We must celebrate. We may feel sad for the plight of our oceans, but we must also celebrate what they have given us. A good day to start would be World Oceans Day – Wednesday, June 8. You can find all the information you need on this global “special day” here: http://www.worldoceansday.org
I have written before about our precious Caribbean Sea. It is actually a part of what is called the Wider Caribbean Region, which includes 28 islands and continental countries – all those with coasts on the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, as well as adjacent waters of the Atlantic Ocean. So it is wide, because all these waters are connected.
Some interesting “quick facts” about the Wider Caribbean:
- Its average depth is about 2,200 meters, and the deepest point is the Cayman Trench (7,100 meters!)
- It covers 3.3 million square kilometers
- 70 per cent of the Caribbean population live, work and play in coastal areas (Jamaica’s coastline is just over 1,000 kilometers)
- There are three important types of ecosystems: coral reefs, mangrove forest and sea-grass beds
Here’s the bad news, though:
- In 2012, 613 tonnes of garbage was collected on the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day in the Caribbean. Of course, that’s the tip of the garbage iceberg!
- 50 – 80 per cent of our endangered sea turtles (all the species are endangered and protected by law in Jamaica) have eaten some form of marine litter
- It takes 80 years for styrofoam to decompose, 450 years for plastic to decompose and 500 years for a disposable diaper to decompose
- Every year, 300 million tonnes of top soil flushes into the sea
- 70 – 80 per cent of sewage flowing into the sea is untreated or partially treated
- Climate change is already impacting our seas in many ways: ocean acidification, coral reef bleaching, stronger storms, sea level rise, impacting many marine species
- Main challenges for our marine environment in the Caribbean are: solid waste, sewage, agricultural run off (pesticides and other chemicals), soil erosion, construction, industry and deforestation.
What legal protections are there for our seas? The Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region or Cartagena Convention is a comprehensive, umbrella agreement for the protection and development of the marine environment. Jamaica signed it on March 24, 1983. It has three protocols: The Protocol Concerning Co-operation and Development in Combating Oil Spills in the Wider Caribbean Region (the Oil Spills Protocol), which Jamaica signed on that date and ratified on April 1, 1987. Then there is the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW Protocol), which Jamaica signed on January 18, 1990 but has never acceded to or ratified; we are one of only five CARICOM countries not to have done so. Ironically this Protocol was signed in Kingston and is administered in Kingston by the United Nations Environment Programme. The third one, the Protocol Concerning Pollution from Land-Based Sources and Activities (the LBS Protocol) was ratified by Jamaica on November 5, 2015.
What we can do to help our oceans on World Oceans Day:
- Join the National Environment & Planning Agency’s World Oceans Day beach cleanup on the Palisadoes strip near Kingston, starting at 8:00 a.m.. Contact Deleen Powell at NEPA for further details. This falls in NEPA’s 2016 National Environmental Awareness Week.
- If you are online – and especially for students – you can join Exploring By the Seat of Your Pants’ celebration of World Oceans Day – a full day of half-hour Google Hangouts with ocean scientists, explorers and institutions, spread across the day from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. These will all be recorded on YouTube if you want to watch them later. Find details here: http://www.exploringbytheseat.com/#!exploring-oceans/able6
- Organize a community clean up of your favorite spot by the sea, or on land, in town, wherever you are. Make sure your waste doesn’t end up in the sea!
- The World Oceans Day website has several ideas for activities for the day, and beyond: Selfie for the Sea, Special Pledges, the Better Bag Challenge (let’s reduce our use of those horrible “scandal bags” – take a reusable shopping bag to the supermarket!)
- If you belong to a community-based organization, youth club etc., make a short video with your members’ messages and post on social media
- Plant some trees – prevent soil erosion
- Check out the CARIBSAVE website: read about the coral nursery initiative and the “Save Our Seas” program! Here: http://caribbean.intasave.org
What Jamaica can do to help our oceans:
- Accede to and ratify the SPAW Protocol of the Cartagena Convention (what are we waiting for? There would be many advantages for Jamaica in terms of assistance – grants for protected areas, training programs, employment opportunities, greater international recognition/visibility, online database and statistics availability, etc…)
- Enforce its many environmental laws properly (illegal dumping, for example – much of this ends up in the sea)
- Exercise proper planning controls and strictly enforce planning regulations (which did NOT happen in Negril)
- Encourage responsible land-based activities, especially in agriculture, industry and construction (including roads – the North-South Highway construction by China Harbour Engineering Company drove heavy silt and garbage into the sea at Old Fort Bay in St. Ann, smothering coral reefs and sea-grass beds)
- Ensure proper monitoring and safeguards for our marine protected areas and fish sanctuaries (including the Portland Bight Protected Area, Montego Bay Marine Park)
- Ramp up public education on solid waste management, in particular plastics
- Support alternative livelihood initiatives for fishers, such as the C-FISH program: http://www.c-fish.org
- Partner with and support local environmental NGOs – they are doing great work!
I would also love to see Senator Matthew Samuda’s private member’s motion to ban the importation of plastic bags and styrofoam passed. I would also like to see our local manufacturers come up with new, creative, biodegradable containers. Island Grill has biodegradable food containers. Let’s get serious and do this on a wide scale!