This is the second time I have felt nauseous during Jamaica Environment Trust’s (JET) launch of International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) Day, which this year will take place on September 19. The global effort is supported by the Ocean Conservancy; in Jamaica, the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has been a major sponsor of the cleanup since 2008. This year’s theme is “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” – reflecting its nicely focused public awareness campaign, which was launched six months ago in support of the Ministry of Tourism’s Clean Coasts Project. In 2014, Jamaica’s cleanup was ranked twelfth largest out of 100 participating countries worldwide, with 7,400 volunteers cleaning up over 85,000 pounds of garbage at 113 sites. This year JET aims to break into the global “Top Ten,” hoping to bring 10,000 volunteers on board.
Now, let me clarify: JET’s events do not make me feel sick – far from it. JET’s programs are always carefully thought out and relevant. This was just a physical reaction to the disgusting state of our gullies. Yes, we went on a gully tour, after JET Director Diana McCaulay welcomed us in the Jamaica Conference Centre’s Harbour Lounge. The lounge is a fine spot on a sunny morning, with a nice view across Kingston Harbour; it always looks pretty on the outside, but not so attractive when you get closer. Last year’s ICC launch included a tour of the harbor – and that was when I felt nauseous, at the sight and smell of the filth that we are putting into the seventh largest natural harbor in the world.
Two members of the St. George’s College Tourism Action Club told us about their project to find out “where the waste goes,” following the McGregor Gully from uptown, through Grants Pen to downtown. Actually, Jason Lindo sang about it, and his colleague Calvin Wright (a former head boy at George’s) told us about what they found down in the gully. Amongst the usual debris, they noticed many mosquitoes – and “black toads.” The students surmised they were this unusual color because of the pollution, although I am not at all sure about that. Oh, and of course there was the “strong stench.” The students intend to do more research in this area.
Well, we all climbed on the bus, and set off (by “we all” I mean a number of media representatives and photographers, representatives of government agencies such as the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) and the National Solid Waste Management Agency (NSWMA) and others). As we moved across downtown, JET’s Felicia Wong talked to us about common Jamaican attitudes to garbage: If we throw it away, a goat will eat it; it’s up to the Government (or someone else) to clean it up. We keep our yards tidy, but not beyond. Many residents consider the gullies “self-cleaning” because whenever it rains, the garbage is taken away; but, of course, where is it taken to? It does not disappear, that is for sure. They often blame another community, further upstream. A survey cited by Diana McCaulay found that Jamaicans are not willing to walk very far at all to find a garbage bin. It has to be really close, otherwise… An animated discussion followed on the need to enforce environmental laws – Diana McCaulay said she would like to see breaches become ticketable offenses, rather than dragging through the courts – and for more local firms to come fully on board and take responsibility for the pollution they help to create. More on this later.
We were talking so much we had soon arrived at a gullyside near the Spanish Town Road, close to the mouth of the Sandy Gully (there are some twenty-odd gullies, intended as storm drains, in Kingston, many intersecting). Several John Crows (Turkey Vultures) circled above, so clearly something in the gully smelled ripe. The gully was lined with garbage, with a channel of stagnant water in the middle. Of course, we are looking at public health issues here: rats, flies, disease-bearing mosquitoes.
We moved on into the inner city community of Seaview Gardens, which lies between the industrial complex of Spanish Town Road and the sea. If you have ever been to this area, you would have noticed the smell immediately. We stopped at a bridge over a smaller, adjoining gully, and looked down. A thick crust covered… something, which we discovered was a dark grey sludge with a strong chemical smell. This was clearly some kind of effluent from a nearby factory that was seeking to make its way into the sea. Beyond, on each side, were seas of plastic bottles.
Fact: 46 per cent of our non-organic waste is plastic. When it has been in the sea for a while, it starts to break into smaller and smaller pieces, but this does not make it any less dangerous. Smaller pieces can enter the food chain; fish ingest them, and we eat the fish.
So, we threw stones into the crusty soup. Splosh. Up came the sludge. JET captured it in a photograph. The queasiness in my stomach began in earnest. Time to leave!
After refreshing ourselves back at the Conference Centre, the TEF’s Director of Projects Christopher Miller told us about the several projects the Fund is supporting, besides Clean Coasts. I must confess I was impressed. Among other initiatives, TEF recently signed a J$260 million-plus “All Island Maintenance and Beautification Project” with the NSWMA (I like the word “maintenance” – it’s something we are not very good at). The Tourism Ministry is also making an effort to regularize planning approvals in tourist areas (“development should happen in a context,” said Mr. Miller, tactfully); and to upgrade public beaches for free access, including Boston Beach in Portland and Burwood Beach in Trelawny, among others. It is also looking at developing heritage tourism.
Bella Blair (actress, singer, vlogger) and social media personality/comedian “Dutty Berry” (or Russhaine as I have known him since he was a teenager!) are enormously bright and engaging. Bella told us she was brought up to be tidy and to recycle; as a child on summer holidays at her grandmother’s home, she would go to the local shop with an “oil bottle from 1910” that was refilled every time, and they would always take their own shopping bag. Those were the good old days..
Recycling Partners of Jamaica is also involved, and Chairman François Chalifour (who is based at Wisynco) gave us an update on the progress of this long-term project. It is moving ahead slowly but steadily. “We are creating infrastructure,” said Chalifour. Now, the organization has collection depots at Megamart, the JET office and its Lyndhurst Road headquarters in Kingston, as well as in Portmore, Port Maria and Manchester. It will be opening its Ocho Rios depot this week and a depot in Greenwood, St. James in the next few weeks. Find them on Facebook!
“We already have over 110 sites registered for ICC this year,” said JET’s Suzanne Stanley. “We have been training coordinators from all over Jamaica and encouraging them to recruit as many volunteers as possible so that we can meet our target.” It’s not too late to register your project or to join an ICC cleanup in your parish. A full list of sites can be found online at http://www.jamentrust.org. For more information on Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica and the Clean Coasts Project log on to