Our island has been trashed

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A fresh wave of stinky sargassum has rolled ashore with an extraordinary amount of plastic garbage. Where did it come from?
A fresh wave of stinky sargassum has rolled ashore with an extraordinary amount of plastic garbage. Where did it come from?

Shortly after the torrential storms passed across Ambergris Caye, an invasion of another sort was unleashed upon us: Trash.

Oh I know, we’re always complaining about the volumes of trash on the island but this is different.

A fresh wave of stinky sargassum has rolled ashore with an extraordinary amount of plastic garbage.
A fresh wave of stinky sargassum has rolled ashore with an extraordinary amount of plastic garbage.

Tons of floating plastic bottles and plates and shoes and buckets and old balls have floated onto shore atop a fresh bed of stinky sargassum. I know this long ugly line of trash extends, at least, from Tres Cocos area north of the bridge (where these pictures were taken to at least Caribbean Villas to the south. Maybe farther in both directions. Could be even more widespread. This is only where I have witnessed it.

It is as if a barge full of trash tipped over in the storms  on the other side of the reef — and what didn’t sink, floated to shore.

I really don’t know where it is coming from but my heart is breaking for our island.

A fresh wave of stinky sargassum has rolled ashore with an extraordinary amount of plastic garbage.
A fresh wave of stinky sargassum has rolled ashore with an extraordinary amount of plastic garbage.

The sargassum is back with a vengeance and now this wave of plastic riding atop it. At 5 p.m. on Monday my friend Rene was still shoveling sargassum and plastic from one of the worst spots, in Tres Cocos.

I’ve never seen a more discouraged look on a man’s face.

And he’s not alone.

Anyone have any idea what happened?

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15 thoughts on “Our island has been trashed

    tacogirl said:
    October 26, 2015 at 8:15 pm

    I noticed it too, very sad. Have you tried looking at any lables on pieces that are washed up on the beach? We did that down south before and found that some of it was clearly from other countries. Sadly a lot of it was our own too.

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    J & K Burke said:
    October 26, 2015 at 8:18 pm

    Don’t know what the garbage and bottles are from Robert, but we saw it on Saturday night when we walked home along the beach. It was the worst we have seen, I think around the Yacht Club. We don’t have the garbage or (thank goodness) the sargussum yet down here at Royal Palm Villas.

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    Janet B. said:
    October 26, 2015 at 8:22 pm

    Not much too sargassum but lots of trash floating in down south. No labels on any of the plastic bottles so who knows where it came from….an ugly addition to our paradise island.

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    Susan W. said:
    October 26, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    This is so disheartening and sad. Should be a sure fire way to drive home how important recycling is. Just breaks my heart. I hate plastic more and more. Let’s go back to paper and glass!

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    Hillary said:
    October 27, 2015 at 6:28 am

    Oh Uncle Bob, how sad! Thank you for bringing it to our attention. How long do you think it will take to clean and get back to the peaceful paradise? Wish we lived closer, we’d be happy to join a beach cleanup.

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 27, 2015 at 11:13 am

      First, we need some good old fashioned Trash Forensics to figure out where this stuff is coming from. It will take a long time to clean up as there is no uniform coastal cleanup program.With the exception of downtown, it is mostly individuals taking care of their own property and some of those properties have long-absent owners.
      Right now we’re dealing with trash on several fronts:
      1. The mysterious invasion from the sea.
      2. The casual roadside littering that is a culturally accepted behavior.
      3. The commercial dumping into vacant lots and waterways by builders, junk haulers and others.

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    Dave Tansik said:
    October 27, 2015 at 9:17 am

    A long time ago (10 or so years) on a dive trip to Cozumel I took a drive around the island. The ‘big’ town, San Pedro, is on the west side. The east side of the island is mostly undeveloped. On the beaches of the east side, for miles, was more trash (mostly plastic bottles and other such junk) than I had ever before seen on a beach. Indeed, to this day I have never seen anything else like that anywhere else! Coz and Ambergris are not that far apart. And, we’re talking about beaches facing east. Is this stuff trash from other islands? Or, from cruise ships? In any case, this stuff seems to be floating east to west in the Caribbean. And, at the west end of the Caribbean you find Cozumel and Belize. Is this happening elsewhere on the west side of the Caribbean?

