Yesterday, for the observance of International Coastal Cleanup Day 2019, small armies of volunteers collected tonnes of garbage that had been polluting beaches and major waterways across the country. These efforts are making a difference but will only be of minimal effect unless there are more widespread and sustained efforts to eradicate coastal pollution.
This annual exercise of collecting and documenting the trash littering T&T’s coastline demonstrates the size of the waste problem in this country. Beyond trying to identify and deal with the sources of garbage fouling up our oceans and rivers, it is time to change the behaviours that have put us in this mess.
This is not only a threat to human health and wildlife but could have some severe economic consequences if current trends are not reversed.
The degradation of Chacachacare, a once beautiful island that is gradually being taken over by piles of garbage is only one example of out of control beach pollution.
The mounds and mounds of garbage over the island have been turning off visitors. Tour operators are reluctant to list it as a tourist attraction.
Contributing to the problem are revellers from party boats and day-trippers who drop garbage all over the island. In addition, the many overflowing bins are seldom, if ever, emptied at all.
At Chacachacare and other locations, the garbage left behind by beachgoers is only part of the problem. There is also polluted runoff, as well as untreated sewage released into the ocean. Waste from livestock is another major source of contamination of waterways.
T&T also generates huge amounts of plastic waste—no need for a report from an international agency to confirm that fact.
Of major concern is that locally there have been no real efforts to deal with this threat to marine life. When plastics break down in the oceans around our islands, they become microplastics, which fish and humans inadvertently consume.
Not only that, bad weather causes a rise in ocean waves and currents, which deposit more garbage in our coastal areas.
T&T’s ability to decisively address these problems is hampered by the small amount of efforts and resources that are being channelled into cleanups and preventative measure. The fact that environmental matters are only one area of focus on a larger Planning Ministry suggests that it is not a major priority for the current Government.
However, the stark reality of this problem can be seen all around this country. Just try to find one pristine, unpolluted beach, or any watercourse, for that matter, that is free from garbage.
In these circumstances, a once-a-year cleanup barely scratches the surface. T&T isn’t working hard enough to change this situation. It is time to bring on bans on single-use plastics. Beach cleanup programmes have to take place through the year, along with education campaigns to raise awareness among citizens