Career Development

Career Development: Examining Environmental Problems of the Kingston Harbour

Career Development: Examining Environmental Problems of the Kingston Harbour

by Denise N. Fyffe


Kingston Harbour has played a significant role in the history of all the groups that have lived on the surrounding land. The waters of the Harbour have provided to a wide variety of people ranging from the Tainos, the Spanish and the British pirates and naval forces.

A small band of frightened people crossed the body of water later known as Kingston Harbour after a catastrophic earthquake destroyed Port Royal in 1692.

They settled on a piece of land where Colonel Barry kept a herd of pigs, known as Colonel Barry’s Hog Crawle. This was the beginning of a city which later was called Kingston, and in 1872 took from Spanish Town the title of the capital city of Jamaica (NEPA, 2005).

Kingston Harbour Jamaica

Kingston Harbour

Kingston Harbour is used for varying activities; these may be direct or indirect. Direct uses of the Harbour include fishing, recreation, and transportation.

Indirect uses include coastal protection of mangroves and waste assimilation, economic production, and education. The present-day value of Kingston Harbour has been estimated to be US$510.31 million. The economic uses of the Harbour include industry, commerce, shipping, fishing, and recreation.

According to the National Environment and Planning Agency fishing sustains 3,386 fishermen who operate from seven fishing villages around Kingston Harbour and bring in approximately 1100 tons of fish per annum. Port Royal, Harbour Head, and Rae Town are some of the fishing villages that utilize the harbor.

Kingston is the third largest port in the Caribbean and Latin America namely because of its tactical locality in the western hemisphere. Being an important transhipment port it handled, in the year ended August 2003, 1,042,282 TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) from 1,522 ship calls.

Pollution in the Kingston Harbour

Recreation in the harbor has been reduced due to the pollution of the water.

Water skiing, swimming and cross-the-harbor races used to be popular activities in Kingston Harbour before the level of pollution degraded the water quality. The major recreational use now is yachting which operates from the Royal Jamaica Yacht Club and Morgan’s Harbour marinas on the Palisadoes tombolo. The area surrounding Kingston Harbour is home to Kingston’s industrial estate, as well as Jamaica’s oil refinery and cement production facility.

Downtown Kingston is among the country’s busiest commercial centers.

Much of the marine life formerly found in Kingston Harbour has disappeared, due to the degraded state of the harbor. Mainly absent now are the bottom-feeding fish which cannot survive due to the absence of oxygen at the deeper levels. Fish now found those which feed near the surface.

The Port Royal mangroves, where pollution levels are lower, still contain a rich variety of marine life.

Environmental Problem

Kingston Harbour’s problem stems from urbanization, eutrophication, sedimentation, and solid waste buildup. Approximately 800,000 of the national population of 2.6 million now live in localities where their activities can have a direct impact on the ecology of Kingston Harbour.

The harbor is almost landlocked, and the tide removes only one foot of surface water, while the harbor is 60 feet at the deepest point. The harbor, therefore, has a long flushing time.

The most visible manifestation of the degradation of water quality of the harbour is the frequent recurrence of local eutrophication. Eutrophication or simply the depletion of oxygen in water, this is the process by which a body of water becomes rich in dissolved nutrients, thereby encouraging the growth and decomposition of oxygen-depleting plant life and resulting in harm to other organisms.

This causes general deterioration of water quality, foul odor, taste, and decline of biodiversity. The eutrophication of Kingston Harbour is caused mainly by poorly treated/untreated sewage, industrial and household effluents and solid waste, agrochemicals, and impacts from ship traffic.

Contributors to the Pollution

Pollution of the environment is a profoundly grave issue and there are many ways in which we pollute the environment. Many causes of water pollution are improper disposal of sewage and caustic waste by some manufacturing entities. In Kingston Harbour, chemicals, sewage, and garbage of all sorts are dumped into the Harbour by the people of this country.

The object being assessed is the contributors to the pollution in Kingston Harbour. These elements may include Industrial Waste, Sewage, Solid Waste, and Shipping.

Industrial Waste

Industrial Waste and Emissions are the effluent and emissions from industries around the harbour which not only cause water pollution but air pollution as well.


