Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cleaning up the Beach along the Old Airport Road, Montego Bay

   I was wondering where to start on my account of our beach clean-up on the old airport road, when I read Judith’s poem, “Garbage Runs”, written for International Beach Clean-up Day. It says it all!
Bags of garbage collected at Old Airport Beach
Why spoil the view ?

     Many years ago, I used to take students on field trips to the old airport beach, where, at low tide we could use sampling methods, such as line transects, belt transects and quadrats to estimate numbers and distribution of species of nerite and sea urchin. Not much has changed. It is still a popular spot for people to sit and eat from Styrofoam boxes, and drink from plastic bottles or cans, use condoms, and then toss their garbage into the ‘bush’. My questions to these people are, “Do you like to come to the beach and find garbage? Is that why you leave your garbage here?” Perhaps fewer people visit here because of the mess left by others. Will they return now we’ve cleaned it up? If they do will they take their garbage home with them and dispose of it appropriately, including the recycling of plastic bottles? It would be interesting to return in a few weeks and see.
    I was curious about how quite a few pieces of clothing – blouses, shirts, a skirt, a belt – came to be where they were, tangled up with rocks and driftwood, in the sea beside the road. I suspect they were carried there by the storm surge after Hurricane Sandy.
What's tangled up in the driftwood?
Oh! It's a blouse.

A storm surge would also account for the amount of ‘old garbage’ half-buried by sand and fallen leaves. The main change I noticed since I was last there, (about fifteen years ago), was that the vegetation between the road and the beach had grown taller and denser, I suspect hiding more garbage we couldn’t reach. It also provides a refuge for crabs and mongooses.
This crab could still walk in spite of lost legs.
    The group I was in didn’t go beyond the old airport beach, but other groups went as far as Tropical Beach. The clean-up was scheduled to end at eleven, by which time thunder had begun to roll and rain to sprinkle, but not before the volunteers, most of whom are employed at the airport, had assembled for a group photo. The coordinator was Mr. Orville Grey.
   At the same time, other beaches from Freeport to Dump-up were being cleaned by a total of 800 volunteers from  Service Clubs, NGO's and corporate Jamaica.Over 4000 lb of garbage was picked up  The whole Montego Bay Beach Clean-up was organized by Montego Bay Marine Park Trust. Congratulations on a job well done!
Volunteers pose for the camera.

The Beach Clean-up brings into focus the larger question of attitudes to garbage in general. Careless disposal of garbage is not confined to Jamaica (100 countries had Beach Clean-ups on Saturday, September 21), nor is it confined to any social class, political affiliation or religious persuasion. I knew of people in England who encouraged their children to drop garbage in the street because – “People are paid to sweep the streets.”  When I had my school, some parents objected to my asking children to take their turn in picking up litter from the yard - litter the children had dropped.  The residents of some countries are more particular. When I was with a group of students on a visit to Mexico, in 1972, a girl who dropped a sweetie wrapper was told, “We don’t do that here.”

        Efforts to improve attitudes in Jamaica, including “Best Kept Community” competitions, advertising campaigns, “Anti-litter Laws” (hard to enforce), seminars, workshops, and exhortations by environmentalists to “Reduce, Reuse and Recycle”, don’t seem to have made much of a difference. Attitudes are hard to change, but there are some incentives which could be put in place. All PET plastics can be recycled. If a refundable deposit was charged on these bottles, fewer of them would end up in the garbage. Styrofoam is highly toxic and carcinogenic, especially when it dissolves in fatty foods, or is heated in a microwave, or worse still, thrown on a fire. My recommendation is a total ban on Styrofoam containers. We lived without them before and could do so again. 
        There’s slogan on the side of some garbage trucks: “Jamaica’s beauty is our duty”.  All of us living in Jamaica, disposing of our garbage responsibly, can help to keep her what she is, one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

Yes, I was there.


Anonymous said...

Well done! It looks much quieter than our crazy crowds at Fort Rocky... I hope the clothing you found did not signify anything more sinister! I suppose people who litter beaches and other places are somehow "immune" to garbage themselves. While I am always painfully aware of it, perhaps they don't notice. Part of the landscape? I don't know and don't understand the mentality...

Helen said...

Don't think there's anything sinister about the clothing. It was probably carried there by Hurricane Sandy and got tangled up with rocks and driftwood. What if the clothes could speak!There's an idea for a children's story!