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Ocean Pollution in the Caribbean Region


Ocean pollution in the Caribbean region is a threat to the region’s resilience to climate change and has a significant impact on its economy. This environmental menace is prevalent in the Caribbean and Central America. Marine ecosystems are a vital source of food and for livelihoods in the Caribbean countries and Latin America. This is because oceans promote fisheries, shipping, tourism, aquaculture, and energy production. Ocean pollution in the form of chemical energy, plastics, and other various by-products significantly impact fisheries and hamper tourism. Caribbean economies largely depend on fisheries since it is a major source of employment, food security, and income for most local residents. Tourism accounts for up to 50% of GDP in countries like Grenada and up to 15.2% in most Caribbean countries (The World Bank, 2019). Coral reefs are also a significant aspect of biodiversity that appeals to tourists and promotes the tourism industry. All these environmental constructs have been degraded by marine pollution and rising sea temperatures.

A huge amount of plastic shards are also found in most Caribbean waters and constitute up to 80 percent of the total litter in the ocean. The amount of plastic in the Caribbean beaches is way above the global average with an approximate 2014 litter items in each kilometer, as compared to the worldwide average of 573 (Delvalle de Borrero et al., 2020). Studies have shown that tourists prefer cleaner beaches and are willing to pay substantially more for cleaner locations and rarely return to littered vacation beaches. Plastic litter also has significant public health implications only regions since they play host two mosquitoes and other vectors there for perpetuating diseases like zika, chikungunya, and dengue. Entire ecosystems and natural assets in the Caribbean countries depend on oceans and have therefore been undermined by marine pollution. Other common pollutants include oil, gas, agricultural runoff, and sewage. A World Bank report (2019) examined marine pollution in the Caribbean and highlights the significant ecological health and social economic impact of ocean pollutants and gives solutions as the Caribbean region transitions into a blue economy. Solutions towards reducing pollution in the Caribbean region includes implementing legislation against marine pollution, prioritizing waste management, and ensuring awareness on waste control and water quality.

DPSEEA Framework

The Driving Force-Pressure-State-Exposure-Effect-Action (DPSEEA) framework Concept map is a suitable approach for developing environmental health indicators. This enables one to assess, monitor and quantify vulnerabilities and design the required interventions, climate change adaptations, and mitigation activities (Gentry-Shields & Bartram, 2014). The DPSEEA framework enables one to analyze the various factors which motivate the downflow of environmental health in the Caribbean region. The framework gives a descriptive representation of our various driving forces like population growth and human activities exert pressure and affect the state of the environment, the existing exposure and how they impact human health and the actions that can be taken to overcome the challenges.

Driving forces

Economic and social factors largely make up the driving forces for ocean pollution and plastic waste in the Caribbean Sea. Economic activities have led to resource overuse. The World Resources Institute explains that most Caribbean countries do not have the capacity to treat sewage resulting from the high number of debris making up some of the major pollutants in the Caribbean Sea as most sewage is released offshore (Burke & Maidens, 2004). Population pressure has brought about the need for increased human facial activities. Although subsistence fishing may not have much impact, high impact commercial fishing leads to the dumping of pounds of unwanted fish back into the ocean. This threatens various species of whales Birds Turtles and dolphins into Extinction. The impact of human activities has also led to shipping traffic which is the third largest cause of ocean pollution. The noise and oil spillages or 10 negatively impact the ocean ecosystem.


Pressure refers to the push from external factors which impact environmental health. Residential commercial industrial and tourism development has grown considerably in most Caribbean countries in the past 50 years. Extensive infrastructural and commercial developments have occurred without proper planning. This has transformed the landscape of most Caribbean islands and resulted in the degradation of areas of natural habitat.

Ecosystem pressure is evident from their control and enormous growth of tourism in the Caribbean region, especially the construction of Marina hotels and other developments along the white-sand beaches and the coral reefs offshore, resulting in Ocean pollution and other profound impact. There is also environmental pressure due to human activities and waste release due to rapid industrialization.


There are various intentional and unintentional impacts on the state of the environment resulting from ocean pollution. Research conducted on Midway island near Hawaii attributed the death of juvenile albatrosses to plastic pollution where autopsies revealed large chunks of plastic in their stomachs. The research revealed a vortex of current which consolidated colorful plastic debris that was mistaken by adult albatrosses as squids. Sample analysis from water samples collected in late 2019 from the seafloor, the sea and land-based assessments in the Caribbean region identified 18 different polymers of plastic including acrylic, paint flakes, and synthetic fibers (Courteney-Jones, 2021). The Caribbean has the highest concentration go up to 5.09 particles per cubic meter. The release of plastic waste and other products has led to the accumulation of plastic waste in the Caribbean waters. Water samples and land-based assessments in the Caribbean region show high concentrations of plastic particles.


