By Plastic Free Cayman
Alongside the uncertainty many Caymanians felt this week with rising COVID-19 numbers in the midst of an active hurricane season, many community members were able to come together in support of our islands’ natural environment.
On September 18th, in celebration of World Clean Up Day, an international event with more than 50 million volunteers across 180 countries, Cayman volunteers made an incredible impact. In a collective effort that spanned all three islands, 8 locations and 300 volunteers, over 4,200 pounds (2.12 tons) of trash was removed from our local beaches. This historic event marked the most marine debris removed from our islands in a single day.
The event was a full collaboration between Plastic Free Cayman, CayOcean, Protect Our Future and the Mangrove Rangers. However, the volunteers came from many schools, businesses, government offices, and other local charities. His Excellency, Governor Martyn Roper and his wife Lizzie, joined the Gun Bay clean up, filling multiple bags. Mr. Ezzard Miller spoke to the Protect Our Future students in North Side while clearing large areas from tropical storm Grace. The Minister for Financial Services, Mr. Andre Ebanks helped out in Westbay. Lucky Slice sponsored raffle prizes for volunteers at each location. DEH, JUNK, and DOE were also major supporters of the event.
Social distancing and the use of hand sanitizer and masks were encouraged at all locations, especially with the current community spread of COVID-19. With gathering limits now in place, having several locations instead of one large beach clean event allowed for a more holistic approach and a cap on volunteer numbers per location. 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.
As a community, older Caymanians partnered with young children, creating a wide spectrum of volunteers. Cassandra MacDowell, of the Mangrove Rangers was happy to help “Over 60 volunteers clean up the area around West Bay dock where we were able to collect 231lbs of trash. It was nice to see so many young kids come out with their friends to support World Clean Up Day!”
Plastic Free Cayman clean up coordinator Sophie McBride was inspired by the Beach Bay Volunteers. “It was wonderful to see people who were out enjoying a run, sunset or a swim as they joined in the clean up efforts. Small steps like this make a huge impact in our community.”
With more than 4,245 pounds of trash removed from our beaches, on average each volunteer helped haul more than 14 pounds of trash from our shores. More than 2,000 pounds were removed from Grand Cayman at six different locations (Northside, Gun Bay, Barefoot Beach, Beach Bay, Red Bay and Westbay.) Nearly a ton (1824 pounds) was removed from beaches in the Brac and 355 pounds were removed from Little Cayman.
At Gun Bay, cleaning up with Governor Roper, Protect Our Future leader Thomas Dickens was both inspired and realistic. “Our efforts were commendable, however, according to global statistics, today we picked up the total amount of plastic that our island consumes in just over 2 hours. Hopefully this will open people’s eyes to the extent of our consumption problem.”
Sadly, most of the debris collected was plastic and microplastics. Bottle caps, plastic cutlery (spoons and forks), cigarette butts, toothbrushes, fishing line and rope, bits of polystyrene (Styrofoam), shoes and parts of plastic bags were the most common debris. Each site presented its challenges, as trash was often embedded in rocks, sargassum, sand, and at the base of the plants that line the coast. Several items were found to contain hermit crabs that have made plastic caps and bottles their home.
CayOcean Founder, Brody Thomas was "Ecstatic to see the turnout of volunteers and the amount of plastic collected across the Islands. I hope the results resonate with the government especially that we need a system change and with the people, a cultural change in the way we see, use, and treat plastic. Past events have shown that as a community we can come together; to rebuild and support in times of need. Our Islands are suffocating from plastic, and today because of our actions it was able to breathe a little better."
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. 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.
Plastic Free Cayman founder, Claire Hughes expressed a range of sentiments. “There’s always mixed emotions at Clean Up events. There is joy and gratitude for the amazing volunteers, but sadness that we have to clean up in the first place.” She added, “Large Corporations must take responsibility for their packaging and it is clear that we desperately need a National Clean Up Scheme in the Cayman Islands.”
The event coordinators are incredibly proud of all our volunteers who helped make the Cayman Islands a cleaner place today, especially in a time of such uncertainty.