coast in several population centers, of which Kingston, the Capital, is the largest. Municipal waste management is challenging and overall only about 70% of the solid waste is collected. The rest is dumped into gullies or burned. As a result, rain storms flush this waste into the sea, or in the case of Kingston, into Kingston Harbor, a nearly enclosed bay with poor circulation. Much of the solid waste that reaches the Harbor is made of plastic, does not readily degrade, and accumulates along the Palisadoes connecting Port Royal to the mainland (see map). More significantly, debris collects in the mangrove forests near Port Royal, a nature reserve and home to thousands of nesting birds. This description is similar to the presentation provided by Ms. Davis-Mattis at the United Nation in June 2005.

Image: A map of Kingston and Port Royal, with the Palisadoes connecting them.

Jamaica is addressing marine debris by doing beach cleanup and striving to achieve better waste management. The process is challenging and everyone agrees that a lot of outreach and education is needed as well as collaboration on cleanup of mangrove forests, a really difficult and time-consuming endeavor.

After the talk Raz and I headed out for a trip to the beautiful north coast of Jamaica where we visited some attractions and went snorkeling. We then returned to Port Royal and the Port Royal Marine Lab. I went with Paul, from the Biodiversity Center, and Raz to the mangroves area to see the impact of marine debris there.

Photo: Paul driving the boat to the mangrove forest.

We headed out in a boat where Raz and Paul collected tiny shrimps for the Biodiversity Center lab (the fish got to eat!). We then headed along the mangrove forest to the Bay. On the south side of the mangrove forest, facing away from the bay, the mangrove roots are clean, and barely a piece of debris could be seen. Egrets, pelicans, and other bird nests in the mangrove forest and were not alarmed by our presence.

Photo: A pelican on in mangroves.

On the north side, facing the harbor, the picture is different. Large amounts of debris are present in the mangrove roots and along the shoreline. The debris seems mostly plastic products of different types including bottles, bags, and plastic containers of different colors, shapes, and sizes. Cleaning marine debris out of mangrove roots is difficult and challenging. The water depth at this area is only a few feet so access by boat is restricted to small vessels only, and there is quite a bit of marine debris. This type of cleanup has been done – Florida and USVI, for example, and could be done in Jamaica as well. The amount of debris and the difficult access do however make cleanup very challenging.

Photo: Marine debris in mangrove forest.

It was good to see Raz and to meet with the very welcoming staff at UWI and the Port Royal lab, and I hope that we will collaborate on marine debris projects in the future.

– Nir

Author: NOAA Marine Debris Program

The NOAA Marine Debris Program envisions the global ocean and its coasts, users, and inhabitants free from the impacts of marine debris. Our mission is to investigate and solve the problems that stem from marine debris, in order to protect and conserve our nation's marine environment, natural resources, industries, economy, and people.

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