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.

From Finance to Photography

So it’s been two weeks of posts, featuring both personal and professional highlights of my life. I now want to share some events that led me to become a photographer and my need to come out of my (dis)comfort zone.

The year was 1997. I had already spent four years in the financial sector, and had been in photography for nearly ten years.  How’d I end-up in finance? Well, after high school I took two years off and ended up working in a commercial bank. After leaving university I couldn’t find work in my field, so in 1993 my former boss called me back in. By the summer of 1997 I was a 28 year old operations manager at the bank’s stockbroking firm, in charge of money market operations. Interest rates in fixed income securities were at an all-time high (50% p.a.) and everyday was crazy and chaotic with new investors looking for new investments. And I oversaw all of that – deadlines, deals, trades, securities, and making sure that every aspect of these multi-million dollar transactions was neatly tied-up. If I messed up….thank God I never found out what the consequences were.

How did I feel about the job? When I was offered the position in 1996 I got a buzz, eager to meet a new challenge. I was a licenced investment advisor, having successfully passed the Jamaican Securities Course, and the position came with all the perks – allowances and company car.  However, one year into the job, I just wasn’t feeling it anymore. Early mornings and late hours at my desk resulted in me acquiring the complexion of the wall. When I parked my car in the morning, I sat for minutes, waiting for the chest pains to subside before I trudged upstairs to my office. I had to get out…but where to?

Les Pitons, Soufriere, St. Lucia

While working in finance over the years, I had managed to squeeze out time for photography and writing travel articles for SkyWritings and UNFOLD magazine. The former was the in-flight magazine for the now-defunct Air Jamaica, and UNFOLD magazine was a Caribbean magazine based in New York. So I started thinking….could I possibly? The turning point was a week in November that was spent in St. Lucia for SkyWritings. The first day there – hiking and photographing along the south coast near Vieux Fort – I knew that this was what I had to do with my life.

Thinking about leaving the security of a job in the finance industry and actually doing it, is a process. Another key moment was a lunch-time talk with a dear friend, Marcelle Smart in early 1998. I told her how I felt about my job, shared my thoughts about my future and told her that I didn’t want to live with regrets. She told me to just do it – leave and pursue photography. That talk accelerated the process of leaving finance for photography. 

At this time, my Christian faith wasn’t was it used to be, or what it is now. However with such a major decision, I knew that divine guidance was required. So I prayed and prayed. It was another few months before I resigned, leading to another chapter of my life, filled with multiple challenges…..but that’s for another time.