Not so pristine

Filmmaker Edward Scott-Clarke came to Grand Cayman to shoot footage of perfect white sandy beaches as a contrast to images of rubbish-strewn beaches around the world he had filmed for a documentary about marine plastic debris.

While Seven Mile Beach and other public beaches delivered exactly what he had seen on brochures and tourism websites, the debris on the lesser known beaches not frequented by tourists came as a big surprise, he said.

“We came to the Cayman Islands to see an example of a pristine environment that had not been contaminated by marine debris. I’d done a trawl of websites with so many showing how perfect the beaches are over here. As soon as I arrived, I realised that it’s not quite as perfect as I had thought it was,” he said.

“We filmed some beaches on the north side of the Island. It actually, dare I say, may be worse here than in Hawaii, which is right in the middle of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest concentration of marine debris. It was quite worrying,” he said.

The filmmaker and environmentalist said he noticed the community in the Cayman Islands takes great pride in its beaches, with the tourist areas cleaned up regularly and the rubbish on lesser-known beaches tackled through 
community incentives.

He hopes his film will help raise awareness about the impact of plastic rubbish ending up in the sea – from polluting beaches to harming marine life.

What also surprised him in Grand Cayman is the startling amount of shoes washed up on local shores. In Hawaii, he said, he didn’t find a single shoe on the rubbish-strewn beaches he visited, not even on so called “Junk Beach” on the Big Island. “I’ve no idea why you find so many shoes on the beaches here,” he said.

He surmised it may have something to do with the ocean currents. Curt Ebbesmeyer, an oceanographer, has carried out studies of ocean currents, using data gathered from container ship spills, including lost shipments of rubber ducks and Nike runners. In 1990, a ship going from South Korea to the United States lost a shipment of 61,000 Nike shoes overboard, south of the Alaskan peninsula. Those shoes washed up in beaches and shores throughout the US and Canada.

“Some places were completely missed by shoes, in others lots washed up on shore. In some places, only right shoes washed up and in other places, just the left shoes,” Mr. Scott-Clarke said.

Many of the shoes washed up on Cayman’s beaches are now nailed to the Cayman Shoe Tree on South Sound Road, a reminder for all travelling along that road of the prevalence of marine debris that impacts the Islands.

The first shoes were nailed to the tree by an expatriate couple in 2008, who collected the shoes from a beach in East End. Since then, hundreds of more shoes have been added to the tree.

Last month, Mr. Scott-Clarke organised a shoe nailing to the tree during Pirates Week, adding shoes he collected from local beaches.

He started filming his documentary, called Plastic Shores, in March, and released the trailer last week. He has spent months shooting footage and doing interviews in the United States and the United Kingdom.

“It is a huge problem in both countries with all kinds of marine debris washing up on shorelines,” he said.

He described his documentary as a nonprofit educational film about the effects of plastic debris on the marine ecosystem. Last year, global plastic production reached 300 million tonnes, a third of which was used in disposable packaging. According to Mr. Scott-Clarke’s film, in the UK, three million tonnes of plastic are thrown away each year – 1 per cent of the total amount of all plastic manufactured on the planet.

When plastic is thrown away, most of it ends up in landfills, while some is incinerated or recycled. However, the rest escapes into the environment and Plastic Shores explores how plastic affects the marine environment.

Mr. Scott-Clarke has travelled from the International Marine Debris Conference in Hawaii to polluted Blue Flag beaches of Cornwall, recording footage revealing how bad the problem of plastic debris is and how it harms aquatic life.

“There is now not a single beach or sea in the world that is not affected by plastic pollution and the problem is only increasing,” he said.

edward scott clark

Documentary filmmaker Edward Scott-Clarke adds more shoes that have washed up on Cayman’s beaches to the Shoe Tree on South Sound. – PHOTO: EUGENE BONTHUYS


  1. Very interesting story! What is the deal with the shoes washing up on the beach? Here is TX, my husbandand I walk the beach in front of our house and we find shoes all the time, not pairs, just one shoe. I like the idea of the shoe tree that was mentioned. Can someone send me a picture of the shoe tree? I would like to start one at our beach in TX.

  2. We just got back from Little Cayman. We got out to deserted Owen Island. The shores were almost covered with shoes and plastic bottles. Mostly on the side facing the prevailing current and wind.

Comments are closed.