Millions of individuals are directly affected by the exposure to pollutants. Various behavioral and lifestyle activities influence how individuals are exposed to ocean pollution in the Caribbean. The Caribbean consists of coastal fishing Communities living in the small island nations. Such fishing communities live around the coastal shores and are therefore exposed to ocean pollutants. The survival of such a vulnerable population is based on the health of the seas. Taking into account the effects of ocean pollution resulting from industrial waste, plastic hydrocarbons, and chemicals, human health is directly impacted by ocean pollution. Coastal pollution also leads to the release of chemicals in the form of pesticides, agricultural runoff, industrial waste, and human sewage, which contaminates the fish that feed up to 3 billion people. When the toxins are deposited in the human tissue, they can perpetuate long-term health conditions like birth defects and cancer.


The most significant effect is resource depletion. Ocean pollution in the Caribbean has led to a state of degraded marine resources. Excess debris and pollutants in the ocean degrades over the years and uses up oxygen. This leads to low oxygen levels in the ocean and the death of ocean organisms including sharks, whales, dolphins, penguins, and seaweed. Deposits of phosphorus and nitrogen also cause oxygen depletion. This makes parts of the ocean or Dead Zone where marine life and hardly survive. Ocean pollution has increased the threat of disease. Pollutants are a threat to human health since pollutants in the ocean make their way back to humans. Another effect of ocean pollution is increased bird and fish mortality. Small organisms like fish may ingest toxins which are then consumed by human beings and other predators. Oils spills also clog the gills of fish while debris traps birds and destroys their breeding grounds.


There are various actions that can be adopted to ensure a healthy, productive, and resilient Caribbean sea and achieve sustainable blue growth within the Caribbean region. The first step is through changing monitoring of data, strengthening systematic evaluation of pollutants, and stepping up impact assessments & cost quantifications associated with pollution (Sevilla & Le Bail, 2017). There is a need for better monitoring systems, better metrics, and assessments that foster investment and policy reforms. There is also a need to increase funding within different state budgets together for marine pollution prevention as well as strategic national commitments to control waste. The different countries should therefore stop the overflow of waste into options by investing in waste management systems engaging the private sector and upscaling supply chains. Apart from strengthening existing legal and administrative frameworks in the different countries within the Caribbean region, there is a need to improve awareness through capacity building and education about marine pollution, the importance of water quality and also adopting system-wide strategic Investments to control pollution.

DPSEEA Framework concept map

Fig 1.0 DPSEEA Framework concept map

Vulnerable Populations Affected

Given that oceans cover up to two-thirds of the planet, they provide livelihood, food, recreational and cultural value to millions of individuals around the world. Pollution resulting from human activities impact individuals living around water bodies as well as those who directly benefit from the ocean. Ocean pollution is unjust since it impacts heavily on coastal fishing communities, low-income individuals, and populations of most islands. High arctic groups may not even contribute to ocean pollution themselves but are severely affected by the pollution. Some of the populations in Caribbean Island countries utilize the water for everyday use. Some individuals may be vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water as a result of ocean pollution. Immunocompromised persons may be at the risk of infections from polluted water, and they include elderly individuals, infants, those with immune system disorders, individuals with cancer undergoing chemotherapy, and those who have undergone organ transplants.

Apart from the impact of microplastics on marine ecosystems and the reduction in the catches of fishermen, the coastal and island communities are impacted as a result of a decline in tourism which supports their livelihood. This is because plastic debris on the beaches drives tourists away and deprives the island’s middle-income and low-income communities of their primary sources of revenue. This impoverishes those who depend on the tourism economy, and this makes them vulnerable as they will be susceptible to drugs, prostitution, crime, and many other social ills. A 2017 research also explained that chemicals used in plastic making, including Bisphenol A, are carcinogenic and negatively affects the immune system due to endocrine disruption (Seachrist et al., 2017). Children are also at the risk of adverse development with consequences

Gaps in Management and Legislation

Globally, there is an exponential interest in taming the ecotoxicological consequences resulting from microplastics in the environment. Various local regional and transnational initiatives have been adopted to mitigate auction pollution as an environmental disaster. However, there are various gaps in management and legislation and the menace of ocean pollution still persists. Many proposed laws have not been fully applied with existing proposals and regulatory instruments being ineffective.

First, there has been a failure by countries within the Caribbean Sea to fully implement and enforce existing regional and global treaties as well as other measures proposed by competent international organizations. Most flag states have not enforced their duties on the high seas, end members of regional organizations have not adequately implemented and enforced their obligations under existing treaties and arguments. There is also the absence of mechanisms that ensure the implementation of modern conservation principles and the full implementation of general obligations contained in international treaties like the convention on biological diversity, UNCLOS, and the United Nations fish stocks agreement (UNFSA). There is also the absence of modern conservation principles and detailed international rules for various activities. Laws covering actions like unregulated fisheries, emerging activities like aquaculture facilities and operation of floating energy are not well developed.

