Images of islands of floating debris, a gigantic accumulation of plastics larger than entire countries, are becoming painfully familiar these days. Our seas and oceans are becoming deposits of millions of tons of pollutants, with subsequent serious environmental, health, social, and economic effects, which represents a serious threat to the way of life and sustainable development in many regions of the world.
A clear example of this is the Caribbean, where its inhabitants depend on the “blue economy”, which includes tourism and fishing.
A new World Bank report “Marine Pollution in the Caribbean: Not a Minute to Lose” reveals that around 80% of pollutants come from land, while more than 320,000 tons of plastic waste remain uncollected each year in the Caribbean. the blue waters and white sands of the Caribbean beaches. The degradation of coral reefs and marine pollution in the basin represents an annual loss of between 350 million and 870 million dollars.
To date, 14 Caribbean countries—a third of the small island states in the region—have banned disposable plastics and Styrofoam. It is important to establish a control system that includes: the use of natural drainage and an urban design that prevents waste from being dumped directly into sewers and watercourses; better management of the sewage system; beach and port cleaning services, as well as community garbage collection programs. In this sense, it is key to strengthen policies and regulations at the national and regional levels, as well as redouble efforts to ensure their respect and compliance.
Tariffs, voluntary programs, and a ban on the importation and use of common waste such as bottles, straws, and disposable plastic bags, as well as Styrofoam food containers, are necessary. This should also include efforts to limit the production and use of plastics in non-recoverable items, such as microbeads in personal care and cosmetic products. Encouraging a reduction in the use of non-biodegradable products or packaging, as well as the reuse of plastic items is another important way to curb waste generation
A crucial aspect is what is dumped into the seas and oceans. Treatment, recycling, and reuse of wastewater must be increased. Connect all homes to the sewer system and reduce storm drain pollution. Wastewater should be seen as a resource, which, if used safely and sensibly to avoid health problems, can be very beneficial, especially on small islands where drinking water is scarce.
Efforts must be combined to identify sources of chemical contamination; control the use and discharge of chemicals in artisanal mining; promote the recycling of used oil in urban areas; incentivize the production of durable goods that require less energy to manufacture and generate less waste on a large scale. Industries must comply with regulations for the storage and handling of pollutants and discharges from industrial sites.
Fighting pollution requires a bigger budget. Pollution control programs range from charging fees for ecosystem services to incorporating tax reforms and market incentives, applying the “polluter pays” principle (where those who pollute must bear the costs of managing it). ), and other stimuli such as subsidies for pollution control, permit systems for “green” companies with strategies for pollution, or deposit reimbursement and pricing methods.
The institutional and legal framework must be strengthened to address marine pollution at the national and regional levels. National policies and laws must be aligned with international commitments for sustainable development, such as the Sustainable Development Goals and the Cartagena Convention, together with its Protocol regarding pollution from land-based sources.
Pollution control is important not only for coastal and marine resources but also for the development of tourism, agriculture, shipping, and industry. As such, it must be part of economic and territorial planning, as well as comprehensive water management.
Local educational campaigns on TV, radio, and social networks can serve to raise awareness; the importance of the environment for the well-being of the region must also be prioritized in classrooms at all levels. This means involving the Ministries of Education so that they incorporate new material into their curricula so that future generations of young people grow up with an understanding of the subject.
Public-private partnerships must be established to provide financing, improve public awareness, reduce the improper disposal of waste, and develop innovative criteria that tend to reduce marine pollution. These should include civil society, tourism and fishing industries, coastal developers, technology companies, institutions, and coastal communities.
The Caribbean does not have sufficient environmental data regarding its waters, since only a few countries have the necessary systems to collect them. It is very important to understand the key pollutants, identify pollution hotspots and their impact on marine biodiversity, fisheries and human health. This information should be incorporated into regional information processes to improve regional cooperation.
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