Volunteers, organized by EPIC, have removed hundreds of pounds of garbage from offshore islands in the Grenadines. Trash was primarily made of plastic, such as water bottles and other single use items, pieces of fishing nets, ropes, or foam. On one single island volunteers collected 28 large garbage bags during a coastal cleanup in January 2021. At the same time on another island, volunteers gathered 1,174 plastic bottles and 165 shoes.
These coastal cleanups are part of EPIC’s and the community’s commitment to reducing man-made threats to seabirds and other marine and island biodiversity, within the transboundary nations of St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. Over several years coastal litter cleanups have been sponsored on several uninhabited seabird breeding islands including Mabouya, White, Sandy, and Petit Rameau.
Unfortunately, the efforts so far have only skimmed the surface of the problem. While main islands where people live have been receiving enhanced attention to marine litter on their shores in recent years, it continues to pile up on offshore islands where it either washes up or is carelessly left behind by persons who visit these islands. On the islands frequented by people for recreation, such as barbeques and daytrips, litter typically included glass bottles, food cans, cling film, plastic utensils, Styrofoam containers and plastic wrappers.
The main purpose of the cleanups is to protect the regionally and globally significant seabird nesting colonies that can be found throughout the transboundary Grenadine islands and endangered wildlife, such as the critically endangered hawksbill and vulnerable leatherback sea turtles. Many species of seabirds and all species of sea turtles are known to accidentally ingest and become entangled in marine litter, which can lead to injury and even death.
Seabirds and sea turtles are among the most threatened wildlife groups on earth and difficult to protect due to their wide-ranging behavior and use of remote areas. Global seabird decline is estimated at more than 70% over the past 70 years, while the loss in tropical regions, such as the Grenadines, is believed to be much higher. Of the seven sea turtle species worldwide, six are currently listed as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered. In the Grenadines, seabirds and sea turtles face many threats, including illegal harvesting, by-catch in fishing nets, habitat destruction through development, the negative impacts of invasive mammals such as mongooses and rats, and natural hazards. Pollution, mainly marine debris, is increasingly being encountered in our oceans and on many of the remote Grenadine islands, which forces seabirds and sea turtles to nest among trash. The Brown Noddy seabird was also recently observed in the Grenadines incorporating plastic into nests.
Activities are being conducted in coordination with the Grenadines Seabird Guardians, a local group of citizen-scientists trained and mobilized by EPIC to monitor seabird colonies and reduce threats to wildlife at remote, uninhabited islands. Volunteer organizations that helped at most cleanups included Kipaji Inc. (Carriacou), Dr. Carter Vet (Grenada), Carriacou Animal Hospital (Carriacou), Tobago Cays Marine Park (Union Island) and Sustainable Grenadines Inc. (Union Island). EPIC and Ocean Spirits thank our local volunteers and the Grenadines Seabird Guardians, supporters, and friends for helping to reduce this and other threats through their continued commitment to conserving seabirds, sea turtles and their offshore island homes.