Appearances can be deceiving.
Dark tar-like patches on the seabed
off Seven Mile Public Beach, which have raised the concerns of sharp-eyed
bathers in recent days, have been identified as remnants of Cayman’s distant
“The samples we collected show that
this substance is actually solid chunks of peat,” said Department of
Environment Deputy Director for Operations and Enforcement Scott Slaybaugh.
“It dates back many hundreds of
years to the time when this section of Seven Mile Beach was covered in
He explained that over centuries,
the mangroves gave way to beach. The peat from the wetlands was compressed into
flat layers under the sands of Seven Mile Beach, forming a solid sheet of
undecomposed organic matter.
“If you dig down through the veneer
of sand, you will find a whole layer of this under the seabed,” said Mr.
When storms hit or the sand shifts,
the peat breaks up from time to time.
“Shifting currents can stir parts
of it up, and it definitely can look like tar balls,” he said.
Brought to the surface, the ancient
peat resembles charcoal.
Mr. Slaybaugh notes that ocean
action can cause all sorts of mysterious substance to appear from time to time.
“Sometimes if a lot of algae gets
dislodged and then stirred around with other ocean debris like sand, shells and
collected by currents in one spot, it can all stick together into a kind of mat
as well,” he said.
“If it then gets covered up with
sand it doesn’t decay,” he continued.
“Really, you can find all sorts of
concoctions on the seabed.”
An expert in marine pollution
cleanup, Mr. Slaybaugh doesn’t downplay the importance of notifying the
Department of Environment when any mysterious substances appear, however.
“We investigate everything that
gets reported to us, just in case.”