Alarming amounts of single-use plastics collected, and construction debris found, during ICC 2023

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On Saturday September 16th, more than 100 volunteers attended this year’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) at Little Bay Beach & Pond, near Belair, hosted by Environmental Protection in the Caribbean Sint Maarten (EPIC) and the St. Maarten Pride Foundation, in collaboration with the St. Maarten Development Fund (SMDF). A little over 2000 pounds of trash was collected, of which 763.4lbs were glass and plastic bottles (~40%). This was excluding heavy construction material also found during the cleanup, which were sadly found in large amounts littered throughout the mangroves and trees.

Many community groups, businesses, and students from various schools supported by volunteering for the cleanup such as: Hillside Belair Foundation, St. Dominic School, Learning Unlimited, Interact Club, St. Maarten Academy, Milton Peters College, KI Britannia, St. Maarten Down Syndrome Foundation, Kiwanis Builders Club, South Reward Community Collective, staff members of the Ministry of VROMI as well as many other individuals. Many families also joined, getting a lot of their kids involved in the clean up initiative. The participants partook in groups which were eligible for prizes, the winning team under age 16 will receive tickets to Caribbean Cinemas, and the winning team aged 16 and above will receive vouchers to the Dutch Blonde Bar’s Escape Room. The grand prize, a meal from La Chingona, will go to the volunteer whose guess came the closest to the total pounds of trash collected during the cleanup. This added an element of friendly competition and anticipation to the event, highlighting the community’s commitment to both environmental conservation and camaraderie. The winners will be made known soon via our social media channels.

By utilizing the Clean Swell App (through the Ocean Conservancy), volunteers meticulously documented their findings, providing crucial insights into the nature of pollution. The data revealed a stark reality: the most prevalent items collected during the cleanup were plastic bottles, glass bottles, and Styrofoam pieces/containers. These figures emphasize the pressing need to address the issue of single-use plastics and Styrofoam on the island. Massive amounts of plastic bottles were found hidden amongst the mangroves surrounding Little Bay Pond. “I cleaned up here last year and it’s disheartening to still see so many littered bottles” various volunteers commented, who ventured knee-deep into the pond to pull out litter and debris.

Riddhi Samtani, who organized the cleanup on behalf of PRIDE & EPIC, stated her concerns. “This is the third consecutive year that we’ve organized the ICC at this location. While we are encouraged by the community’s enthusiasm and the significant amount of trash collected, it is disheartening to witness no reduction in littering.”

The International Coastal Cleanup event highlights the commitment of the community but also underscores the immediate need for collective action to combat plastic and Styrofoam pollution on the island, and littering as a whole. It serves as a strong call to action for individuals, businesses, and policymakers to work together to implement sustainable solutions, reduce the use of single-use plastics, and protect St. Maarten’s coastal beauty and well-being. This made the partnership for this year’s ICC with SMDF impactful as they are currently executing “Plastic Free SXM”, on behalf of the Department of Interior and Kingdom Relations (BAK). Plastic Free SXM is an initiative supported by RESEMBID and financed through Expertise France with the goal of facilitating the transition away from single-use plastics and polystyrene foam products on Sint Maarten, to reduce the negative environmental and health impacts and promote sustainable practices to the general public.

“Community cleanups offer a serious reality check on the types of trash that end up in our natural spaces and should serve as a wake up call for every resident to take personal responsibility in combating pollution, littering and reducing plastic waste,” says Program and Development Manager of SMDF Melanie Choisy.

The International Coastal Cleanup, an initiative by the Ocean Conservancy happens annually on a global scale. Going back to 1986, the Ocean Conservancy estimates that 350 million pounds of trash has been removed from global beaches and waterways since the event began. Sint Maarten has been participating in the International Coastal Cleanup annually for over 20 years.

The cleanup builds on  EPIC’s “Why do we litter? – Sint Maarten” project funded by R4CR. During the cleanup volunteers collected valuable data to identify littering challenges in various neighborhoods on Sint Maarten. With this data EPIC formulated a data report with recommendations that is publicly available online.

For more information about EPIC’s work visit: www.epicislands.org, and EPIC’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/epicislands