Skip to main content

A review of marine pollution issues in the Caribbean


Marine pollution and coastal degradation have become serious development issues in the Caribbean. Early evidence of marine pollution was mainly anecdotal, but within the last 10--15 years, work conducted by universities and research institutions in the Region has provided the beginnings of a database that identifies several common marine pollution problems. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and the Pan American World Health Organization (PAHO/WHO) have also been instrumental in co-ordinating several marine pollution studies. In the English-speaking Caribbean, the University of the West Indies, the Institute of Marine Affairs in Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean Environmental Health Institute located in St Lucia, have taken a lead role in identifying marine pollution problems in their Sub-Region. For the Wider Caribbean a database for petroleum pollution and marine debris has been developed. Land-based sources of marine pollution have been identified as a major problem, with several ‘hot spots’ identified in mainland countries and in some of the larger industrialised islands. Organic and nutrient pollution, particularly from sewage, is most widespread and is possibly the most serious marine pollution problem in the Caribbean. A lack of capital investment funds to install the appropriate infrastructure to deal with sewage and other liquid effluents is a major stumbling block to solving the problem of marine pollution in the Caribbean. Other factors include political will and administrative and legal structures to regulate human development activities.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.


  1. Agard, J.B.R. 1984. A Baseline Study of the Effects of Pollution on the Benthos of the Nearshore Diego Martin to Port of Spain Coastal Area. IMA technical Report.

  2. Agard, J.B.R., Boodoosingh, M. and Gobin, J. 1988. Petroleum residues in surficial sediments from the Gulf of Paria, Trinidad. Marine Pollution Bulletin 19, 231–232.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Agard, J.B.R., Gobin, J. and Warwick, R.M. 1993. Analysis of marine macrobenthic community structure in relation to pollution, natural oil seepage and seasonal disturbances in a tropical environment (Trinidad, West Indies). Marine Ecology Progress Series 92, 233–243.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Atwood, D.K., Burton, F.J., Corredor, J.E., Harvey, G.R., Mata-Jimenez, A.J., Vasquez-Botello, A. and Wade, B.A. 1987. Results of the CARIPOL Petroleum Monitoring Project in the Wider Caribbean. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 18, 540–548.

    Google Scholar 

  5. CIDA 1988. Caribbean Environmental Programming Strategy. Final Report, Vol. 2, Strategy Plan. Canadian International Development Agency.

  6. CARICOM 1989. Proceedings of the First CARICOM Ministerial Conference on the Environment, 31 May -- 2 June, 1989. Port of Spain, Trinidad. Caribbean Community.

  7. CEHI/CARICOM/UNDP 1992. Report of Workshops on the Establishment of Effluent Guidelines and Standards in CARICOM/CEHI Member States. CEHI/CARICOM/UNDP Regional Sewage Disposal Studies Project.

  8. Corredor, J.E., Morell, J.M. and Dimaz, M.R. 1992. Environmental degradation, nitrogen dynamics and proliferation of the filamentous cyanophyte Microcoleus lyngbyaceus in nearshore Caribbean Waters. In: Amato, E. (ed.) Mediterraneo e Caraibe due mari in pericolo? Sversamenri accidentali di idrocarburi ed emergenze causate dalle alghe. ICRAM/IFREMER, Atti del Convegno Internazionale, Genova, 1992, pp. 97–102

    Google Scholar 

  9. ECLAC 1975. Reports on inventories of the problems of the environment. ECLA/POS 75/3. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

  10. Georges, C. and Oostdam, B.L. 1983. The characteristics and dynamics of tar pollution on the beaches of Trinidad and Tobago. Marine Pollution Bulletin 14, 170–188.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Gobin, J.F. 1988. Polychaete macrofauna near a larger industrial complex at Point Lisas, Gulf of Paria, Trinidad. MPhil. Thesis, Department of Zoology, University of the West Indies.

  12. Goodbody, I. (ed). 1989. Caribbean Coastal Management Study: The Hellshire Coast, St. Catherine, Jamaica. Marine Science Unit, University of the West Indies, Research Report No. 1.

  13. Heileman, L.I. and Siung-Chang, A.M. 1990. An analysis of fish kills in coastal and inland waters of Trinidad and Tobago, West Indies, 1976–1990. Caribbean Marine Studies, 1, 126–136.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Hunte, W. and Wittenberge, M. 1992. Effects of eutrophication and sedimentation in juvenile corals II. Settlement Marine Biology 114, 625–631.

    Google Scholar 

  15. IMA 1987. Farm Waste Pollution of the Hillsborough West River and its White River Tributary and also the Hope Beach Close to the Mouth. IMA Environmental Incident Report, Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago.

    Google Scholar 

  16. IMA 1991. Status report on the monitoring and research activities of the Institute of Marine Affairs aimed at developing microbiological bathing beach standards for Trinidad and Tobago. Presented at the CEPPOL Seminar on Monitoring and Control of Sanitary Quality of Bathing and Shellfish Growing Waters in the Wider Caribbean, 1991. Kingston, Jamaica, Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago

    Google Scholar 

  17. IMA 1992. Rapid Assessment of Solid and Liquid Wastes from Agricultural and Domestic Activities in Trinidad and Tobago. Vol. II, Prepared for UNEP CAR/RCU. Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago.