The law has also failed to lay out specific requirements for modern conservation tools including monitoring and reporting environmental impact assessments, strategic environmental assessments, networks of representative marine protected areas (MPAs), and marine spatial planning. In most Caribbean countries, there is the lack of an effective and uniform compliance and enforcement mechanism at the regional level to control human activities. This leads to the lack of binding legal guidelines that can ensure our integrated coverage at the regional level for biodiversity and fisheries conservation. Existing administrative and governance gaps identified include the lack of an institution that oversees and ensures the application of modern conservation principles as well as management tools to control human activities. There is also the absence of a mechanism to assess the existing uses of oceans as well as the obligations to preserve the Marine environment, manage biodiversity, and ensure environmental consultation. There also lacks effective mechanisms to ensure cooperation and coordination across different sectors, institutions and states as well as the applicable regime to ensure the eatable use of marine genetic resources and bioprospecting procedures.

Key stakeholders

The health of seas and oceans is linked with the health of the planet in general. Many nationalities and almost all individuals globally therefore have a direct relationship with the sea. Almost all marine protected areas combine the need to conserve biodiversity, including the production of marine creatures with other activities that are reliant on the Marine environment and its resources. Non-commercial stakeholders include recreational fishers, local communities, non-governmental organizations, and traditional owners. The prominent commercial stakeholders include shipping and port operators, tourists, commercial fishers, aquaculture and renewable energy sectors, and the military.

Businesses are also other significant stakeholders. This is because businesses have to consider the implications of environmental injustice including plastic and ocean pollution commitments. The private sector plays a critical role in ensuring environmental injustice. Enterprises should therefore lead the war against ocean pollution and the transition away from plastics. Private enterprises should therefore focus their efforts on ensuring a reduction on their environmental impacts since they are producers and consumers of plastics. The current environmental justice issues relating to plastic pollution should be looked into in terms of business responsibility and respect to human rights.

The different states and all the countries that are geographically bound by the Caribbean Sea are also major stakeholders. The wider Caribbean consists of territories and coastal states that are along the Caribbean Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite the different social, economic, cultural and political differences, the countries are major stakeholders since they depend on coastal and marine resources. Caribbean biodiversity is essential as it provides material, water, fishing, subsystems, coastal protection, employment, and well-being to the citizens of these different countries. It is therefore a crucial role for every country to enact the required legislation and implement necessary policies to safeguard the Caribbean.

Learning Journal

Ocean Pollution in the Caribbean region is a salient issue that has been looked into by various scholars in various publications, journals and statistics. A 2019 World Bank report estimated more than 320,000 tons of plastic with remains being uncollected yearly in the Caribbean (World Bank Group, 2019). The report also estimated an annual revenue loss of between $350 and $870 million due to coral Reef degradation resulting from marine pollution. Courtney-Jones et al. (2021) Adopted a holistic approach to understanding plastic pollution in the Southern Caribbean. The authors in the publication highlight the need to adopt interdisciplinary integrated collaboration on plastic pollution in the Caribbean region. The study explains that transboundary movements are a major impediment to National legislation aimed at reducing pollution. Diez et al (2019) reviewed economic prosperity and sustainable development in the wider Caribbean region and proposed the need for the different countries to recognize the potential of the auction and adopt policy shifts to protect the valuable coastal natural capital.


Burke, L., & Maidens, J. (2004). Reefs at Risk in the Caribbean.

Courtney-Jones, W., Maddalena, T., James, M. K., Smith, N. S., Youngblood, K., Jambeck, J. R., … & Thompson, R. C. (2021). Source, sea and sink—A holistic approach to understanding plastic pollution in the Southern Caribbean. Science of The Total Environment797, 149098.

Delvalle de Borrero, D., Fábrega Duque, J., Olmos, J., Garcés-Ordóñez, O., Amaral, S. S. G. D., Vezzone, M., … & Meigikos dos Anjos, R. (2020). Distribution of plastic debris in the Pacific and Caribbean beaches of Panama. Air, Soil and Water Research13, 1178622120920268.

Diez, S. M., Patil, P. G., Morton, J., Rodriguez, D. J., Vanzella, A., Robin, D., … & Corbin, C. (2019). Marine pollution in the Caribbean: not a minute to waste.

Gentry-Shields, J., & Bartram, J. (2014). Human health and the water environment: Using the DPSEEA framework to identify the driving forces of disease. Science of the Total Environment468, 306-314.

Margallo, M., Ziegler-Rodriguez, K., Vázquez-Rowe, I., Aldaco, R., Irabien, Á., & Kahhat, R. (2019). Enhancing waste management strategies in Latin America under a holistic environmental assessment perspective: A review for policy support. Science of the Total Environment689, 1255-1275.

Seachrist, D. D., Bonk, K. W., Ho, S. M., Prins, G. S., Soto, A. M., & Keri, R. A. (2016). A review of the carcinogenic potential of bisphenol A. Reproductive Toxicology59, 167-182.

Sevilla, N. P. M., & Le Bail, M. (2017). Latin American and Caribbean regional perspective on ecosystem based management (EBM) of large marine ecosystems goods and services. Environmental Development22, 9-17.

World Bank Group. (2019, May 30). New report calls for urgent action to tackle marine pollution, a growing threat to the Caribbean Sea. World Bank. Https://,million%20and%20US%24%20870%20million .


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