Cleaning up the coast…for the birds

The Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) has registered 200 locations for 193 groups around the island for International Coastal Cleanup Day 2022, which will return on Saturday, September 17 to Jamaica. The annual event is hosted and coordinated nationally by JET, with support from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), the Ocean Conservancy, TeamSeas, and Nestle Jamaica Limited.

Volunteers from HEART Trust checking their list at the 2019 International Coastal Cleanup Day at the Go Kart Track in Kingston in September. (My photo)

The flagship event hosted by JET will take place at the Palisadoes Go-Kart Track, on Kingston Harbour, after a two-year break. The theme for this year’s event is Nuh Dutty up Jamaica. This is also the title of JET’s recently relaunched public education and awareness programme, geared at improving knowledge and attitudes with regard to waste and its impact on public health and the environment. Over 1,000 volunteers have registered to be at JET’s cleanup.

Dr. Theresa Rodriguez-Moodie, Chief Executive Officer at JET stressed that beach cleanups are not the “be all and end all”:

It is important for people to get involved in cleaning up our beaches because marine debris is a people problem. Cleanups are not a permanent solution. They, however, help to reduce the flow of garbage into our marine environment – until we have improvements in our solid waste management infrastructure and in people’s behaviour towards solid waste. Cleanups also help to raise awareness and are an important educational activity.

I usually volunteer at the JET site. However, this year I will be with a much smaller group: BirdLife Jamaica members, along with the Rotary Club of Liguanea Plains, at Plumb Point Lighthouse on the Palisadoes road, as it turns down to Port Royal from the airport roundabout.

Join BirdLife Jamaica’s clean up session at Plumb Point Lighthouse on the Palisadoes this Saturday!

Why BirdLife? Because we care about the birds on our coastlines, and the amount of solid waste – in particular plastic – that they have to cope with (or rather, are barely able to cope with) in their lives.

For many shorebirds and seabirds, plastic, and marine debris in general, is a killer. Often, it kills them slowly; for example in the flyer above, a seabird’s stomach is filled with small items it believed were food, but which lodged in its gut until its system could not handle any more. Studies two years ago showed that, even if plastic breaks down in seabirds’ bodies, hidden chemicals and micro plastics may build up in their organs. This is in addition to ongoing threats such as climate change and severe weather, hunting, overfishing, and invasive species.

A Brown Pelican enjoying a spot of sun in Kingston Harbour. (My photo)

Nearly half of the world’s seabirds are in decline, and about one third of the species are globally threatened. Seabirds you might easily find in Jamaica would include Magnificent Frigatebirds, that you see soaring above the Kingston Harbour waterfront; Laughing Gulls and Royal Terns, circling round fishing boats as they pull in their catch; and the chunky but somehow elegant Brown Pelicans, with their superb diving skills. If you are lucky, you might spot a Brown Booby, a Masked Booby… or a graceful White-tailed Tropicbird. You can find a whole inventory of Caribbean seabirds here.

Our friend the Grey Plover finds something nice to eat along the shoreline near Black River, St. Elizabeth. These birds breed in the Arctic tundra and spend their winters further south. (My photo)

As for our precious shorebirds… BirdLife Jamaica and thousands of others around the world just participated in the Global Shorebird Count, an annual exercise designed to collect as much data as possible on shorebirds, and in fact any and all birds species living on and near the coast. The results are recorded in the eBird Caribbean database.

Our shorebirds are many and varied, all shapes and sizes, from the stately Great Blue Heron to the tiny Least Sandpiper. Most are migratory and need those stopping-off places to be unpolluted. They, too, are hugely affected by plastic waste, among other hazards – including micro plastics that wash up on the beach and float in the shallow water. Even abandoned fishing gear can entangle them; I recall at the last JET beach cleanup a dead Glossy Ibis was found entangled in tough plastic rope. If you would like to know more about the threats to our shorebirds across the region and work being done to save them, you can join BirdsCaribbean’s webinar with three young conservationists on Thursday, September 15 at 4:00 p.m. EDT (3:00 p.m. Jamaica time). Here’s the link for registration:

Talk to three young Caribbean conservationists about their work conserving and restoring wetland habitats for migratory shorebirds.

It’s very important to note that at ICC cleanups, volunteers don’t just pick up trash; they also collect data on the type of garbage they collect. It’s very much an information-gathering event. Lauren Creary, JET’s Programme Director said, “We are very interested to see if there will be any additional changes in the composition of the waste since the third phase of the single-use plastic ban was implemented in 2021”. 

The data collected by volunteers on ICC Day is compiled and sent by JET to the Ocean Conservancy, coordinators of the global event since 1985.

You can find the full list of 2022 ICC events taking place across the island on September 17, 2022 here (the link is on their Facebook page and elsewhere). JET is encouraging all Jamaicans to join a cleanup in their parish.

Join JET, BirdLife Jamaica, or one of the many groups around the island, on Saturday morning!

Seabirds, Old Harbour Bay. (My photo)

2 thoughts on “Cleaning up the coast…for the birds

  1. I am so delighted that we find redemption in the volunteers that go out to do clean up. lot of work takes place in the rural areas too, though I don’t know if much of it is done by bird lovers. Big up to the volunteers. I wish we could get some more schoolers out there for the day and after.


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