The Thirst is Real!

The heat has been quite unbearable for the past year which were the hottest 14 consecutive months on record. Could this be why the marine debris generated from the beverage industry topped the 2015 finds during the Caribbean segment of the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC)?

In the recently released 2015 Trash Free Seas report of the Ocean Conservancy’s ICC, marine debris was removed from beaches in 16 Caribbean countries. Just over 36 000 citizen scientists removed about 400 000 pounds of solid waste from beaches and the marine environment.

Table 1: Top 5 items found in the Caribbean

Rank

Item Percentage
1 Plastic Beverage Bottles 28.4%
2 Cigarette Butts 16.5%
3 Plastic Bottle Caps 13.7%
4 Glass Beverage Bottles 7.7%
5 Metal Bottle Caps 6.5%

From the table above, four out of the top five items originated from the beverage industry. Even more worrying, is that one-quarter of the plastic beverage bottles collected worldwide, came from the Caribbean. In addition, the amount of money that could have possibly been made through recycling these bottles alone could have paid for a small car (12500 USD) with just over 60% of the bottles collected from Jamaica.

Furthermore, sixty percent (60%) of the weight of marine debris collected in the region came from Guyana and Puerto Rico combined. On the other hand, in Guyana, there was a significantly higher density of 21225 pounds per km, while in Puerto Rico, there were only 293 pounds per km. This means that more garbage was found in a smaller area in Guyana (4.8km) than in Puerto Rico (410.1km). That is extremely disquieting since none of other countries could even get near to 10 000 pounds per km.

The ICC, the largest volunteer effort in the world, volunteers from service clubs, youth-led organisations such as the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN) and government agencies coordinate the cleanups and schools, public and private sector play their part to clean up the mess that others make. Not only do they rid the beaches of debris, but they also record the very data that go into the reports.

But why litter or dump? Some have the ‘not in my backyard’ syndrome where once their houses and yards are clean, they would not mind dumping their waste onto other persons’ properties. Some think it is convenient to litter rather than try to find a trash can. On the other hand, there are some countries with exorbitant taxes coupled with inadequate collection services and no recycling initiatives, which does not help the situation.

Another key point is that while littering and dumping can affect your own country, it could become problematic for others as well. This is because trash can travel along ocean currents and wash up on the coasts of other countries. Therefore, sometimes during cleanups, trash from other countries are found, especially on the east and south coasts of the Lesser Antilles.

All things considered, knowing and doing is not the same thing. Persons must realise that there is a cost to dumping and littering which they are already paying for. When you dump or litter, you and other persons can become ill, you are paying for healthcare, you are paying for the cleanup services, you are paying for tourism maintenance, you are paying for cleaner safer water and you are paying for educational programmes on the harms of dumping and littering. So you choose. You can save or even gain money from not littering or dumping or continue to waste your money.

 

 

Land Use and Climate Change on an Island: Chalk and Cheese?

What does land use have to do with climate change? Everything. They are not like ‘chalk and cheese’ like persons may think. How our 166 square miles are managed, directly determines our future on this beloved rock.

Aerial View of Barbados
Aerial View of Barbados (Source:Jessie R on Pinterest)

Land is definitely a key limiting factor to a Small Island Developing State (SIDS) and can definitely determine our resilience to potential climate change impacts. When land is limited, there are several competing uses for the same space such as industrial and manufacturing, educational, residential, agriculture, tourism, urban areas, solid waste disposal, and not to be forgotten, natural ecosystems such as forests, streams and mangroves. Therefore, sustainable land management is critical. When conducting research on the effects of changing land use patterns and climate change impacts on food security in Barbados, coincidentally enough, the first question some persons I pitched it to asked me was ‘what’s the link between climate change and land use?’

Brownes Beach Flooded
Flooded Beach in Barbados (Source: Richard Burke, Facebook)

According to a United States’ Environmental Protection Agency’s publication, land use planning plays a significant role in mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to a changing climate. Additionally, it is critical in assisting communities to adapt to sea level rise, more intense weather conditions and other climate-related hazards. Land management has energy implications as well. The more developed or built-up areas are, the hotter it gets, and therefore, an increased need for air conditioning, resulting in higher electricity or fuel bills.

Correspondingly, as the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) reported in a 2010 National Environmental Summary for Barbados, it was revealed that land management was inefficient in Barbados pertaining to climate change adaptation. It was further stated that land use has changed rapidly over the years from agriculture to a more built-up environment, which may have potentially devastating consequences such as flooding and land degradation. This would therefore increase our already vulnerable state.

From a 2015 report from the Barbados Chapter of the Caribbean Youth Environment Network (CYEN), preliminary results showed that 99% of 400 surveyed young Barbadians – aged 15-31 years – believed that sustainable land management is important for Barbados. However, 92% were of the opinion that the land was not being managed well at present. Also, climate change was ranked as one of the top threats to sustainable land management, only second to pollution. What will we do about this?

Thus, despite the fact that we like to blame the government for several shortcomings, we as ‘proud Barbadians’ have to do our part to help ourselves. What we do on the land will determine as a nation, how much water we conserve, how much oxygen we get, whose houses and businesses will be affected first by flooding from sea level rise, what our food and energy bills will be and overall how resilient we are to weather systems, earthquake and volcanic activity which the region is very prone to. Note that we are just weeks shy of the hurricane season and Tropical Storm Ana has graced the Atlantic with her presence. If we are not usually prepared for the regular season, how will we defend ourselves against an off-season trough like that which devastated our neighbouring isles in 2013?

Most importantly, education and change in attitudes of our citizens, especially young people, is highly recommended to create a culture of a better appreciation for land as a precious resource and further, to adapt to climate change impacts. We need to start with us.

As our National Environment Month approaches in June, I want persons to not only think about what actions they will take for climate change but to actually do positive actions so we can all survive.

What do you think about land management in your country?