To coincide with the opening of Cayman’s borders once again, the first time in 20 months, Plastic Free Cayman hosted a beach clean event at South Sound dock on Saturday 20 November.
Just off the heels of COP26, where past PFC volunteers Isabela Watler and Dejea Lyons highlighted actions the Cayman Islands can take to become more sustainable, the community came together to tackle the issue of plastic pollution and waste management, which directly connect to global emission and consumption, the organisation said.
The major focus of this beach clean was not to remove bulk items, but to hone in on microplastics, which have entered our ecosystems at very high levels, Plastic Free Cayman stated. Research showed that there were more than 150 million tonnes of plastic in the oceans today, with 8 million tons dumped each year, equivalent to a garbage truck dumping a full load of plastic into the seas every minute. Much of this litter turned into the microplastics washing upon shores, invading ecosystems and bodies, they said. National Geographic released an article in 2020 explaining that people ingested more than 40,000 microplastic particles each year, which could directly cause reproductive and development toxicity in all species, including humans.
Saturday’s clean-up event was well attended and included members of the Lion’s Club, the John Gray Leo Club, and Protect Our Future. Ms Teen Cayman, Asiah Thomas, was also in attendance, with education as her main platform. Volunteers ranged from 5 years old to 72 years old. They came from many schools, businesses, and other local charities.
Lucky Slice sponsored raffle prizes for volunteers and Ms Anita Brown and Clifton Hunter students Dante and Sheante Sterling were among the winners.
Social distancing and the use of hand sanitiser and masks were encouraged at the event, especially with the current community spread of Covid-19.
“In a time when anxiety is elevated in our community, this event showcased a way to gather and undertake community service in a safe and effective way,” they said.
Plastic Free Cayman clean up coordinator, Carina Ecclefield, stated: “Today's beach clean-up was such an uplifting event. We had volunteers of all ages coming to help clean up. Every effort from our volunteers provides so much value for our island and we can't thank them enough.”
Protect Our Future leaders Thomas Dickens and Nic Corin also reflected on the event.
“Today’s experience was slightly different from other beach cleans. Normally, we see a plethora of larger plastic items: bottles, bags, and shoes. Today, the challenge was picking up all the small microplastics. However, with all the volunteers we had, we still managed to get a significant amount of trash. This goes to show the real underlying issue, that plastic really is everywhere.”
By the end of the event, just under 300 pounds of marine debris, mostly microplastics, were removed from South Sound beaches. With 60 volunteers, on average each volunteer helped haul more than five pounds of trash from Cayman’s shores.
The Plastic Free Cayman Team continues to push for a national clean-up campaign and plastic ban policy similar to what has been done in other nations around the world.
Just recently, Scotland approved a ban on plastic straws and polystyrene containers, effective in 2022. England is also beginning its consultation process to ban several key plastic items in the coming year. Last year the EU took a hard stance on several single use plastic items. These included: plastic cutlery, straws and plates, plastic bags, cotton buds, and polystyrene cups. These are also some of the most common items washing up on our shores.
The event coordinators said they were incredibly proud of all their volunteers who helped make the Cayman Islands a cleaner place just as it opened borders to visitors of the Islands.