For this occasion I’ll limit my comments to Roatan since I have something of a history with the place – my first visit being about nine years ago – but the same could equally apply to many of the places I’ve visited – Costa Rica, Jamaica, Turks and Ciacos, the Virgin Islands, Bahamas, Belize and on and on.
I first heard about Roatan in the late Nineties from a friend who told me of an island paradise where you could happily stay in a little cabana for $5 a night and dive your brains out.
He didn’t lie – Roatan is still a bucolic place with its own sense of time. There is little to do there but dive and lay on the beach. The draw was the sheer amount of wildlife. For me it was a revelation. I’d never anything like this quantity before – anywhere. Rivers of Blue Tang’s, French Angels and Rainbow Parrots everywhere. One of the sites is called “Fish Soup” for the utter profusion of fish there. These days it’s more of a thin broth. The cruise ships began docking in Roatan about five years ago and I’ve been back twice in the interim and each time there was a marked fall-off in the numbers of reef inhabitants. Those rivers of fish are just gone. Spotted Eagles and other rays used to be everywhere – in April I saw one! I know they’re shy to begin with but they were just nowhere to be seen.
I’ve wondered too, about polluting bilge water from those ships. Prior to their arrival the largest boat in the archipelago was the ferry that zips twice a day between Roatan and Utila.
Roatan is known for its healthy corals, but I noticed this last time how much less vibrant they seemed to be – much of the colour seemed to have been drained. Bleaching, which was unknown down there, is now commonplace; but that’s true everywhere I’ve been too. Higher temperatures or no, coral is dying everywhere. The soft corals especially have suffered.
There is a funded reef protection plan – each diver is asked to donate to the upkeep and to fund anti-poaching patrols, but these are easily evaded by local fishermen who have found that there is plenty of demand for fish now that the cruise ship passengers flood the West End during peak season.
Many passengers disembark looking to do a day’s diving and I can’t help but feel that much of the damage to the reefs comes from them – they arrive, dive shops have little or no knowledge of their abilities, they dive, then leave. So often I’ve witnessed “divers” who have no buoyancy skills whatsoever in sixty feet of water, trashing the coral and it just makes me furious. Diving itself is becoming deleterious to the very environment we’re down there to enjoy. If you cannot control your altitude you shouldn’t be anywhere near coral – period.
I don’t want to get into a screed about Diving Clubs and their lack of focus on oceanic health but something is clearly wrong with the model that pushes divers very rapidly through training courses before they’re ready. To me every certifying agency needs to have environmental concerns way up front and woven into their very fabric – otherwise we’re going to kill the very thing we all love.
I’m down there trying to make friends (I’ve had so many pranks played on me by fish so don’t tell me they’re stupid and don’t have a sense of humour) and I fear that may not be possible too much longer.
For further reading on the Cruise Ship issue try http://WWW.responsibletravel.Com/copy/how-responsible-are-cruise-liners
Jeff chats to… Paul Cox, CEO of the Shark Trust about the Big Shark Pledge (Watch Video)
The Big Shark Pledge aims to build one of the biggest campaigning communities in the history of shark conservation. To put pressure on governments and fisheries. And make the positive changes required to safeguard awesome sharks and rays.
Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.
Marine Conservation Society to take legal action over ocean sewage spills
The Marine Conservation Society is announcing joining as co-claimant in a legal case against the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to protect English seas from sewage dumping.
The legal case seeks to compel the Government to rewrite its Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan 2022, impose tighter deadlines on water companies and redevelop the Plan to effectively apply to coastal waters which are, currently, almost entirely excluded.
Sandy Luk, Marine Conservation Society CEO: “Untreated sewage is being pumped into our seas for hundreds of thousands of hours each year; putting people, planet and wildlife at risk.
We’ve tried tirelessly to influence the UK Government on what needs to be done, but their Plan to address this deluge of pollution entering our seas is still unacceptable. We owe it to our members, supporters and coastal communities to act, which is why we’ve joined as co-claimants on this case. We’re out of options. Our seas deserve better.”
Launched and funded by the Good Law Project, the Marine Conservation Society will stand as co-claimants on the case with Richard Haward’s Oysters, and surfer and activist, Hugo Tagholm.
Before reaching this point, the charity responded to a government consultation in March 2022 and met with DEFRA to express concern. In August 2022, the charity wrote an open letter to DEFRA outlining the ways in which the proposed Storm Overflow Discharge Reduction Plan fails to protect the environment and public health from dumping raw sewage into the sea. However, the Plan hasn’t been amended and still fails to adequately address water companies’ excessive reliance on storm overflows and the harm their heavy use causes to our ocean.
The plan virtually excludes most coastal waters (except for bathing waters) either directly or indirectly, with some types of Marine Protected Areas and shellfish waters totally excluded. 600 storm overflows are not covered at all by the Plan and will continue to – completely legally – be able to dump uncontrolled amounts of sewage directly into English seas and beaches. What’s more, the Plan lacks all urgency – with long-term targets set for 2050, and the earliest, most urgent targets not to be met until 2035.
Meanwhile, Marine Conservation Society analysis finds that raw sewage is pouring into the ocean at an alarming rate. In total, there are at least 1,651 storm overflows within 1km of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in England. These overflows spilt untreated sewage 41,068 times in 2021. Of these, almost half the overflows spilt more than 10 times in 2021, with an average of 48 spills for each of those overflows. Overall, in 2021, sewage poured into Marine Protected Areas for a total of 263,654 hours.
According to DEFRA’s own latest assessments, only 19% of estuaries and and 45% of coastal waters are at ‘good ecological status’, with none meeting ‘good chemical status’, and three quarters (75%) of shellfish waters failing to meet water quality standards.
Rachel Wyatt, Policy & Advocacy Manager for Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society: “Untreated sewage contains a cocktail of bacteria, viruses, harmful chemicals, and microplastics. It’s nearly impossible to remove microplastics and ‘forever chemicals’ once in the environment. Due to their persistence, with every discharge, these pollutants will continue to increase, meaning eventually they will pass – or may have already passed – a threshold of harm.”
In addition, it’s not just invisible toxins that are causing problems. In September this year at the charity’s annual Great British Beach Clean, sewage related pollution, such as wet wipes and sanitary products, were found on 73% of the beaches surveyed across England.
A new DEFRA report, Ocean Literacy in England and Wales, shows that 85% of people say marine protection is personally important to them. Yet this is being ignored.
Emma Dearnaley, Legal Director at the Good Law Project, said: “The Marine Conservation Society is at the forefront of tackling the ocean emergency and standing up for coastal communities impacted by climate change and pollution. We are delighted to have them on board as a co-claimant.
“Good Law Project will work closely with the claimants, including the Marine Conservation Society, to put forward the case for more ambitious and urgent measures to reduce sewage discharges by water companies. These sewage spills are threatening human health, biodiverse marine life and the fishing industry. We believe that taking legal action now is vital to help safeguard our coastal waters for generations to come”.
If the case is won, the Marine Conservation Society hopes to see the UK Government amend its Plan so that it meets the DEFRA Secretary of State’s legal obligations to protect the ocean and its inhabitants from raw sewage spills.
For more visit the Marine Conservation Society website.
Header image credit: Natasha Ewins
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