Green Challenges and Opportunities in the Caribbean - Sailors for the Sea

Green Challenges and Opportunities in the Caribbean

 November 4, 2022  | By: Jennifer Brett

As we gathered around the picnic tables at the beach bar for that evening’s welcome dinner, old colleagues and new acquaintances warmly greeted one another. It was the first in-person Caribbean Sailing Association (CSA) conference since before the pandemic, and everyone was thankful for the face time in St. Maarten. My colleague, Sailors for the Sea program manager Emily Conklin, and I were attending the three-day event for the first time and were looking forward to sharing what initiatives our organization is working on as well as hearing what environmental challenges and opportunities Caribbean sailing events are facing lately.

The purpose of the annual event, which was held October 21-23, 2022, is to bring together representatives from Caribbean regattas, yacht clubs, and sailing programs to discuss ideas and best practices before the region’s busy sailing season heats up. While we found each session to be interesting, Emily and I were particularly tuned in to hear about how organizers are implementing the Clean Regattas toolkit and ways we could help. Overall, it seems that most islands are facing an abundance of single-use plastics, particularly water bottles, lack of recycling facilities, logistical issues made worse by the aftermath of pandemic restrictions, and the funding to implement new environmental initiatives.

For some insight into what’s new on the green front in the Caribbean, particularly St.Maarten, I checked in with Michele Korteweg, the CSA president and manager of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta.

Sailors for the Sea: As a resident of St. Maarten, what do you see, in general, as some of the biggest environmental challenges, and opportunities, in the Caribbean?

Michele Korteweg: I think we are challenged by the lack of recycling facilities, which makes it complicated and expensive to recycle at events. Also, the lack of education in this region is preventing progress.

Some of the island governments are also not focused on environmental and sustainability advancement. Although, some islands are making great progress, with some having banned plastic bags at stores.

I think that opportunities in the Caribbean are seen in the community spirit that is visible in the islands, and most islands also have quite an influx of expats who will take the lead in environmental actions, like beach clean ups, recycling stations, etc. The beauty of the islands is a great motivator for people to support the efforts that are being made.

SfS: And more specifically in the sailing/regatta area, as the president of the CSA as well as the manager of the Heineken Regatta, what are the biggest challenges you, and other Caribbean regattas, face in terms of running Clean Regattas, and where do you see the greatest opportunities?

MK: I think we on St. Maarten are challenged by the lack of facilities and support from government entities. Most countries will have environmental organizations supporting events like our Regattas in these efforts; now we really need to take the lead ourselves and find solutions for recycling, banning of plastic products and the expenses that come with using alternatives – which are not easy for our non-profit events to carry.

The opportunities are there; sailors do really care about the environment and are always supportive of our efforts, and frequently suggest great ideas. This makes it worthwhile as you can tell it makes a difference to the overall event.

SfS: Are there any green initiatives that are currently happening on St Maarten/Martin (or elsewhere in the Caribbean) that we could highlight?

MK: On St. Maarten we see changes being implemented on a government level, like banning plastic bags. It does require enforcement, which is why it’s not seen island wide yet.

We do have restaurants and bars that make efforts by not offering straws, using recyclable materials, and encouraging people to bring their own takeaway boxes. We also see a lot of beach clean-ups on a yearly basis. Recently a project started underwater clean ups, educating a group of local youngsters in scuba diving for the purpose of cleaning up debris in our lagoon and ocean. I think overall more people see the necessity of supporting green initiatives, and especially from a business level this becomes more interesting and important.

Learn more about Clean Regattas, register your event, and download the toolkit here! Have more Clean Regattas questions? Let us know!