By Alex Arebalo
From May 11, 2018
One of our tasks this week has been preparing for the opportunity to present educational outreach material on the effects of plastic and watershed pollution at local schools here in Soufrière and the nearby town of Canaries. This Saturday we will be in Canaries lecturing on the dynamics of the local watersheds in Saint Lucia. Issues such as garbage/sewage pollution, runoff from agriculture, erosion from construction and developmental practices, and tourism will be discussed and related to the consequences associated with a polluted watershed. Because all runoffs eventually dump into the same place, the OCEAN, we will be focusing on the effects pollution has on the marine environment and relating it to the research we are currently conducting. Unsustainable development practices when building resorts and roads may cause erosion that increases sedimentation rates on the coral reefs here, which is one factor contributing to the decline of coral. Additionally, some runoff pollution increases the growth of damaging algae as well as making coral more vulnerable to disease. Loss of coral reefs here creates a reduction in fish populations that disrupts the fishing industry which is heavily relied on by local communities.
Additionally, we will be visiting a few different schools next week to talk about the effects of plastic pollution and possible conservation options. We are working with Nadia Cazaubon, the director of a local nonprofit, Caribbean SEA (Caribbean Student Environmental Alliance), who has been actively involved in conservation efforts in Saint Lucia since 1995. With her direction and guidance, we have prepared lectures and hands-on activities to engage students. There are considerable amounts of plastic pollution here and there are no recycling centers available to the locals at this time. Plastics build up in sewage drains and runoffs clogging the sewage systems and causing flooding. Many plastics also end up in the ocean from the island. In the pictures above you can see the build-up of plastics on the coastline as well as some plastics that were found in our core extractions. Tons of plastic enters the ocean world-wide every day; it can travel thousands of miles via currents. When microplastics are mistaken for food by marine life, it devastates organisms internally and can decrease growth and reproduction rates within a population, which has cascading effects on food webs throughout the ocean including coral reefs. Microplastics are impossible to remove from the ocean so we will focus on ways to reduce plastic use, proper disposal of plastics, and beach and reef clean-ups as conservation efforts. We are ecstatic about interacting with local students and discussing these global issues and how the community here is affected and what can be done.
The authors of this blog are students enrolled in Tropical Marine Ecology and Conservation, field courses run in the Caribbean by the University of South Florida. During these courses, students learn scientific diving techniques over a 10-14 day period and carry out research and monitoring of coral reefs at various sites. Many of these courses are done in partnership with local environmental organizations, like the Union Island Environmental Alliance and the Soufriere Marine Management Association. In this blog, students will document their activities and how they relate to course material.