There are two main things affecting the drinking water supply at sunny, Caribbean destinations: Overuse and Contamination.

Drinking Water Overuse

For many Caribbean nations, such as the Bahamas and Barbados, freshwater resources are some of the scarcest on the planet. With almost no surface water available, the available drinking water on many islands is largely limited to limestone aquifers sourced from rain. Islanders also rely heavily on captured rain water to drink, cook, and bath with.

Drought is also affecting the water supply at tourist destinations. California, for example, is experiencing one of the worst droughts in state history and groundwater supplies are being depleted at unprecedented rates.

It is old news that the tourism industry is a heavy consumer of freshwater. According to the UN Environment Program, “Tourist resorts use on average five to ten times more water than similar residential areas in the Caribbean.” Tourists themselves use 2 to 10 times more water per day than locals.

When the demand on freshwater resources is consistently greater than the renewable supply, that leaves everything and everyone dependent on the finite freshwater incredibly vulnerable.

Photo by Katherine Johnson

Drinking Water Contamination

It is unavoidable. On vacation, you are going to use the washroom. At the hotel, on the boat, at the beach. And that means you are going to produce black (your body’s waste products) and grey water (any other use that hasn’t been in contact with poo). Think of this as your sewage footprint.

Many islands do not have sufficient wastewater infrastructure to handle and safely dispose of the sewage produced by citizens and by tourists. In the Caribbean, for example, the state of wastewater treatment and infrastructure is grim. Many hotels and resorts dispose of sewage sub-surfacely. Basically, that means black and grey water is pumped underground, either using deep well injection or absorption technology.

Low lying nations, founded on fossil coral and limestone, are extremely vulnerable to pollution from sewage. Absorption (or soakaway) and deep well injection technologies used to handle sewage often leads to contamination of underground aquifers, which island nations rely upon for their drinking supply.

Another common method to dispose of sewage is to release it, either raw or partially treated, directly into the environment, which inevitably contaminates fresh and coastal waters.
With an estimated 8 million tourists travelling from North America to the Caribbean every year, central wastewater systems are also at risk of being overwhelmed due to poor or non-working infrastructure that cannot handle the sheer volume of sewage produced by tourists.

Sewage contamination in both marine and freshwater is becoming more and more of a problem as the number of tourists and the size of resorts increases.

What can you do to help protect and preserve drinkable water?

  • Choose smaller accommodation facility: The more humble your accommodations the less water the facility uses. Campgrounds use less water than a B&B or apartment rental, which in turn use less water than hotels. Resorts, especially those with golf courses, gardens, pools, and multiple restaurants use significant amounts of freshwater.
  • Choose water-conscious accommodations: Many accommodations are taking steps to manage their water use, such as investing in low-flow technology, rainwater collection, and incentives for guests to use less water. Choose a hotel that is water-conscious.
  • Do as the locals do and limit your use of water: It is always good advice to try to learn local customs when on holiday. Tourists use anywhere from 2 to 10 times more water than locals. So, act like a local. Freshwater is finite, so make every drop count.
  • Know how your sewage is handled: Avoid staying or visiting places that drain untreated sewage directly at sea, rivers or water bodies.
  • Be aware of what you wash down the drain: Assume that what you wash down the drain is not going to receive full treatment at a wastewater treatment plant. Use environmentally friendly products. Use biodegradable soaps and detergents without phosphates.
  • Don’t dump off the boat: Make sure your tourist boat does not discharge sewage from boats into coastal waters, estuaries, and water bodies. Choose cruise ships with sound environmental practices. In advance of the trip you can ask how they discharge waste.

This article is part of a Swim, Drink, Fish series. Each piece will provide you with helpful hints to ensure your winter getaway respects and protects swimmable, drinkable, fishable water. Read more in our recent post describing ways you can keep your holiday waters swimmable.

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