Oceans Good – Pollution Bad

Keeping it clean…

While it’s not the only thing poisoning our oceans, it’s one of the biggest threats of our generation – Plastic. It’s imperative that we stop dumping plastic into the world’s oceans. Just take a quick tour around the internet. The research and facts are overwhelming. The images are disturbing.

Here in Sint Maarten, the problem is very noticeable. Our lagoon fills up with plastic refuse washed down from the land after each rainfall. The accumulated plastic waste eventually finds it’s way out into the open ocean. With perhaps a very few exceptions, the wholesale and retail outlets on our island churn out tonnes of cheap, plastic packaging and consumables (bags, plates, foam food containers, etc) every day. Even if we all do our part and dispose of these consumables responsibly, invariably, much of the resulting garbage will end up blowing around the island and ultimately find its way into the ocean.

What can we do?

We can come up with all sorts of plans and actions to deal with the outcome of the problem but in this instance, eradicating the source of the problem is the only way to deal with it.

At Coconut Reef, one way that we are attempting to eradicate the problem is by reducing our dependence on single use consumables. We are looking at everything we take on our boats and evaluating all possible options to replace any single use consumable with longer term materials. For those items that we cannot readily replace, we are evaluating methods to ensure that every ounce of disposable material that leaves our docks is still on our boat when we return at the end of the day. Our boat crew are trained to be vigilant and ensure that nothing gets left behind at every location we visit. When we get underway, we leave nothing to chance and ensure that all garbage is secured and not likely to be blown overboard.

We are working on alternatives to some of the common consumables we carry on our tours. Our philosophy is based on the following principles…

  1. We prefer alternatives to plastic. However, if we can’t find a viable alternative material, then plastic we use 10 times is 10 times better than plastic we use once.
  2. Disposing of materials, even biodegradable/compostible materials, is not just as simple as putting something in a garbage bag and waiting for someone to pick it up. We also have to consider if the island’s infrastructure is able to dispose of the materials safely and efficiently.
  3. Durability. The marine environment shows no mercy and neither do hardcore snorkelers looking to get the most out their day on the water. Whatever alternatives we choose have to be hard-wearing and able to stand the tough demands of wind, waves and fin-wearing humans in vacation mode.
  4. Hygienic. Whichever material we use must be able to be easily cleaned and disinfected for subsequent re-use.
  5. Cost-effective.

Some of the ways we are trying to clean up our act are..

  • Plastic Cups & Water Bottles
    • Effective immediately, we are eradicating the use plastic cups and water bottles.
    • We have spent considerable time researching the best, viable option for re-usable water containers for use on our tours. Our initial research considered 3 different materials for re-usable water bottles. After weighing up all the options, we ultimately decided on fold-able, silicone water bottles. If you care to second-guess, err, review why, you can read all the gory details below…
      • BPA-free plastic – these are cheap and in plentiful supply. However, they are still plastic. Difficult to dispose of and not all that durable. After 3 or 4 uses the lids on these containers start to look a little old, tattered and not very inviting to drink out of.
      • Stainless Steel – Our first option was stainless steel water bottles. At first this seemed like an excellent alternative, however, the standard stainless steel in general circulation is 18/8 or 304 grade stainless steel. This grade is often called ‘food-grade’ stainless steel due its’ prevalent use in the food industry. The problem with 304 grade S/S is that it corrodes in the marine environment. The next best option is 316 grade SS which is actually salt-resistant. A much better option but ultimately, not cost effective. Also, this material is too durable. More durable than the finish on our boats or the softness of the average passenger toe.
      • Silicone – a new player on the market and has a few options we like. It is soft – so soft and flexible you can actually roll it up when not in use, durable and hygienic. We don’t like the fact that it is difficult to dispose of but this is offset by the anticipated amount of re-use we anticipate we can get. Old silicone can be shipped off-island for re-cycling and reclamation.
  • Plastic plates and utensils
    • We are replacing plastic plates and utensils with products made from alternative materials such as reclaimed, fallen palm leaves.
  • Aluminium Cans
    • Unfortunately, single-use aluminium cans of soda/beer are a fact of life on small boats such as those that we operate. The simple fact is that there is no better option for providing single-serve portions of beer and sodas. The only way we can mitigate the usage and disposal of these containers is to ensure that our crew remain vigilant to ensure that every can handed out finds its way back into the trash that we collect on-board and returned to shore.
  • Garbage Disposal
    • We recycle. When we get back from a tour, all recyclable garbage is separated and disposed of appropriately.
    • We would love to say the same for our organic waste. Unfortunately, at this time, Sint Maarten is not really setup to handle compost vs inorganic waste. If it were we would also employ compostible garbage bags. Until such time that the island’s infrastructure can handle it, we must resort to using plastic garbage bags for anything other than recyclable materials.
  • Engine Emmissions
    • We operate boats using gasoline engines. At this time it is the only viable, efficient method of transport available to us.
    • We mitigate the use of gas engines by…
      • ensuring that our engines are always running at peak efficiency to keep emissions at minimal levels and ensure that we are not leaking harmful chemicals into the water. When we do any kind of maintenance on our engines or our boats, we ensure that they are out of the water so there is no possibility that harmful substances are leaking into the sea.
      • minimizing idle times when we approach or depart our destinations
      • cruise at optimal speeds for maximum fuel efficiency.
      • track fuel efficiency on a daily basis
    • We are also currently investigating several fuel and oil additives to increase engine efficiency.

References

  1. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/plastic-waste-oceans_us_58fed37be4b0c46f0781d426
  2. https://oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/plastics-in-the-ocean/
  3. http://plastic-pollution.org/