Haitian trash identified on Cayman beaches

Study looks at density of beach plastics

Volunteers examine transects of beach for trash and plastic fragments. - PHOTO: CHRISTINE ROSE-SMYTH

Trash discarded as far away as Haiti is washing up on beaches in Cayman, according to citizen-scientists taking part in a beach plastics survey on the island.

The National Conservation Council is coordinating Cayman’s contribution to an international survey of the trash that washes up on beaches across the world.

Volunteers are analyzing transects of debris on beaches to assess the density of plastics and other trash.

“There is clearly both an international and a local dimension to the litter on our shores,” said Christine Rose-Smyth, chairwoman of the National Conservation Council, who took part in the first survey at Colliers Beach in East End at the weekend.

The conservation council is organizing similar surveys on beaches across all three islands and is urging other organizations to get involved as well.

“By sampling in each of the three Cayman Islands we can provide important insight into the question of where beach plastics and other floating debris comes from,” Ms. Rose-Smyth said.

At Colliers, the group surveyed a 20 by 2 meter transect and discovered 413 pieces of plastic and 46 other man-made items. Small and medium plastic fragments, as well as Styrofoam fragments from picnic plates and food containers, were common.

Ms. Rose-Smyth said two of nine plastic bottles found could be identified as originating from Haiti.

“I have noticed that Haitian plastics are common on Cayman Brac and Little Cayman beaches as well and I hope that we will be able to obtain some precise data from both of those islands during this study,” she said. “There is clearly both an international and a local dimension to the litter on our shores in addition to the humanitarian and public health crisis that waste is causing in Haiti itself.”

The Beach Plastics Surveys can be carried out up until April 30 for inclusion in the full Caribbean data analysis for the international crowd-sourced project being led by Jennifer Lavers of the Institute of Marine and Antarctic Studies, Australia.

It is estimated that there are 5 trillion items currently floating in the surface layer and an estimated 275 million tonnes of new plastic entering the world’s oceans every year, according to Dr. Lavers.

The National Conservation Council is calling on community groups to get involved in the project as part of Cayman’s Earth Month clean-up initiatives. A survey can be conducted ahead of, or alongside, a planned beach cleanup said Ms. Rose-Smyth.

Full details of the project and data recording sheets can be found on the Conservation Council’s news page on the Department of Environment website.

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