Trashing the Caribbean

27 April 2009 By Joanne MacKenzie

As the big yachts leave the Caribbean cruising grounds at the end of the season, are they leaving a trail of garbage – biodegradable or otherwise – in their wake?

The average yacht generates a lot of garbage. One chef says it was a big problem during recent charters she did in the Caribbean on a 115-foot motor yacht.

When she joined the boat, there was a large open bin in the galley marked “wet garbage”. The boat was docked at a marina in the U.S. Virgin Islands that requires crew to separate their wet garbage, which basically consists of biodegradable food waste, and dispose of it in designated clear bags. When the bag is full, a marina employee inspects it and charges accordingly.

All well and good, but after leaving the marina, the chef was told that they would continue using the open bin for food scraps rather than mix them in with the regular garbage. “I’ll just throw it overboard later,” the stew said. “We have to do it this way because [the engineer] says it gets too smelly if it’s kept in the locker too long.”

While the boat was anchored off the U.S. National Park on St. John, the deckhand waited until after dark, collected the wet garbage and threw it overboard. The chef asked him why they didn’t just drop the bags ashore instead of throwing garbage overboard. “The last time we did a garbage drop, they charged us twenty-five dollars. It’s mostly just food. It should break down,” he said.

Later, the yacht anchored in the British Virgin Islands, in Virgin Gorda’s North Sound. At The Bitter End Yacht Club, you drop your garbage in their bin and leave two dollars’ courtesy handling fee. But when the crew dropped off three bags of garbage, they didn’t pay the drop fee. “I asked why not, and they said they would get it the next time,” the chef says.

Steve Prosterman, the dive officer for the University of the Virgin Islands, also heads up a moorings project to protect fragile reef systems in the area. He’s not surprised by the attitude of visiting captains and crews. “There is a problem with a lot of chartered yacht crew and their disregard for local laws and feelings since they are not a part of the local community and only seem to really care about their guests and boss and not the environment,” he says.

Prosterman reports that the negative impact of sea pollution on the local environment is well documented. The sediment and pollution from boats causes excessive damage to the coral reefs and water quality and is the major reason for the decline in fish populations.

There are strict international rules regarding dumping at sea for all vessels, whether in U.S. or international waters. “The bottom line [is],” he says, “you can’t dump anything within three miles of land.”

Prosterman say the key to preserving the marine environment is self-regulation...and that means not quietly throwing food waste overboard after dark.