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Addressing Marine Plastics in Latin America and the Caribbean



Marine pollution is a threat to the region’s resilience to climate change and its economy, particularly for countries in the Caribbean and Central America. Marine ecosystems provide a vital source of food and livelihoods for many Latin American and Caribbean countries through fisheries, tourism, shipping, aquaculture, ports, and energy.

Marine pollution in the form of plastics, sewage, chemicals, and other byproducts pose a risk to fisheries and tourism, on which many Caribbean economies depend. Fisheries are a vital source of employment, income, and food security for many local communities. Tourism accounts for 15.2% of GDP in the Caribbean and over 50% in some countries, like Grenada.

However, coral reefs, of enormous value for their biodiversity and appeal to the tourism industry, are being degraded by rising sea temperatures and marine pollution. Thousands of plastic shards are often found in the wider Caribbean waters, representing nearly 80% of the total litter. The amount of plastic found on Caribbean beaches far exceeds the global average, with 2,014 litter items per kilometer, compared to 573 worldwide.

This represents a potentially lasting loss of revenue for impacted countries – studies show that tourists are willing to pay substantially more to vacation on clean beaches and will seldom return to littered ones. Plastic litter also affects the region’s public health by playing host to mosquitoes, perpetuating diseases like dengue, chikungunya, and Zika.

Recognizing the importance of combating marine pollution and leveraging the blue economy for climate resilience and poverty reduction is a critical step for the region. Many have banned Styrofoam and other types of single-use plastics.  The World Bank has supported this kind of reform through development policy lending.

The Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Project, financed by the Global Environment Facility, supports five small Eastern Caribbean states to strengthen their capacity for ocean governance and coastal and marine geospatial planning. Improving ocean governance and planning can help alleviate the increased marine and coastal pollution associated with overuse and rapid development. Unleashing the Blue Economy in the Eastern Caribbean (UBEC) is a US$60 million project designed for the whole Caribbean and benefits Grenada, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and the Grenadines. The project, co -financed by PROBLUE, a multi-donor trust fund, seeks to strengthen the management and resilience of marine and coastal assets and to help these countries with their ambition to move from being small island development states to large ocean states.

The World Bank has supported knowledge work in the region to evaluate the issue of marine pollution, particularly in small and tourism-dependent states in the Caribbean, and make policy recommendations to address the problem, including an in-depth study on marine pollution in the Caribbean.

Last Updated: May 31, 2023


Luis Carlos Perez Martinez,