Fight to protect St Mary environment

PORT MARIA, St Mary — A student in search of bottle caps to complete a project may not be able to find 100 bottle caps at home, but he or she would have found 167 at the Pagee Beach clean-up in Port Maria earlier this week.

On Wednesday, in addition to the bottle caps, Recycling Partners of Jamaica also collected 85 plastic containers and 3,962 bottles during a drive initiated by a group called Earth Ambassadeurs who spruce up beaches that are not regularly cleaned.

“A beach clean-up is only one of the many ways that the Earth Ambassadeurs are working to improve our relationship with nature. It is not a solution to the problem of waste management [but], for a more sustainable approach, we combine community responses with behaviour change initiatives like community education,” explained the group’s director, Dr Andrea Clayton. She is also lead lecturer for sustainable development at Caribbean Maritime University (CMU).

Grounded in research, the ambassadeurs — primarily young people — used the clean-up as a way to also educate community fishermen on how they too can protect the area. The youngsters are also determined to source bins for the beach in a bid to encourage proper waste disposal.

They have received welcome support from Americans Christina and Ron Drake who have dubbed their own five-year environmental activities ‘One Love Outreach’.

“The beach clean-up is a physical way in which we can show people that restoration is possible,” said Christina, a former travel and real estate agent. “The trash is going to be here next week, but we don’t just ignore it, and let it pile and pile and pile. We have to do something. It’s [about] learning how to respect the land, respect others and being a part of the community [because] so many people have given up.”

Her husband Ron, author of Flip this Town: Preservation Made Practical on Main Street USA, has begun the task of renovating an old house in St Mary with the help of local labourers. The hope is that it will provide accommodations that will lure visitors eager to experience the charms the parish has to offer. This would provide jobs for local fishermen, cooks and the vendors positioned just outside the house — but only if the beach is kept clean.

“Tourists across the world are wanting to spend more money in towns like this; they want to experience the real Jamaica,” said Ron Drake. He added that he and his wife have repeatedly enjoyed stays at all-inclusive resorts since their honeymoon 19 years ago. Now they want to try something different.

The couple believes in the well-known adage “a rising tide lifts all boats”, even amidst the generational fall backs which have relegated St Mary to being one of the least developed parishes in Jamaica.

More than 80 per cent of those participating in the beach clean-up were not from the parish but residents who showed up were firmly on board.

“I see a lot of potential here, to be honest; if there wasn’t potential here I wouldn’t be here,” said Sharon “Winsome” Bryan, a vendor from the community who came out in support of the initiative. She has bought into the vision that there is a direct link between a clean environment and economic and social development.

So too has D’jorn Whyte, an Earth Ambassadeur and CMU graduate who has adopted Liberty Learning Academy in St Mary as part of the Junior Earth Ambassadeurs pilot programme. His focus is the reduction of marine litter and waste.

He said the ripple effect of his actions has prompted neighbours to make the 30-minute drive from “Tower Isle [to] Port Maria just to recycle their waste with the recycling partners”. Whyte makes every effort not to contribute to the pile-up of the material.

“I have been refusing unnecessary plastic,” he said. “Even if I am in a restaurant, I refuse plastic.”

The hope is that the work being done by the Earth Ambassadeurs, supporters such as One Love Outreach and members of the community is just the start of a new way of caring for the environment.

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