Caribbean islands approve ban on ocean dumping

carribean watersCountries in the Caribbean have agreed to bar the dumping of all garbage at sea, ending rules that allow the disposal of metal, glass and other refuse a short distance from shore and almost any trash farther out.

The nations adopted the new requirement under the U.N.’s International Maritime Organization and it will take effect in May 2011, IMO consultant Jeff Ramos said Wednesday.

The United Nations created the ban to protect areas that are vulnerable because of heavy ship traffic or sensitive ecology. It has already taken effect in the Antarctic, the Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean.

“It’s a big deal,” said Ramos, a U.S. Coast Guard commander based on the Dutch island of Curacao near Venezuela. “Especially in the Caribbean, with all the tankers and the traffic going to the Panama Canal, it will make a big impact.”

Environmentalists say debris dumped in the ocean can entangle sea creatures, damage water quality and hurt local economies by threatening tourism.

The U.N. outlawed dumping in 1993 for the Caribbean, but it could not take effect until the region’s nations reported their capacity for receiving trash from ships. After a lengthy U.N. awareness campaign, member countries gave notice last month that enough receptacles were in place.

Under current Caribbean regulations, ships can begin dumping garbage 3 miles (5 kilometers) from shore as long as it is ground into pieces less than an inch across. Almost anything but plastic can be dumped beyond 25 miles (40 kilometers).

The new ban will outlaw discharging of any solid waste at any distance except for food, which could still be dumped 3 miles from shore. It will be up to individual countries to check ships’ logs and verify compliance.

Lanie Fagan, a spokeswoman for the Florida-based Cruise Lines International Association, said its members will not be affected because they handle solid waste as if the ban was already in place.

Source: The Associated Press.