Ramblings of an Island Girl

A wake up call for the Caribbean (and the world)

I recently visited Aruba and was amazed by the big steps the island has made towards protecting its unique and interesting eco-system and marine life. Aruba seems to be on the fast track to becoming one of the greenest and most eco-fabulous destinations in the Caribbean even though according to many locals there the island has yet a long way to go.

But for me, coming from the former sister island to Aruba and fellow ex-colony of the Netherlands, St. Maarten, where single use plastic still reigns as king, I stand in awe of the advancements that Aruba has made.

This One Happy Island, as it is referred to in its marketing campaigns, has recently banned all use, sale and production of single-use plastic items on the island, from single use plastic bags, cups, utensils, straws to Styrofoam containers. One can now order a meal for take out and walk away completely guilt free with your food in containers made of much less hazardous material to the environment like cardboard. Plastic straws at bars and restaurants have been replaced with straws made out of paper, wheat, bamboo and even pasta.

Along with the ban on single use plastic also came the ban on sunscreen containing Oxybenzone, which is the lead toxin responsible for the irreparable damages caused to coral everywhere, the diminishing marine life and also certain human skin conditions.

I was amazed by the Aruban government’s determination to make the island nation into a green super power and in so doing, set an example of good behavior for the rest of the Caribbean.

It left me wondering: “If they can do it, why can’t the rest of us?” It made me think of my own personal practices and attempts on my island home St. Maarten, no matter how feeble and little. I only use reusable water bottles instead of plastic, I say no to plastic bags, cups and straws. In my bag along with my wallet are my other must-have items: a reusable water bottle, reusable rum cup (because you never know when you’ll get a last minute invitation to happy hour), bamboo straw, metal straw and a pouch of silver utensils in case I find myself unexpectedly getting takeout. Sometimes I’ll have a lunch box with me as well. People look at me funny when I ask for my order to be packed in my lunch box instead of a Styrofoam container. I hear the occasional snickers behind my back and I ignore the odd looks and rude commentaries. At the grocery store I frequent I am known as the “No Plastic Lady” and my friends and family give the usual grunt whenever I remind them of the harms they are causing by taking a drink that is served in a plastic cup. My husband is about to divorce me because of the many arguments we have whenever he stops at the store to get some last minute items and he packs them in a (Gasp) plastic bag – the Horror!”

Aside from some of my friends who have finally started to see the impact they have on the incredible waste produced on the island, most people just seem immune or uncaring. Our islands have such fragile eco systems and all we seem to care about is securing our groceries by double bagging and making sure we can continue the happy hour fun by asking for a to go cup, which we then unceremoniously dump onto landfills that are overflowing and where methane gas bubbles are threatening to explode us into the next century.

Yes, we all love to complain about our local dumps and landfills, especially when something disastrous happens that makes us realize how it can easily negatively affect our bread and butter called tourism. Yet, we never stop to think that WE are the biggest contributors to these minor disasters. Why look in the mirror when you can always blame government and keep purchasing and use plastic because it is much cheaper and thus better for business (read: more money) than the better and healthier alternative?

We, Caribbean people can do better. We can follow the examples of islands such as Aruba, the BVI, the Bahamas, Barbados, Grenada and a few more.

Our need to waste is getting out of hand and our Caribbean stubbornness is standing in the way of change. Nobody likes change. I’m the first one to complain but I think also that in the Caribbean we don’t only not like change, we stubbornly fight against it, only welcoming it when it makes our lives so much easier or richer in money, possessions and assets.

Our priorities are a little screwed up and that’s a pity because we can do so much better, achieve such greatness, even as smaller nations. Just like we are fast to copy our neighbor’s idea of a food truck or rum shack, why not copy businesses that use other alternatives to plastic? Why not make our own reef safe sunscreen? Why not purchase and use our own reusable water bottles, rum cups, metal straws, fabric bags and lunch boxes? These tems are not just a trend, they are pat of a new lifestyle that if all of us partake in, will be so easy to adapt to.

Our eco system is unique but also delicate. It needs to be protected not only by our government but mostly by you, me, all of us.

It won’t be hurricanes or volcanoes that will be the end of us but our own stubbornness and our own neglect to protect our environment.

You can also keep our islands’ environment safe by adjusting how you travel here without having to make drastic changes in how you have gotten used to travel. Let’s start with the basics:

  • Only use reef-safe sunscreen when in the Caribbean (and everywhere else for that matter)
  • Bring and use a reusable water bottles or purchase one here instead of depending solely on plastic water bottles for your daily water intake. Most islands’ tap water is completely safe to drink and is even deliciously fresh tasting.
  • Use your water bottle or purchase a reusable wine cup or rum cup as well as a metal or bamboo straw for happy hour.
  • Walk with your own shopping bag and say no to plastic bags at grocery stores. Actually, while you’re at it, say no to plastic cups and straws and Styrofoam containers as well.
  • Buy locally instead of bringing in products from your home country that will no doubt end up in our garbage and thus add to our overflowing dumps.

And last but certainly not least and definitely as powerful in helping our planet: Stop visiting zoos, dolphinariums or other attractions where you get up close with wild animals. A wild animal forced to entertain you is not a happy animal and much harm has been done in the capture and breaking in of that animal. Dolphins are ripped from their mothers’ dead carcasses, flamingos are getting their wings clipped, monkeys are held in deplorable conditions just to make their captors money and then be killed when they are no longer of use. You are the only one that can stop the unfair treatment of animals by caring and by not visiting, attending or promoting places that use animals as an attraction. This will only stop when the demand diminishes.

Together we can make a difference. Surely I am not naïve in believing this overused quote, right? I refuse to think that my little rant here will not affect a single person reading this. If it has, and I was able t open your eyes wide enough for you to at least question how you could be a more responsible human, I have done my part. Let me know your thoughts, comments and questions by sending me an email to [email protected]