photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

“I brought my kids with me today because I want to teach them to be responsible and be proactive in contributing to their society” explains Selene Derby, a volunteer at a beach cleanup, held on Sunday by The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation.

The cleanup was organized in collaboration with Save Our Sharks and Boskalis Beach Cleanup Tour. The annual cleanup started in 2013 in the Netherlands with the aim of cleaning up the country’s North Sea Coast. This year, for the first time, the Dutch Caribbean islands are also taking part.

Laura Bijnsdorp was on the beach with the volunteers

Melanie Meijer Zu-Schlochtern, project manager at the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation stressed the importance of events like these: “We must all be aware that as an island our garbage ends up on our beaches and in our ocean. This can have an effect on our marine life, the tourism industry and our own health.”

The situation

Last year, on September 18th over 300 volunteers assisted in the local leg of the International Coastal Cleanup, which took place at Nettle Bay Saint Martin. In just a few hours volunteers collected 89 trash bags totalling 1184 pounds.

“I think there is a disregard for the environment by residents and visitors alike on the island” shares Jordan Black, a frequent visitor from New York who strolled past the cleanup.

Meijer Zu-Schlochtern: “We do not have a proper waste management system on the island and people need to become more educated on their environment and the repercussions of pollution.”

The consequences

Most of the trash found during the beach cleanup was made of plastic. “Garbage, such as plastic is especially harmful to sea turtles, sea birds, coral and fish that can choke or be smothered, and as a result, harmed or killed,” Tadzio Bervoets, director of the Sint Maarten Nature Foundation reminded volunteers at the briefing of the cleanup.

 Meijer Zu-Schlochtern: “Studies now indicate that over 50% of fish in our oceans contain plastic, which is obviously a health hazard.” Black noted: “Trash is not a tourist attraction”.

The solution

To tackle the ‘trash’ issue, besides organizing frequent clean-ups The Sint Maarten Nature Foundation recently presented President of Parliament, Sarah Wescot-Williams documents outlining the steps necessary to have Sint Maarten move towards a ban on single-use plastic bags. The documents included results of the Nature Foundation petition calling for Government to find an immediate solution to the situation at the dump in the Great Salt Pond, which over 1800 residents signed.

Meijer Zu-Schlochtern: “Government needs to make ‘proper waste management’ a priority, the current ‘dump’ situation is unacceptable. As a society, we also need to each take individual responsibility for the issue at hand and do our own part.

“I think participation events like these are important if you want to be part of a community.” Says volunteer Camille Ferarri, who moved to Sint Maarten seven months ago.

Many volunteers also brought their kids out to the cleanup. “We need to educate the youth on our environment and the importance of protecting it” states volunteer Evert Dekker, a teacher at Milton Peters College. His colleague Derrick de Ruiter adds: “Schools on the island are organizing cleanup-events more and more frequently, which is great!”

“We also need to get businesses involved; I think that would help in targeting an adult crowd, to get new faces involved in initiatives like this beach cleanup,” Derby advises.