At six in the morning, we volunteers squeezed into a bus in Kingston, water bottles in hand. We were all a little quiet (sleepy, in other words).
It was International Coastal Cleanup Day 2015, coordinated as always by the Jamaica Environment Trust with major sponsors the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the Tourism Ministry’s Clean Coasts Initiative, Recyle Now (Recyling Partners of Jamaica) and Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica. The global effort is coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy. As we turned towards the sea, I admired Kingston Harbour in the early morning light, a blue-grey sheen reflecting the sky. It hadn’t quite made up its mind whether to be a sunny day or not (it soon did – yes, another hot and almost cloudless day). Joggers and walkers trotted along the path by the airport road, on the harbor side. I noticed with pleasure mangrove seedlings planted, and fenced off, in various areas. A large area of mangrove was destroyed by China Harbour Engineering Company as they worked on upgrading the airport road in 2011; I am really hoping that the plants will thrive in what is, after all, a Ramsar wetland site.
At Fort Rocky, the early birds caught the worms – the 1,500 lovely “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” water bottles that virtually flew out of the water bottle tent. As always, the tent for collecting equipment was abuzz with activity. The hard-working volunteers handed out bags and checklists, and gave detailed instructions.
Hot? Did I say it was hot? As we worked under the registration tent in the shadow of a sand dune, we noticed the air was hardly moving. We watched the ever-swelling ranks of volunteers – bright and energetic at first, then slowing down on their return from the beach, where the sun was fearless and Lime Cay floated almost at arm’s reach. At Fort Rocky there is only the thin shade of thorny bushes. The water tent did a roaring trade, with friendly Wata staff providing chilled water from igloos. A man standing on the back of a truck bristling with jelly coconuts was kept busy by a steady stream of customers, machete in hand.
There were some “political” visitors, of course, and they stayed just the right length of time before heading back to whatever politicians do on a Saturday morning. Shopping? Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill was there, of course (his Ministry has been a major supporter of JET’s efforts, and kudos to them!) and Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown-Burke was there with her KSAC team. I must congratulate the Mayor too; along with her industrious Town Clerk Robert Hill she is determinedly cleaning up the garbage-strewn, rat-infested downtown areas where illegal vendors ply their trade. Very challenging work, but it must be done.
As for the teams… There were so many organizations, it is hard to mention them all. Government agencies, non-governmental organizations of every stripe, private sector companies, youth groups, schools, university student halls and associations, service clubs, the TEF’s Tourism Action Clubs… You name it. What struck me though (and I don’t know why I had never noticed before) – not one church group has participated in any of the cleanups I have volunteered for. I do not recall even one. Why is this?
It was not all a tiring slog, however. MC Michael Abrahams gave out important and useful facts on solid waste management, in between interludes of some great music. Cleanup Day always starts off with Bob Marley; by ten o’clock it had graduated to some dancehall, which had some of the young volunteers using up their last reserves of energy in the sun. And at ten, a flash mob organized by Respect Jamaica – a group of dancers in bright yellow T shirts – burst through the fort’s gateway and danced to a version of the “Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica” theme song.
Then, time to squeeze back into the bus. We were more talkative on the way back; there was a satisfied feeling that it had been a job well done. We now look forward to the final tally from JET, in terms of numbers of volunteers and tonnage of garbage collected; Jamaica is aiming to break into the top ten of cleanups worldwide.
Here are a few pictures I took during the morning; just a little glimpse of what was happening. I did not walk down the beach, where volunteers scattered right down to the lighthouse and up towards Port Royal itself. They even cleaned up along the roadside.
Here’s a quote to consider, from the always sensible and inspiring Dalai Lama:
“A clean environment is a human right like any other. It is therefore part of our responsibility toward others to ensure that the world we pass on is as healthy, if not healthier, than we found it.”