    Google Scholar 

  18. IOC 1976. Report of the IOC/FAO/UNEP International Workshop on Marine Pollution in the caribbean and Adjacent Regions. 13–17 December, 1976. Port of Spain, Trinidad. IOC Workshop Report No. 11. Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

  19. IOC/UNEP/CEP 1989. Workshop on priorities for marine pollution, monitoring, research, control and abatement in the Wider Caribbean Region, 24–30 August, 1989. San José, Costa Rica.

    Google Scholar 

  20. IOC/UNESCO 1992. State of Pollution by Oil and Marine Debris in the Wider Caribbean Region. IOC Technical Series, No. 39 Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

  21. IOCARIBE 1992. Preliminary Report on the Results of the Caribbean Marine Debris Monitoring Pilot Project. Presented at IOC/UNEP/NOAA/EPA/Sea Grant/IMO Second Marine Debris Workshop, Merida, Mexico 1992.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Jones, M.A.J and Bacon, P.R. 1991. Oil pollution in Jamaica's coastal environment. Coastlines of the Caribbean. Coastal Zone '91 Conference-ASCE pp. 100–114.

  23. Klekowski, E.J., Jr., Corredor, J.E., Morell, J.M. and DelCastillo, C.A. 1994. Petroleum pollution and mutation in mangroves. Marine Pollution Bulletin. 28, 166–169.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Kumarsingh, K. 1994. Nutrient cycling and chemical transformation in the Gulf of Paria. Dept. of Chemistry. MPhil Thesis, University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Mood, E.W. 1977. Beach pollution in the Caribbean. Environmental health assessment and suggest health strategy. Proceedings of a Conference/Workshop on Environmental Health Strategy. PAHO, Grenada.

    Google Scholar 

  26. O'Hara, K. and Younger, L. 1990. Cleaning North America's Beaches; 1989 Beach Clean-up Results. CMC, Washington, DC.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Persad, D. 1992. A synoptic view of the levels of dissolved/dispersed petroleum hydrocarbons (DDPH) in waters of the south-eastern Caribbean. Caribbean Marine Studies 3, 52–56.

    Google Scholar 

  28. PLIPDECO/IMA. 1981. Point Lisas environmental project. Vols 1–8. Joint project of the Point Lisas Industrial Port Development Company Limited and the Institute of Marine Affairs.

  29. Siung-Chang, A.M. and Deane, A. 1984. A Survey of Beach Litter in the Northwest Peninsula of Trinidad, W.I. 18th Meeting of the Association of Island Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean, 13–15 August. University of the West Indies, St. Augustine. Trinidad.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Siung-Chang, A.M., Norman, P.E. and Dalipsingh, R. 1987. Caroni River Study Organic Pollution. IMA Technical Report. Institute of Marine Affairs, Trinidad and Tobago.

    Google Scholar 

  31. UNEP 1987. Action Plan for the Caribbean Environment Programme (CEP). A framework for Sustainable Development. UNEP, RCU Kingston, Jamica.

    Google Scholar 

  32. UNEP/CEP 1989. Regional Overview of environmental problems and priorities affecting the Coastal and Marine Resources of the Wider Caribbean. CEP, Technical Report No. 2.

  33. UNEP/CEP 1992. Environmental Problems Affecting the Marine and Coastal Environment in the Wider Caribbean Region.

  34. 10th meeting of the Monitoring Committee on the Action Plan for the Caribbean Parties, Kingston, Jamaica, 11–13 November, 1992.

  35. UNEP/CIMAB 1993. Regional Project on Planning and Environmental Management of Heavily Contaminated Bays and Coastal Areas in the Wider Caribbean. Report of the First Technical Advisory Committee (TAC). Havana, Cuba.

  36. UNEP(OCA)/CAR 1994. Regional Overview of Landbased Sources of Pollution in the Wider Caribbean Region. (Revised Version). UNEP(OCA)/CAR. WG. 14/4, 55.

  37. Vlugman, A.A. 1992. Assessment of operational Status of Wastewater Treatment Plants in the Caribbean. CEHI/PAHO.

  38. Wade, B.A. (1976). The Pollution Ecology of Kingston Harbour, Jamaica. Scientific report of the UWI-ODM Kingston, Harbour Research Project 1972–1975. Zoology Department, University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica No. 5, Vols 1–3.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Wade, B., Morrison, B. and Jones, M. 1990. A study of beach litter in Jamaica. Unpublished manuscript.

  40. Ward, R. 1992. The Development of the Coastal and Marine Sanitary Water Quality Monitoring Network in CARICOM Member States. Caribbean Environmental Health Institute (CEHI).

  41. WHO/PAHO 1982. Rapid Assessment of Sources of Air, Water and Land Pollution. Offset Publication No. 62. WHO, Geneva.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information



Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Siung-Chang, A. A review of marine pollution issues in the Caribbean. Environmental Geochemistry and Health 19, 45–55 (1997).

Download citation

  • oil pollution
  • marine debris
  • sewage
  • nutrients