Caribbean nations find that anti-plastic policies are not enough to prevent damage to coastline

·3-min read

The idyllic Caribbean islands are becoming increasingly strewn with plastic pollution caused by the industries that fund their economies, a study has found.

Analysis of samples taken from island coastlines and microplastics in the Caribbean Sea show they originate from the maritime and tourism industries.

The all-female crew of scientists on board eXXpedition's Round the World voyage found flakes of paint from fishing boats, cigarette lighters and fragments of plastic food packaging in their samples.

They said the study highlights the need for more knowledge about plastic pollution across all sectors within nations.

The study's lead author, Dr Winnie Courtene-Jones from the University of Plymouth, said: "It makes it very challenging when tackling the issue.

"What we were also finding is that policies in one country do not necessarily translate to less pollution within their waters.

"For example in Antigua, they have a Styrofoam polystyrene ban and also a plastic bag ban in place and we found very little of those items within the street litter, but we were still finding those polymers broken down into small fragments in the marine environment.

"The modelling that we undertook indicates that these have come from elsewhere, other Caribbean nations, or even across the Atlantic."

Antigua and Barbuda are among the countries that have banned plastic bags, unlike neighbouring Saint Kitts.

This impacts every coastline, and Dr Courtene-Jones said: "This trans-boundary movement undermines the local policies, and really highlights the need for a much larger national, international policy and treaty to combat plastic pollution."

Dr Courtene-Jones said she hopes the study's findings will influence international solutions and result in more joined-up policies between nations.

Emily Penn, eXXpedition's founder, has been analysing the samples used in the study, which she described as the first holistic assessment of marine and land-based plastic pollution.

The idea is to drill down into how the micro plastics end up filtering into the oceans, onto the seabed and onto the coastline, she told Sky News.

"A lot of what we were doing this year was really trying to understand the chemistry of the plastics, that can then help inform where those plastics come from.

"Because this soup of microplastic fragments can be very anonymous, it doesn't sort of have a brand label necessarily on it."

There are 5 trillion micro plastics floating on the ocean's surface.

Ms Penn said a greater sense of community comes from a shared understanding of the plastic pollution issue.

She said the problem is not down to one nation to solve.

"We all share one ocean, and it connects us all, wherever we live on the planet, we're connected literally from the Thames to that little uninhabited island in the middle of the Caribbean, and it makes us realise how much of a multinational issue this is."

The eXXpedition voyage was cut short in April 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but research continued back on UK soil.

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