Sargassum & Solids

Last week I witnessed firsthand what is considered by many as the current bane of Caribbean beaches – sargassum seaweed fighting for space with copious quantities of plastic. We were on our way to Morant Point lighthouse, Jamaica’s easternmost point, when we stopped at Holland Bay Beach. The state of it stopped us in our tracks.

Plastics litter Holland Bay Beach near Morant Point, Jamaica’s easternmost point. May 22, 2019. Sargassum seaweed is visible at the water’s edge and Morant Point Lighthouse is visible in the distance.

The most obvious and disturbing element was the expanse of plastic waste that blanketed the beach from the road to the sea. The only thing that prevented the plastic from entering the water was the barrier of brown algae, known as Sargassum. Although both are an assault on the senses, the fact that one is natural and the other is man-made reflects the different potential solutions to these issues.

Plastic Pollution

Plastic from a foreign land, at Holland Bay Beach.
Plastic among the beach flora at Holland Bay, Jamaica

According to the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP) “pollution from solid waste, and in particular from plastics, has emerged as one of the greatest global challenges”. The CEP adds that “everyday 8,000,000 new solid waste items that become marine litter in our oceans and seas everyday”.

This was evident at Holland Bay, where – at this easternmost point of Jamaica – it was clear that not all of the plastic on the beach originated in Jamaica. This is line with the CEP, who state that in major Caribbean cities “the amount of solid waste collected can be as low as 50% of the total amount generated”. The remainder ends up not just staying in the territory of origin, but it is also carried by the sea to other countries, such as Holland Bay swimming beach in eastern Jamaica.

So what can we do about it? The fact is, we know what to do. Just to remind readers, according to the Caribbean Environment Programme, actions include, ” improve the collection, transport and disposal of solid waste; restrict the importation and use of single-use plastics; promote recycling and re-use; identify more environmentally friendly alternatives to packaging material such as styrofoam, and develop new job opportunities relating to solid waste and plastics management”. However, even if all of actions immediately occurred, the fact is that plastic has a lifespan of 400 years. Yes, life is a beach – especially for plastic.

Big Brown Bucks

Over the past few years, Sargassum has been viewed as an unsightly nuisance, especially if you were looking forward to a pleasurable swim in the crystal clear water of the Caribbean sea. According to Daphne Ewing-Chow, “since 2011, a sargassum seaweed crisis has devastated the Caribbean: tainting beaches, killing marine life and limiting the livelihoods of fisher folk due to an increase in fuel and maintenance costs, impeded efficiency and reduced catch”.

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Back to Basics in St. Bess

I spent the past weekend re-discovering the parish of St. Elizabeth on Jamaica’s south-west coast. It has been nearly ten years since I have explored this very scenic and laid-back part of Jamaica and that weekend we took a much-needed family vacation. Our base was Jake’s Hotel and I was able to introduce the family to Y.S. Falls, Black River, Great Bay and Lover’s Leap. However, for me the most important time spent photographically was sunrise at Calabash Bay on the Sunday morning. It was important because it helped me to re-focus my photography and recapture my passion.

Sunrise over the raised coral reefs at Calabash Bay, St. Elizabeth

Over the past few years, I have not been doing much personal photography. This was due to not having enough time to dedicate on myself and my original passion – outdoor photography. This has had a negative affect on me, so much so that earlier this year my nutritionist told me that I must shoot at least once a week to reduce my stress levels!

Sunrise at Treasure Beach, en route to Calabash Bay.

Decades ago, I used to combine my photography with my love for geography and the conservation of Jamaica’s unique natural heritage. Hiking and exploration was the norm, but due to the demands of teaching and researching, I haven’t done much recently.

Chilling on a sand dune

However, while staring out at the Caribbean Sea (I’ve always loved the sea) as I was warmed by the morning sun, I received a revelation. For the past year I’ve been trying to figure out how to use my research to educate Jamaicans of our natural and cultural heritage. That Sunday morning, it hit me. For my research, I’ll focus on educating Jamaicans about our cultural heritage while for my personal shooting I’ll get back out and explore and hike in Jamaica’s wild places. This will re-ignite my photography, reduce my stress and help to restore my balance. I’ll be sharing the stories on my blog, so watch this space….

Beach house on Calabash Bay, St. Elizabeth.

The Streets of San Miguel

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to spend a week in Mexico, participating in a study tour of 5 universities courtesy of the USAID funded Advance Program. As you can imagine, it was a very intense week, travelling between Mexico City, our base in Queretaro, Aguascalientes and San Miguel de Allende. 

La Parroquia, Church of St. Michael the Archangel.

La Parroquia, Church of St. Michael the Archangel.

It was at the latter location – which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – that we were provided with a half-day breather, which I spent exploring with camera in hand.

A vendor pauses from selling her wares in San Miguel de Allende.

A vendor pauses from selling her wares in San Miguel de Allende.


 A vendor pauses from selling her wares in San Miguel de Allende.

A vendor pauses from selling her wares in San Miguel de Allende.

San Miguel de Allende was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 2008 for two reasons. The first was that it “acted as a melting pot where Spaniards, Creoles and Amerindians exchanged cultural influences”. 

 I think I was able to capture this with photos of two vendors, one selling out in the streets and the other within the shelter of one of the many historical buildings which were converted to souvenir shops. To emphasize this dichotomy, one vendor accepted Visa, while the other accepted only cash. 

Secondly, San Miguel de Allende integrated “different architectural trends and styles on the basis of a 16th century urban layout”. The most famous landmark is the pink, neo-Gothic parish church of San Miguel de Allende (above). The current structure dates to the 18th century, although its origins trace to the 16th century. 

The entrance to Igelsia San Pablo, (St. Paul’s Anglican Church)

The entrance to Igelsia San Pablo, (St. Paul’s Anglican Church)

Outside one of many shops on the streets of in San Miguel de Allende













The challenge was – with just a few hours on a wet afternoon – to capture images that reflect this rich and varied heritage. Whether I was successful or not, one thing is sure – another trip to Mexico is definitely on the cards. 

Twilight on the streets of San Miguel de Allende.

Twilight on the streets of San Miguel de Allende.