As anyone who has been to our island in Belize knows, there is an obvious problem with plastic garbage that drifts and washes up on our beach, and indeed on all islands in the country. Left uncleaned, the shorelines of all coastal areas in Belize soon look like a landfill of plastic, several feet deep. It is truly astounding how much of this garbage drifts in. Although we constantly clean the shoreline on our end of the island, we are often unable to keep up with cleaning the shore of the west end, which is uninhabited. Consequently, one can sometimes see the extreme amount of plastic debris that collects there. Picture all of the uninhabited islands and coastal shorelines of Belize looking like this, and you can start to understand the magnitude of this problem. We have definitely noticed a huge increase in the amount of plastic garbage in the past 5 years!
To deal with this issue we hold trash pick-up contests about 3 times a year. No one is required to participate, but everyone usually does as this is a surprisingly fun event. We offer fabulous prizes for the Most Artistic Trash Item, the Weirdest Trash Item, and the Most Useful Trash Item, as well as a grand prize for volume. I have to thank all of our guests over the years who have helped us to keep the other end of the island relatively debris-free. We couldn’t do it without them, we are too busy teaching surf kayaking and kiteboarding! Here are a few photos of the trash pick-up contest. The first two are guests lobbying for their special items.
Belize’s particular problem lies in the fact that the Bay of Honduras contains an oceanic current gyre, or eddie, which prevents the collected plastic from moving out of the region. That, combined with the Central American cultural habit of disposing of trash out the back door, or better yet into a river, creates a never ending and increasingly growing amount of plastic trash floating into Belize’s territorial waters.
We were reminded to write about this topic thanks to a fantastic New York Times article on this same subject.