Tackling the Kingston Harbour Waste Problem – MGI at the frontline with science and technology


The Kingston Harbour Waterfront, Jamaica. Photo Credit Mona Geoinformatics Institute.
Jamaica’s vital resource in the Kingston Harbour has been under constant threat from solid waste pollution for decades.  Much of this garbage finds its way into the 7th largest natural deep-water harbour in the world through complex gully and river drainage systems crisscrossing Kingston, St Andrew and Portmore. Mona Geoinformatics Institute (MGI) through its  MGIBlue Division has embarked on research and assessment of these land and marine areas that are intricately linked as one vast “waste-scape”.

Map of Kingston Harbour, Mona Geoinformatics Institute.
With support from the Grace Kennedy Foundation, work is being carried out to determine the sources, linkages and impacts of solid waste on our natural and man-made resources. This forms part of a wider initiative with other organisations such as UWI’s Centre for Marine Sciences (CMCS), Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ), and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) to formulate an effective remediation plan for cleaning-up and maintaining the harbour.

Kingston Harbour Area

The Kingston Container Terminal, Kingston Harbour. Photo Credit Captain H. DeLisser, Harbour Master PAJ.
The Kingston Waterfront with an engineered coastline has an industrial belt comprised of highly valuable shipping, port, commercial real estate, recreational, residential and fisheries activities. It ranks as the 7th busiest port in the Americas, and the busiest city port in the Caribbean.  Yet, these industries operate in a unique natural ecosystem of sensitive marine habitats within and around the Harbour, including mangroves, coral reefs, cays, sand dunes and seagrass beds.  These types of habitats, including a RAMSAR protected area site, have proven to be highly protective against hazards such as storm surge and tsunami. These ecosystems also regulate nutrient flow, as well as support nursery for fish and other aquatic life. Annual economic value of mangroves alone have been estimated at USD 200,000 – 900,000 per hectare. (GKF Report 2018).

Deterioration of Kingston Harbour

Garbage in Refuge Cay. Photo Credit Centre for Marine Sciences, UWI, Mona
The Kingston Harbour has seen significant deterioration by numerous activities over the decades (SWIL Report 2004).  Up to 2010, eutrophication via untreated sewage was the main issue in Kingston Harbour. With the Soapberry treatment facility which began operations in March 2008, there has been a measurable reduction in nutrient inputs from the gullies. The problem now, however, is solid waste from gullies. Gullies choked with solid waste have resulted in several incidents of localized flooding and damaged economic activity including shipping. In November 2016 when sections of the Marcus Garvey Drive corridor were flooded from overflow from the blocked Shoemaker Gully, this resulted in catastrophic damage to the operation of the Wallenford Coffee Company including wiping out its consignment of export-bound products. Other facilities including government and commercial buildings were damaged and disrupted, leading to USD millions in losses. Solid waste flowing out to the sea also ruins the landscape and discourages plans for the resumption of cruise shipping to the capital. Solid waste washing into mangrove forests have been forming berms high enough to block the flow of seawater exchange in and out of the forest. This has caused hyper-salinity and stagnation, killing plants and animals even into the center of the forest. A large percentage of the solid waste is plastic garbage. Plastics in mangrove forests degrade slowly over hundreds of years and increase micro-plastics leaching into our environment. Juvenile fish fed micro-plastic, for example, have been shown to undergo reduced growth (Au et al. 2015), body size and performance (Besseling et al. 2014). Oysters exposed to polystyrene micro-plastics decrease in fecundity, offspring development, egg number size, and sperm velocity (Sussarellu et al. 2016).

Solid Waste Transport Simulation

Gully map of Kingston Harbour, Mona Geoinformatics Institute.
MGIBlue as the technical consultant to the project is developing hydrodynamic simulation models and a geographic information system to depict solid waste transport in and around the Kingston Harbour. This will support planning and implementation of the wider project. Fifteen (15) gullies or rivers are incorporated into the model. Tidal and wind data are input as boundary conditions. Assumptions of flow rates under both normal and high-flow conditions were used for simulating distribution over a 30-day period of solid waste transport from gully outflows, across the harbour and out through the harbour mouth. Models show that at Day 30 of normal-flow condition through the gullies, the Kingston Harbour retains 85% of solid waste. Under high-flow conditions typical of heavy rainfall, the retention rate quickly decreases to 20% in just a couple of days. This large difference in retention is driven mainly by western gullies exiting at the Hunt’s Bay side (see link below for simulation model of normal-flow condition). Some of the solid waste from these western gullies eventually get to the harbour mouth at the end of the 30-day simulation. Western gullies are magnitudes larger than their eastern counterparts and so typically carry higher loads. Gullies flushing on the eastern side of the harbour, however, have their garbage retained in the inner harbour, even under high-flow conditions, due to poor water circulation.  During heavy rainfall, with high volumes of garbage getting washed into gullies from land, our models show that eastern gullies could be main conduits of pollution into the Kingston Harbour (see link below for simulation model under high-flow conditions).


Solid waste transport simulation of high flow rate condition over 30 days


Solid waste transport simulation of normal flow rate condition over 30 days

Go Clean Kingston Harbour Initiative

Go Clean Kingston Harbour project directly addresses United Nations SDGs 3,8,9,11,13,14 and 15.
The “Go Clean Kingston” Harbour Solid Waste Remediation Project aims to fulfill the vision to restore Kingston Harbour to its pristine state. This will be evidenced by improvement in: restoration of the waterfront sea-scape and real estate value; recreational activities such as water sports, fishing, and pleasure boating; viability of shipping vessels and water equipment; and the quality of marine life, with improved biodiversity and the rejuvenation of mangrove forests. This will be achieved by developing and implementing a series of intervention strategies to mitigate the overflow of solid waste into Kingston Harbour. The Grace Kennedy Foundation will oversee the planning and implementation of the project. Funding is now being sought for immediate, shorter-term objectives, including: implementation of educational programs for separation and proper disposal of garbage; installment of fencing gully traps in all major gullies in Kingston; a debris proper-disposal and clean-up campaign; a monitoring programme involving periodic remote-sensing of “hot-spot” areas; and programmes to restore fisheries and for rejuvenation of mangrove forest areas within the Kingston Harbour. This will be the pre-curser to longer-term objectives for more permanent solutions of cleaning up the harbour.