Despite mandatory stay-at-home orders and island-wide curfews, local environmental advocacy group, Plastic Free Cayman, successfully hosted a free screening of a new full-length documentary, The Story of Plastic, and brought one of its stars “digitally” to the Cayman Islands on May 30, 2020.
Over 150 local activists and supporters of Plastic Free Cayman, including staff from the National Trust and Guy Harvey’s Ocean Foundation, attended the virtual event.
“COVID-19 has impacted so many crucial in-person events that were supposed to take place this spring, over the summer, and even into this fall,” recalled Laura Lee, the event’s organizer.
“In this unprecedented moment, however, it is critical to ensure that we continue the conversation around the protection of the Cayman Islands’ many environmental treasures against the devastating effects of plastic pollution.”
“Plastic Free Cayman was thrilled to be able to accomplish this event with technology,” Lee explained. “We hosted the free movie screening using the online platform Indie TV and were able to meet up afterwards for our lively community discussion using the Zoom platform.”
Two advocacy experts from Oceana, the world’s largest organization focused solely on ocean conservation, joined over 50 community members, local volunteers, and Plastic Free Cayman youth ambassadors in the post-movie meet-up. The Zoom group discussed the thought-provoking documentary, asked questions, and met with iconic oceanographer Captain Charles Moore, who was featured in the film.
Moore, who developed the scientific protocols for measuring plastic pollution in the ocean, is widely known in the media as the discoverer of the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” and continues to lead global efforts to stop plastic waste.
Moore, speaking from his home in California, where he heads up both Algalita Marine Research and Education, and the new Moore Institute, warned that learning about the plastic that is “invading our biosphere” and “shortening our lifespans…hangs on us like a heavy weight.”
The environmental star said we “must be critical of the whole system that has created this mess because nature won’t let us do any less. She can’t absorb our misuse of her and ourselves.”
But the real stars of the event were the youth panelists who addressed questions sent in from the community, and confidently spoke out about how citizens can help locally and globally to end plastic pollution.
Many in the audience wondered what steps they should take to help. After all, as the documentary highlights, the plastics industry is a one trillion USD a year juggernaut, and certainly it has more power to influence regulations, politicians and citizens than small, grass-roots organizations.
Youth Ambassadors, Ben Somerville and Dejea Lyons, 17-year old students from CIS who lead the student advocacy group Protect Our Future, and Steff McDermot, a Captain Planet Foundation “Youth Planeteer of the Year” winner, provided some wise answers.
“Implement change first yourself,” Somerville recommended to the audience, “then you can begin to advocate. Start practicing it yourself, then you can preach it.”
“When you actually start to look, you see, and when you see, you can’t unsee,” Lyons shared with the group. Expressing how helping to clean up nearly one ton of plastic trash on the Sister Islands in late 2019 inspired the teen, Lyons said, “Once you actually show people [the problem of plastic pollution], that’s when their engines start to run.”
Lyons also suggested that Cayman’s youth can lead the way by putting their ideas out into the world “through the power of social media.”
Captain Moore praised the youth and congratulated them for their “profound questions.”
Speaking directly to 19-year old UCCI student, Steph McDermot, Moore described how she and other Caymanian sailors can help with pollution data collection as “citizen scientists.”
“Truly, a scientist is nobody but a careful observer. Just make careful observations and write them down. That’s why scientists carry those little books, why they have pocket protectors, because they are always writing down their little notes, telling them what they saw. And that’s how they become accurate observers.”
Numerous attendees asked how they could help encourage governments to take action against plastic pollution. Again, Moore addressed the youth:
“Only by struggling against the existing problems that you all are struggling against will you all develop that understanding of what has to be done. You can’t fix a system by using the same methods that created it. The thinking needs to change.”
Plastic Free Cayman’s Founder, Cayman Prep teacher Claire Hughes, reminded the audience of the advocacy group’s three-part motto: “Take action, spread awareness, and educate yourself and others.”
Addressing what individuals can do to help, Moore added that people can “reduce their personal use of plastic, think globally but act locally, and support local farmers” who usually provide their produce free of plastic packaging.
To conclude the evening, Moore armed the young people in the audience with words they could repeat as their own: “We’re working to clean up your mess. Just wait. We’re going to tell you what has to be done. Just give us a little time to get organized, and we’ll give you a plan.”
Cayman’s talented youth advocates seem to be well on their way.
Before leaving the meeting to enjoy his home-grown dinner, Captain Moore asked what local vegetable he has never heard of that farmers might put in his salad. The resounding answer: callaloo.
If you missed this free screening of The Story of Plastic, the film can still be viewed for a small fee on Amazon and other streaming platforms.
Plastic Free Cayman is a team of volunteers passionate about reducing single-use plastic in the Cayman Islands. They aim to raise awareness to the growing issues surrounding plastic pollution and help others on their plastic-free journey. Plastic Free Cayman suggests that we can be better citizens by recycling, picking up litter and reducing plastic use. These things are important and still a part of the solution. Zero waste is the ultimate goal.
Visit PlasticFreeCayman.com for more information and links to helpful resources.
The Story of Plastic is a new documentary by the Story of Stuff Project. The film takes a sweeping look at the man-made crisis of plastic pollution and the worldwide effect it has on the health of our planet and the people who inhabit it. Spanning three continents, the film illustrates the ongoing catastrophe: fields full of garbage, veritable mountains of trash, rivers and seas clogged with waste, and skies choked with the poisonous emissions from plastic production and processing. With engaging original animation, archival industry footage beginning in the 1930s, and first-person accounts of the unfolding emergency, the film distills a complex problem that is increasingly affecting the planet’s and its residents’ well-being.
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