FRONT PORCH: Our beautiful beaches are scarred by plastic pollution - what will we do about it?

A FRIEND, who some-times retreats to Elbow Cay, the capital of which is Hope Town, woke up early one morning to walk the wide and long beach near a peninsula on the cay. It was another brilliant day of exceptional beauty in The Bahamas.

He felt the rising yet soothing warmth of the sun. The avian life sang the chorus of an emerging day. He enjoyed the interplay and innumerable shades of blue and green ocean ever-changing depending on the light.

Then an encounter with a single piece of plastic trash, then another. Then the deluge. Not of water but of a beach overrun and strewn with plastics from single-use plastics such as cups and shopping bags to industrial-sized bags which might have once contained fertiliser.

Much of the debris seemed to have come from the armada of ships trans-shipping goods through The Bahamas, though some may have been locally dumped or washed ashore by the tides circulating the ever increasing tons of plastic choking the world’s oceans.

He valiantly attempted to clean up the beach but there was too much debris for a single individual to tackle.

Last week, a Bahamian on a trip to mainland Abaco, with some friends from overseas, was also shocked at how much more prevalent are microplastics, even on beaches regularly cleaned.

Almost 60, he observed that absent one’s glasses, the multicoloured plastics resembled the shells he remembered picking up from the beach as a boy.

When he visited this same Abaco beach in 2019, a month before Hurricane Dorian struck, there were less microplastics on the beach. That was just over four years ago. What will it be like four years hence?

Sixty years is a brief period in the life of our planet. But in those relatively brief 60 years, the climate emergency and environmental destruction have dramatically worsened. What will the marine and land environment of The Bahamas look like in another 60 years?

The chokehold of plastics on marine life and our waters and beaches is nationwide and world-wide. The Bahamas and the Caribbean are becoming archipelagos of foreign and domestic environ-mental destruction and waste.

The Living on Earth website notes: “As an island nation, The Bahamas finds itself drowning in plastics carried from far away by ocean cur-rents as well as from its tourism industry and domestic use.”

From a celestial vantage point, Canadian astronaut Chris Had-field enthused: “The most beautiful place from space, is The Bahamas, with all the gorgeous colours of the ocean.”

After a terrestrial journey traversing the ocean banks of The Bahamas, the jade and turquoise waters of the Exuma Cays, and the kaleidoscope of dazzling colours and vistas of our archipelago, Hadfield’s observation of The Bahamas would likely prove even more enthusiastic.

He might sail the dazzling aquamarine waters of the channel at French Wells between Crooked Island and Long Cay, or enjoy other earth-bound adventures.

The array, spectrum of blue and green Hadfield and other astronauts saw from the heavens are as, or more spectacular when enjoyed from the beach.

These shades and waves of blue-green that alternatively rinse, lash, sooth, caress and touch our paradise of beaches, are now joined by a ravaging palette of micro-plastics of various garish colours.

Even as one’s feet are massaged and soothed by crumbling powdered and pink-hewn sand, they are also assaulted by fragments and armies of microplastics.

Our precious and beautiful Bahamaland is being scarred by plastic waste that harms and poisons marine life, fauna and humans, threatening our economic well-being and polluting our national parks.

Scores of mega vessels annually traverse our far-flung archipelago, which encompasses an area of over 100,000 square miles and extends over 500 miles from north to south. Despite our small population of less than 400,000, the Bahamas is a big ocean nation.

Plastics are amphibious. They live as comfortably in the sea as they do on land. They do not discriminate as to whom they will harm.

Though studies are ongoing as to the effect on humans of eating fish contaminated by plastic there remains no debate that scores of us on the planet are now eating such contaminated fish.

The plastics in fish include plastic microbeads used in a variety of products such as toothpastes, cosmetics, body washes and other personal care products.

These microbeads often end up remaining in the stomachs of fish and may be proving toxic to fish. How might this effect humans, especially the citizens and residents of a country such as ours, where fish is a staple?

The World website described the activism of environmental Kristal Ambrose (Kristal Ocean), who is working to awaken Bahamians to the threats to our commonwealth of environmental treasures.

“We get things like octopus pots that wash off the coast of West Africa, from their fisheries; we get things from the southern Carib-bean, like water bags, or detergent containers that wash up on our beaches; in addition to the usual suspects, we have oil jugs, and ropes and packaging straps from the fishing industry.

“And all of that is obviously fragmented. And then we have copious amounts of microplastics in our sand.”

She might have added the throwing of trash and plastic into the ocean by Bahamian beachgoers, fishers, mail boat workers and others.

The website notes: “Scientists estimate that by 2025, The Bahamas will have around 687 mil-lion metric tons of plastic debris accumulating on its shorelines, Ambrose notes — an amount that exceeds the biomass of the people who live within the islands. Much of that debris washes up in the Bahamas because of its proximity to the North Atlantic Gyre and the Gulf Stream.

“And as climate change intensifies, powerful hurricanes are a continuing problem: Hurricane Dorian left behind 1.5 billion pounds of disaster debris. Ambrose says the Bahamas does not have the infrastructure or the capacity to cope with all of these problems.”

Plastics have invaded and are occupying our beautiful Bahamaland. With rising sea levels, these invading plastics will be pushed up even further on our coastlines and shores, and perhaps in time, on our doorsteps.

The late Timothy Gibson, the composer of our national anthem, was born at Savannah Sound, Eleuthera, in 1903.

“Sound”, as the residents of the settlement call it with a lyrical accent, rests between Palmetto Point and Tarpum Bay. Savannah Sound took its later name from the savannah or the flat grassy area of the settlement and the sound on which generations of residents and visitors have walked out onto when the tides recede.

Gibson’s musical compositions suggest that the natural beauty of the Bahamas was as much a part of his soul as was his music.

The beautiful Bahamaland memorialised by individuals like Gibson and beloved by generations past who were closer to the land and the sea is now under dire threat by mass pollution, microplastics, and the climate crisis threatening the global commons and our low-lying archipelago.

Yet, many Bahamians seem unaware of the magnitude of these threats, the effects of which we are already experiencing and which are gathering speed.

Kristal Ambrose worked with others on the ban of single-use plastics, which was an important step in environmental protection and education. Still, there is much to be done to address plastic and other pollution. As she insists:

“Streams of plastic are still washing onto shores, not only in The Bahamas, but throughout the entire Caribbean region. What happens to that plastic? That’s something that I’m looking at. How can we create better management strategies to address marine litter concentrations in The Bahamas? How can we re-vision that?”

Our answers and responses to her urgent questions, our re-visioning, must be the mission of us all.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment