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  • Writer's pictureSarah Miles

Saving our Islands: A Beginner's Guide

There's no beating around the bush. The Caribbean is one of the most gorgeous regions in the world. Whether you're a local or tourist, I'm sure we can all agree that our climate and environment is without a doubt one of our main attractions and biggest draws. For most islands, this natural beauty is in itself a major source of income. You would think if we are so reliant on it for our livelihoods then we should naturally be protecting it....right?

Now hold up. I know that I am only a 20-year-old sociology student trying to find out what I want to do in life and wondering whether or not I should take a chicken breast out of the freezer for dinner. However, in light of the UN's report regarding climate change, the reality of our future that we face in the Caribbean is terrifying. From pollution to rising sea levels, we are the target of various environmental issues that can impact our populations in various aspects. Whether it's economic crises due to declining tourism or loss of property and lives as a result of hazardous flooding during rainy season, we need to be proactive in order to mitigate the onset of these effects. Ultimately, in some way or another, we need change.

What is most disheartening is that many of these issues that we face are not even our fault. They are attributed to decisions made by major corporations and 'developed' nations. While there are so many changes that need to be made on a macro-level, there is also some due reflection on a micro-level. Within our region, we need to also be conscious of the decisions that we make that may contribute to this global crisis.

Our lifestyle choices are impactful no matter how big or small and I'm a huge believer in the philosophy "every mikkle mek a mukkle". Here are some very simple decisions that I make daily that create a positive impact on Jamaica's environment and I would encourage you to consider adopting as well!

Break Up Wid Parrot Fish

Nothing tops a beach day than a fried fish and festival with an unnecessary amount of escoveitch sauce. Growing up, I wasn't particular with which fish I ordered. My dad always asked for snapper so I followed suit. It wasn't until a few years ago, however, when I started seeing an overwhelming amount of parrot fish for sale that I realised how important it was to ask what type of fish was being served.

While we may not realise it, what seems to be a relatively simple food choice is proving to be more and more detrimental to our island's ecosystem. Parrot fish play an integral role in the maintenance of a balanced ecosystem feeding on algae and seaweed and in turn helping to produce the sands of the beaches we adore. Essentially, our practices of overfishing, whether intentional or not, is setting us up for both short-term and long-term negative effects. Our beaches will deteriorate, seaweed will continue to plague the island and most importantly, the survival of the specie itself is increasingly at risk.

If you go to Hellshire to enjoy fish but complain about the lack of beach in comparison to decades ago, listen up. It's time to break up with parrot fish. It's ok, luckily there's plenty of fish in the sea. While I have seen a lot of advocacy online, it's also important to speak about the important of parrot fish in person and vocalise your stance. Whereas I used to just order a fried fish and not think twice, I now ask vendors what type of fish is for sale and start a conversation if they mention parrot fish. If the demand for parrot fish diminishes then its supply will as well.

Parrot fish are beautiful, but I'd rather let them do their thing in the ocean. I think you should too.

Ditch Di Scandal Bag

While the Jamaican government has recently announced its ban on single use plastic (scandal) bags and many other products, including plastic straws and polystyrene, we all know the West Indians have that bag of bags under dem kitchen sink. Even though it is applaudable that we do reuse these bags, they end up polluting our environments at the end of the day. It is always better to opt for reusable bags, whether canvas, jute or cotton. I always like to have one just incase I end up running errands and have no where to put them. There are endless locally made brands, such as Sun Island Jamaica, that have a wide range of products to choose from.

Many single use items, from straws to cutlery, end up in our seas. The worst part? Fish eat this plastic waste and we eat fish. Everything is connect after all. Next time you opt for plastic bag at the supermarket, just think of how good the plastic will taste paired with some escoveitch sauce...

Make Reusable Bottles Your New Bredrin

You get the gist of why plastic is bad right? Reusable bottles are such a huge part of my life in Montreal, I don't go anywhere without one. It has changed my life so much, that I started practicing this in Jamaica when running errands. Everyday in high school, I used to drink two CranWatas. Not only was my poor body begging for mercy but so was the environment.

While I can't speak for people who drink sodas or flavoured drinks (maybe go for boxed drink alternatives), everyone drinks water. So why aren't we travelling with this water? If you're worried about your water getting hot throughout the day, make an investment in well insulated, stainless steel bottles. A Canadian brand to I use and love is Swell. While spending so much money on a bottle feels excessive, it's worth it at the end of the day. The cost of buying plastic bottles not only adds up financially but environmentally.

Participate in Local Thrifting

While this point is bit of a self-promotion, it is for a good cause. Thrifting locally combats fast fashion and extends the lifespan of clothes helps prevent them from being improperly disposed and ending up in landfills. Shopping can be exciting even if clothes are pre-loved - they'll just be 'new' to you!

I was introduced to the thrift scene in Montreal and was so inspired by how many people embraced shopping secondhand. In 2017, my friends and I co-founded Mukkle Thrift, a semi-annual pop-up thrift shop that resells donated clothing and donates proceeds to worthy causes across the island. We have had two pop-ups so far and it is always astonishing to see what amazing pieces are donated. Not only vintage clothing but new pieces with tags!

There are so many new thrift shops appearing on the scene across Jamaica and I would definitely recommend checking them out. My closet is slowly but surely filling up with secondhand pieces and I hope one day to have a wardrobe that consists of 70% thrifted pieces and 30% intentionally bought and sustainably made 'new' pieces.

Call Out Yuh Friends

It's good to make steps toward sustainability, but encouraging your friends to as well is important! The reason I began to hate plastic bottles is because my roommate despises them. She called me out and now using a reusable bottle is part of my lifestyle. Any little impact, is an impact that wasn't there before.

Change is made when people are held accountable. It could be you, a corporation, your aunty, a fish vendor, or that wasteman in front of you in traffic that throws out their KFC big deal box out of their car window. As West Indians, we need to be conscious that our islands are at a huge risk to the effects of climate change and advocate for change from not only our governments but countries and corporations across the world. Adopting sustainable practices is necessary for our survival. If we don't, the changes can and will be detrimental.


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