The surface of Kingston Harbour was like highly polished, dark blue glass early this morning. Here and there, a motionless figure perched on a tiny canoe, bent over a fishing line. Pelicans pretended to be statues, on posts near the shore.
International Beach Cleanup Day rolled around again (it seems to come round so fast) and I was volunteering with Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) at the “End of Stones” location on the Palisadoes spit that runs between the harbor and the open sea. The stones are actually huge boulders, dug out of the hills and piled up along the sea side. The stones are intended to shield the road between the city and the Norman Manley International Airport from storms, high winds and high tides. The stones have yet to be tested by a major storm. I suspect they will simply roll into the road when the next hurricane comes, pushed by wind and waves.
In previous years I have worked at Fort Rocky on the road to Port Royal – where approximately 2,000 volunteers were deployed today. At the End of Stones we had around 1,000 people, in large and small teams. There were family groups – the Chow Family were bright and early; corporate entities such as KPMG; students from the University of Technology and Kingston College; the teachers of May Pen Primary School; service clubs; government agencies such as HEART Trust; Japanese volunteers and civil society groups such as TransWave. To name but a few!
Walking round the End of Stones, where a huge pile of dusty grey sand had created a small mountain, one emerged onto the beach, which stretched down to the tiny white lighthouse on the Port Royal road at the end. The water was silky smooth and unusually calm, stroking smooth black and grey pebbles. The sky simmered in the rising morning heat, and only a faint cool breath came from the sea.
The volunteers stretched down the beach for at least a mile or two, bags trailing. There was plenty to collect – almost all of it washed up on the beach by the sea, much of it from the gullies and rivers, where some Jamaicans are in the habit of dumping their garbage. There were some huge industrial size objects, however, which may have come from a factory, or perhaps even a ship. As usual, plastic bottles were everywhere.
On the harbor side, we gazed at the flat water; the curve of the waterside around by the cement works; the spiky shapes of the ships at anchor; and one moving slowly out with a long, low blast of its horn. Behind lay the green mountains – very green, after all the rain – against a sun-bleached sky.
We had music from Zip FM. The rhythms carried us through the morning, as groups registered with us and asked questions about getting water and collecting their equipment. We managed to hook up stray volunteers with groups, so they could participate. One group – the alumni of the Japan Exchange and Teaching program – were well organized with large igloos containing refreshments, folding chairs and floppy hats. They settled down at the end of our tent, after dutifully collecting garbage, to eat and drink. It got busy, then quieter again. The music started to hypnotize. The hot dog stand smelt good.
Minister of Tourism Ed Bartlett arrived, and was duly interviewed by the Zip disc jockey, ZJ Sparks (just a few minutes earlier she had been urging on a group of dancers What during a mini dancehall session). The Minister, looking cheerful as usual and wearing the appropriately branded T shirt and cap, was quite knowledgeable about the appalling levels of plastic in the sea. The Tourism Enhancement Fund is the major sponsor of the International Coastal Cleanup Day in Jamaica.
The volunteers were amazing, the atmosphere was friendly – and I believe everyone felt they were making a difference. Special kudos (above all) to Deputy CEO of JET Suzanne Stanley and the fabulous JET team; the Jamaica Constabulary Force, who kept traffic flowing; the St. John Ambulance, who had only two cases to deal with (one nasty cut on a hand, one case of dizziness and mild heatstroke); providers of water, ice and food; and Zip, providers of awesome rhythms. And to all those who turned out on a hot Saturday morning to help clean our beaches.
What more is there to say? Well, in the immortal words of JET’s campaign: Nuh Dutty Up Jamaica! It is far too beautiful. Far too beautiful.
P.S. Something I really enjoy about the Jamaican beach clean up days is that our young people, who might otherwise still be lazing in bed (Friday night is a big night out in Kingston), always join in substantial numbers, every year, with the same enthusiasm. Today, as usual, they put their hearts into the cleanup work, laughing, joking, singing, working together in teams…and they still had a little energy in reserve for a mini dancehall session, before piling into their buses to go back into town. I don’t like to hear people denigrating our youth. I believe (I know) they are trying to do their best in an unforgiving world that has little time for them.