Sewage is the human and domestic waste matter from buildings, especially houses, which is carried away through sewers. It is estimated that 20 million gallons of mostly untreated sewage is discharged daily into the harbor from the Greenwich, Western and other malfunctioning sewage plants.

Solid Waste

Solid waste generated throughout communities of Kingston and St. Andrew enters Kingston Harbour mainly through the many gullies that discharge into the harbour, and accumulates on the harbour shore and floor as well as in the Port Royal mangroves.


Another contributor to pollution is Shipping, although a most valuable economic activity, contributes to the pollution of the harbour through discharge of ballast water, oily waste and garbage.

Field – Sewage or Human and Domestic Waste

The field under investigation will be sewage or human and domestic waste being disposed into Kingston Harbour. The lack of maintenance of wastewater treatment systems has had a particularly negative effect on Kingston Harbour.

Although the sources of contamination in the bay are numerous, the single largest factor contributing to its current state of degradation is the discharge of untreated sewage. Most of the water utilized in the Kingston Metropolitan area (KMA) (estimated at over 78 mgd) is dumped into the harbour with limited or no treatment.

According to the Kingston Water and Sanitation Project No.: JA-0114 by the Government of Jamaica (GOJ) in September 2000, the water sector in the Kingston Metropolitan area (KMA), with a population of approximately one million, is characterized by elevated levels of coverage for potable water (over 95%) but limited sewerage facilities (40%).

Despite the relatively satisfactory potable water coverage, an accumulated deficit of new investment and poor maintenance over the years has resulted in highly depreciated and inefficient delivery and treatment systems.

Though several sewage treatment facilities exist in the KMA, most do not operate satisfactorily due to inadequate maintenance and investment and, as a result, a significant amount of mostly untreated sewage is dumped into the bodies of water surrounding the city of Kingston.


To continue an assessment of the scientific environmental problem summarized, one will seek to put forward through this paper, proposed measures that will reduce and by extension eliminate the treatment and practice of human and domestic waste matter being disposed of in Kingston Harbour.

Therefore, the overall objective is to recommend changes that may be implemented to stop sewage pollution in the Kingston Harbour of Jamaica.


Kingston Harbour is of utmost importance to Jamaican society; therefore, it is integral that the sewage treatment plants be upgraded, and new plants built to deal with the issue of sewage pollution in the harbor.

Kingston Harbour Jamaica

The government of Jamaica must continue to support and raise the level of priority given to preventing and ending sewage pollution. Funds were allocated in 2001 totaling US$20 million (J$900m), which is a loan with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to treat sewage entering Kingston Harbour.

The loan would be used to treat five million gallons of the sewage now entering the harbor daily. Mr Mullings, who was then Minister of Land and the Environment said in the Sectoral Debate that “It is expected that by the end of 2001, the agreement will be finalized and the preliminary studies commenced,”

The wastewater component of the project is aimed at improving the treatment of sewage from Kingston and St. Andrew which flows into the harbor. As part of the project, the NWC will build several treatment ponds near Cremo Ltd., Kingston, to treat sewage diverted from a treatment plant off Spanish Town Road.

However, this project was not due to ‘get off the ground’ for nearly three years as plans and detailed designs will have to be done.

Major Sources of Contamination to Kingston Harbour

Fresh water enters Hunts Bay via the Rio Cobre, the Duhaney River and the Sandy Gully, the last being part of the stormwater drainage system for Kingston, this is shown in the picture below. Several other smaller drainage gullies on the northern shore of the harbor contribute to the freshwater inflow and add domestic and industrial wastes (Wade, 1972).

One can even notice how dark and polluted the waters are in the Harbour compared to those outside the bay. This is due to the lack of oxygen at the bottom of the sea and elevated levels of pollution.

These waters also have minimal fish life existing and the harbor, especially at the deeper levels.

Also, notice the lack of an indication of a sewage plant in the Upper Basin of the Harbour. This section of the Harbour is home to the residential community of Harbour View. Thousands of people live in this community and the sewage plant has been inoperable for many years.

Of course, one needs only to guess where the human waste channels itself. Therefore, it is especially important that a sewage plant which has not worked in Harbour View since 1970 be rebuilt or upgraded for this community Harbour View continues to grow and flourish, especially with the ‘squatters’ that take up residents on the hill; namely, Harbour Heights and its environs.

