Ships Leave Tons of Waste in Caribbean Waters
By Dionne Jackson Miller*
Each of the thousands of cruise ships that sail through the Caribbean Sea generate up to 1,200 cubic meters of liquid waste daily, including wastewater from kitchens and showers. The region lacks effective system for handling organic and toxic waste generated by the shipping industry.
KINGSTON - The multi-million dollar Caribbean shipping industry, necessary to the economic prosperity of the region's small island states, also carries with it a negative side: the generation of tons of waste, which these countries are often ill-prepared to cope with.
The Caribbean has the ''most intensive maritime traffic in the world,'' with some 50,000 ships and 14.5 million tourists visiting annually, according to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
A typical cruise ship carries 3,000 passengers and produces between 400 and 1,200 cubic meters of watery waste daily, including waste from kitchens and showers, according to UNEP.
''They don't have the facilities to accept ship waste, and more importantly, lack the necessary resources and organizational structure to monitor ships," whether cargo or passenger vessels, Ian Blair, senior vice president of the Jamaican Port Authority, told Tierramérica.
There are major concerns related to the disposal of ship-generated garbage, oily bilge water (water accumulated in part of the ship's hull) and ballast water, which is taken in by ships to increase their stability and maneuverability while in transit.
Oily waste and garbage affect water quality and marine life, and ballast water carries into the region organisms from far-flung places, which can alter ecosystems and hurt biodiversity, Cowell Lyn, a consultant working on a rehabilitation project for Jamaica's Kingston Harbor, explained to Tierramérica.
Invasive species threaten the existence of endemic flora and fauna, that is, native species that are unique, not found in any other part of the world, and which are already threatened by deforestation and urbanization.
The Dominican Republic has recorded the presence of 186 invasive species, the largest number in the region, followed by Puerto Rico, with 182, and the Bahamas, with 159.
Passenger cruise ships also dump as much as 70 liters of dangerous waste a day into the sea. Toxins include photo processing chemicals, paints, solvents and batteries, which threaten animal and human life alike, as 70 percent of the Caribbean population lives in coastal areas.
The region is also affected by heavy oil tanker traffic. Several of the world's leading crude oil producers are in the Greater Caribbean area, including Venezuela, Mexico, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago.
Oil ends up dumped in the Caribbean waters, due to erratic waste management or to accidental spills.
Cuba's Havana Bay is the most polluted, with 1,200 milligrams of hydrocarbons per kilogram of dry sediment, while Jamaica's Kingston Harbor has 578 milligrams per kilo of dry sediment, according to UNEP.
The International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL 73/78 - developed in 1973 and amended in 1978) regulates the disposal of oil, toxic substances, and garbage from ships.
Annex Five which entered into force on December 31, 1988 governs the disposal of garbage and imposes a complete ban on the dumping into the sea of all forms of plastic.
A 1993 amendment designated the ''Wider Caribbean'' as a vulnerable ''special area'' with restrictions on how ships can deal with garbage disposal.
This designation has not yet come into force, however, because states have not advised the oversight body, the International Maritime Organization (IMO), as to whether adequate facilities exist to deal with ship generated waste.
''It may be that the systems are there but they have not been reported," IMO regional adviser Curtis Roach told Tierramérica.
IMO Secretary General Efthimios Mitropoulos urged Caribbean countries ''to redouble their efforts to ensure that the provisions of the Special Area status take effect without further delay,'' during a regional seminar in Barbados last July,
The Wider Caribbean encompasses the region's islands and the coastal areas of the mainland Latin American countries, from Mexico to French Guyana, as well as El Salvador, even thought its shoreline is on the Pacific Ocean.
Its institutional manifestation is the Association of Caribbean States, created in 1994, with 25 independent states as full members, plus Aruba, Dutch Antilles and France (on behalf of Guadalupe, French Guyana and Martinique).
According to Caribbean Environment Outlook, a publication prepared by the United Nations Development Program for the Jan. 10-14 Mauritius meeting of small island states, the nine-member Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) is reporting "harmonized policies and legislation for both shore and ship generated waste."
St. Lucia cites improved ship waste reception at major ports and marinas. And in Jamaica, extensive groundwork is now being done to establish a facility to dispose of ship generated garbage.
* Dionne Jackson Miller is a Tierramérica contributor.