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Sailors Work for Clean Caribbean Seas

“Five, four, three”…Crouched on the upper deck of the committee boat, I kept my eyes and ears on the countdown, determined to start this race off right. It was my job to raise the flag and send the A Fleet barreling west off Nanny Cay on this first day of the 2009 BVI Spring Regatta.

I was in the BVI to support and promote the first-ever Silver Level Clean Regatta as certified by Sailors for the Sea – but my job at the moment was to set the starting flag to help each fleet cross without a hitch.

Sailors for the Sea is a nonprofit organization based in Boston, Massachusetts that educates and empowers boaters to protect and restore our oceans and coastal waters through our programs and projects, the oldest of which is Clean Regattas. We offer resources and information that raise awareness of critical ocean issues and we provide the important link between knowledge and practical, direct action that can truly improve the health of our waters.

Clean Regattas is a voluntary certification system designed by Sailors for the Sea that encourages yacht clubs, sailing programs, and regatta events to take steps to make a more positive impact on the aquatic environment. This three-tiered system allows certification at a Bronze, Silver or Gold Level, with the certification criteria becoming more intense at the higher levels.

In its fourth year, Clean Regattas is gaining a lot of momentum. This year marks the first year Clean Regattas became international with the participation of the St. Maarten Heineken Regatta, the BVI Spring Regatta and Antigua Sailing Week. Bookending these early months were St. Maarten and Antigua. Their enthusiasm for the program and efforts to reach the Bronze Level Certification, which included a commitment to preventing marine debris, providing oil spill prevention kits to all participants, educating participants on non-toxic cleaning products, going paperless with an electronic press kit, and using biodegradable cups, towels, and garbage bags throughout the event, was intense and impressive.

Between these two events, Sailors for the Sea celebrated its first-ever Silver Level Regatta with the BVI Spring Regatta. They met the criteria by prohibiting bottom cleaning during the event in the harbor, working to offer the sale of non-ablative bottom paints, recycling glass, and, perhaps the biggest change, providing all participants with reusable water bottles and distilled water stations for bottle refilling throughout the duration of the event. This single action reduced an incredible amount of waste generated by eliminating the need for disposable water bottles.

Plastic trash makes up a huge proportion of marine debris. Bags and pellets mistaken for food by birds, fish and marine mammals that cause choking and death when consumed increase the threat. Scientists have linked obesity, infertility, and depression with the entry of these pollutants into the food chain; and too-tough-to-biodegrade, plastic lasts forever. If every regatta, yacht club, and sailor took on the task to reuse and refill a single bottle, can or tank of water rather than reaching for a disposable 12-oz., our shores and seas would feel the relief.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about working with these Caribbean events was seeing how nations with far fewer environmental laws and regulations than the U.S. took on the task of ocean stewardship. They galvanized individuals, inspired commitment, and began to make a difference that will improve the health of their clear, blue, Caribbean waters.

Back on the committee boat, I proved as adept at following direction, and perfectly timed my flag with the starting gun. If only cleaning up the oceans was as simple as raising a flag. In reality, that’s just the first step. Fortunately, we find ourselves in a fleet ready and willing to set their sails and race ahead on this long journey to clean seas.

Chris Mancini is Program Manager for Sailors for the Sea.
For more information on Sailors for the Sea, Clean Regattas, and other Sailors for the Sea programs, please visit www.sailorsforthesea.org, email info@sailorsforthesea.org, call 617.248.9966, or write to 56 Commercial Wharf, Boston, MA 02110.

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