These squatters most times do not have proper bathroom facilities and waste matter may be disposed of improperly. Whether this community is recognized by the government or not measures need to be put in place, for basic health reasons, to design or incorporate a sewage system for this ‘informal community.’

Sewage and Major Industrial Discharges to Kingston Harbour

From the images above, one can identify the many sewage plants that are contributing to the problem. These plants should be revamped and upgraded to deal with the volume of waste handled by their plant. New pipes need to be laid in and around the Corporate area to redirect this runoff and channel it to the proper sewage plants. However, during this process as is the Jamaican custom other infrastructure such as the roads should not be decimated to create another issue in our society or compound any other factors and environmental issues.           


Kingston Harbour is considered to be one of the finest natural harbors in the world. The harbor is an elongated bay, or lagoon, extending 16.5 km from east to west and 6.5 km from north to south, with a total surface area of approximately 51 km2 (Wade 1976). The city of Kingston, comprised of industrial, commercial, and residential developments, lies to the north of the harbor and at the western end are the modern residential developments of Portmore and Independence City.

Several biological parameters have been studied over the years and have been used to gauge the environmental health of Kingston Harbour. Notably, the conclusions drawn from the comparative studies have all indicated that there has been a general decline in the environmental health of Kingston Harbour since the 1960s.

Coliform concentrations, crustaceans, fish, and plankton abundance, as well as seagrass densities all point towards a deteriorating ecosystem. Many of the researchers attributed this decline to increased nutrient concentrations in the harbor as well as the input of several other significant pollutants.

Numerous studies have revealed that the main contaminants of the harbor are:

  • nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus)
  • petroleum hydrocarbons
  • trace metals
  • pesticides, herbicides, and bacteria

These enter the harbor through various sources such as:

  • domestic sewage
  • industrial effluents
  • agricultural run-off
  • contaminated groundwater (through leachates from pit latrines and soak-away pits)
  • solid waste
  • shipboard and industrial spills
  • airborne pollutants

The main pathways by which these contaminants reach the harbor are through direct discharges, groundwater flow, streams and rivers, storm drainage systems, and aerial transport (Webber 1996).

If the harbor is to continue to provide a function not only for industries but the fisheries and recreational as well; then measures should be implemented and maintained. Sewage plants must either be built or maintained. If they are a main contributing factor to pollution, then they must be upgraded and revamped.

Pipelines should also be maintained or reinstalled.

The pollution that now exists must be cleaned up, but not to the detriment of our fishermen and surrounding communities. The safest and most feasible methods must be adopted to instigate this process.

It is integral that we maintain and protect Kingston Harbour as it is the seventh largest harbor in the western hemisphere and one of the primary income earners for the island of Jamaica.


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  2. (2000). The Jamaica Gleaner: Sewage project for Kingston Harbour. Gleaner Company Ltd. Retrieved from
  3. (2005). Kingston Harbour, National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA). Retrieved from
  4. Gordon, L., (2005). POLLUTION: A problem that keeps getting overlooked. Retrieved from
  5. Institutional Strengthening & Preparation Of A Zoning & Physical Development Master Plan For Kingston Harbour – Literature Review Report Smith Warner International September 2004. Retrieved from
  6. Wade, B. A. 1972. Benthic Diversity in a Tropical Estuary. The Geological Society of America 133 p 499 – 515.
  7. Wade, B. A. 1976. The Pollution Ecology of the Kingston Harbour; Jamaica. Scientific Report of the U.W.I. – O.D.M. Kingston Harbour Research Project 1972 – 1975, vols. 1, 2 & 3.
  8. Webber, D.F., 1996. The Water Quality of Kingston Harbour, some Sources and Solutions. Proceedings Scientific Research Council, 7th National Conference on Science and Technology, Kingston, Jamaica.
  9. Zi, G., (2004). More funds needed to fight sewage pollution, ChinaDaily. Retrieved from



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The family is the genesis of all societies. Every culture has its distinct rules by which a family is governed, and the Caribbean family is no exception. Those rules differ within each group; for the Indians, Chinese, and Africans. Making up most of the population in the Caribbean, African families have spawned several sub-units or types; some of which are unique to the African culture. This book explores each family type and their history within the Caribbean.

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