We’ve set sail from Aruba to Panama charting a course through the breathtaking San Blas Islands. Sailing on Friday the 13th was definitely lucky for us, the conditions were clear and we were soon racing a pod of dolphins.

Before heading out to the Caribbean Sea, we first had to clear customs which meant sailing past a municipal landfill that has been operational for over 50 years. The landfill is unlined and situated right next to the ocean. It receives an estimated 200 tonnes of waste every day from homes, businesses and cruise ships. The waste is unconfined and heaped high allowing it to spill with the wind into the neighbouring ocean. Winds in Aruba can be high and this coupled with the high temperatures and intense sunshine can lead to fast entry into the ocean ‘sink’ and break-up of plastics. We also observed a fire burning atop the pile, undoubtedly emitting toxics hazardous to anyone working in the vicinity. 

eXXpeditionPhoto credit: Sheri Bastien & eXXpedition

Close by the landfill, we lowered a Van Veen sediment grab off the side of our boat to gather sediment samples as part of our science programme. Rather than the silt and sand we expected, the first thing we pulled up was a metal grate and a length of electrical wiring, the kind often used as a cheaper alternative to fishing line.

eXXpeditionPhoto credit: Lindsey McCoy & eXXpedition

The dolphins that joined our boat appeared soon after sailing past the landfill site. We have seen toxic emissions and plastic pollution leaking into the ocean, which could disrupt the wildlife on Aruba and enter the food chain. The impact of a poorly managed source of waste is pervasive and wide-ranging. Long term, sanitary waste management systems that are fit for purpose are crucial if we are to stem the tide of plastic pollution and protect our oceans. 

eXXpeditionPhoto credit: Sheri Bastien & eXXpedition

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