TUESDAY (JUNE 5) was UN World Environment Day with the theme, “Beat Plastic Pollution. If you can’t reuse it, refuse it.”
Coincidentally, this day fell just after two holidays in Trinidad, days on which large numbers of people traditionally head for the beach. They were glorious days with bodies yearning for water and a sea bath. I felt that pull and together with family headed for Balandra.
The drive to Balandra from Arima is exquisite with its rambling dark shaded woodlands and curvaceous roads, almost sensual and certainly sensuous in their appeal.
Valencia breezes caressed us and as we stopped to buy honey we talked of the differences in the colour of the contents of bottles lined up on roadside stalls; differences we are told caused by the kinds of nectar and pollen fed on by the bees. Trinidad honey is distinctive in taste and further more is good for keeping allergies at bay (or so I have been told).
Our driver was on the lookout for homemade ice cream, something we always anticipate on these drives: homemade soursop or coconut or peanut or barbadine. No disappointment there. Satiated with sugar and the flavours that make up memories of a place we drove on with windows wide open.
The broken patches of road, caused, I am told, by heavy machinery from quarries, did nothing to stem our enthusiasm; even the piece of road that had collapsed did nothing to deter us.
We passed crowds at the river in Salybia. The music was loud and inviting through the open car windows. Some one said, “fete start.”
The drive ended as usual with a reverse turn since there is no signpost directing bathers to the beach. And then it all fell apart. The dirt. The pure filth. We actually hesitated to get out of the car after that long drive. Never have I seen this beach so covered in debris. Plastic bottles. Wrapping papers in all their plastic glitter. Plastic straws and plastic bags. Cans. Bottles from fetes and drinking sessions on the beach. A dead fish or two.
Climbing over the fishing nets we sidestepped rubbish thrown away after a lime. And not a bin in sight! The building that is there is too dilapidated and dirty to encourage anyone to enquire within.
We walked along the waterside and entered tentatively. And as if in protest at its violation the sea threw up arms of seaweed and wound them around our legs.
Balandra is no white-sanded pretty beach, but it is a long treasured sheltered place, popular to communities and families. The water is one of the best for swimming in this island. Yet, despite this, it has gone quite literally to the dogs. Who leaves this mess behind? Not families with children surely. But there were children everywhere swimming and laughing with their mothers and fathers and tanties and grannies.
How is it that in a week in which the world sought to bring attention to the necessity of getting rid of plastic and focused on ways to save our planet from destruction, in particular along our waterways, that this place so close to our turtle beaches could be allowed to be seen as something resembling a garbage dump?
Someone asked loudly where was the community spirit? Another wanted to know where the responsibility for cleaning up and supervising beaches lay. I wonder too. After all, as I write this, I am also listening to a news report on how local communities in Europe have teamed up with county councils and corporations to monitor waterways and devise innovative ways to lessen the use of plastic.
Businesses in several communities across the water have even developed and introduced biodegradable drinking straws. Many countries have banned plastic bags or imposed levies on their use. Several have introduced severe penalties for littering and in particular for not disposing of plastic in appropriate bins.
We can do better than that.
We can certainly do better than this. After all, in our eco-sensitive island with its “exceptional flora and fauna” we surely have a great deal more to lose.