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      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 27, 2015 at 11:05 am

      Good questions, Dave. I know the sargassum seaweed invasion has hit islands all over the Caribbean this year, some much worse than here on Ambergris Caye. There was a report of a second oceanic gyre discovered south of the Sargasso Sea. This one is said to be between Africa and the top of South America. It is possible that recent storms shook loos floating trash and sent it westward toward us.
      This is pure speculation on my part.
      As for the cruise ships, in the busiest weeks of high season up to 12 ships a week will pass close to the island en route to Belize City. We can see their twinkling lights at night. I have been told by residents and beachside business owners that the day after the ships pass a distint line of trash can be seen floating in from the reef. I can’t get my head around an industry that would despoil its own playground with trash like that. I don’t know if they still do this or if this is a tale from the bad old days.
      Keeping the coast of Ambergris Caye clean is a difficult job. We lack the wide sweeping beaches that can be raked and groomed mechanically. Here the coast is broken up, plot by plot. Some have retaining walls. Some have small beaches. Some have no beach at all and from waterfront plot-to plot, the coast is impassable to all but bicyclists and pedestrians. This makes beach cleaning the task of a handful of people with rakes and wheelbarrows.
      Needless to say, the west side of Ambergris with its clean sandy beaches, shallow and sandy bottom and almost complete lack of development is growing popular with locals and expats.

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    SPmQQse said:
    October 27, 2015 at 11:22 am

    some ,come from tour ships…most from around the world.

    i used to collect medical waste [to protect the kids] that was tangled in the seagrass…bottles of expired medicine….suringes, with needles…and other medical garbage…up to 8 suringes a day…almost every day…
    .from rubies hotel to palapa bar, for aprox 10 years.

    blame mankind and ocean/sea currents, for the trash.

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    Wilma said:
    October 29, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Bob – it is so disheartening. Check out my blog post from the Toledo District south of Placencia from November last year. https://southenglishtown.blogspot.com/2014/11/relentless.html
    The trash seemed to have washed out of rivers from Guatemala and Honduras to our south and gotten caught up in the Sargassum that was headed our way. I hope we don’t get it again.

    Liked by 1 person

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 29, 2015 at 5:59 pm

      That was an incredible amount of trash, Wilma. It is heartbreaking because we have no control over it. It just comes in when it does and washes ashore. I wonder if trash from Honduras and Guatemala could reach up here to Ambergris Caye. I wouldn’t be surprised if trash from Mexico and Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti and Dominican Republic wash up here with the westbound winds …. Thanks for sharing your photos. Hope you don’t experience that much trash ever again!

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    Dennis O'Kane said:
    October 29, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    To get an idea of where the plastic trash is coming from, go to http://adrift.org.au . They have mapped out the currents in the oceans and where trash originates and where it ends up. On the map page, click on the tab button that says Plastic Origins. Then select Backwards in Time because you want to know where the trash originated back in time. Use the cursor (hand) to place your rubber duckie approximately where Ambergris Caye is located on the map and watch what happens. The trash, other than what could be released locally from ships at sea, originates between the West coast of Africa and the North coast of South America. Coincidentally, this overlaps with the newly discovered second Sargasso Sea. When there are strong east winds, there could be trash and Sargassum seaweed washing up.

    Another website that tracks sargassum seaweed is: http://seas-forecast.com/Pages/Forecast.php . The stations of interest are: Barbados East and West (assessing the North Equatorial Current), and the Yucatan Passage (north of Anbergris). There is sargassum along the Yucatan Peninsula now, but nothing at Barbados West which is encouraging for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      October 29, 2015 at 6:08 pm

      Dennis, thank you. These are pretty cool tracking tools. Much appreciated.

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        Dennis O'Kane said:
        October 29, 2015 at 7:37 pm

        Wilma Lingle , my wife who commented above, discovered the SEA site , I found Adrift, and together they help a bit in estimating what may transpire several weeks to a few months later on. The seaweed and trash incursions are very disheartening to us. The El Nino east winds have not helped this year.

        Liked by 1 person

    Conch rescue said:
    August 9, 2016 at 6:08 pm

    Am reading through your entire blog. Thank you for the excellent writing. Based on the timing of your trash invasion, I would give some thought to hurricane Joaquin which tore through several islands in the Bahamas. As someone else mentioned, if you are on the windward side of most any island, you will see lots of plastic trash washed up on any unmanicured beach.

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