A group of North Side residents took cleanup efforts into their own hands Friday when they removed large amounts of debris from a stretch of beach between a family cemetery plot and Chisholm’s Supermarket.
Photos of what they found there have been circulating on social media sites and have caught many island residents by surprise.
“Where’s the beach?” said John Lawrus, whose wife and young daughter participated in the Friday afternoon cleanup and saw piles of trash lining the shore.
“After some heavy weather the last few weeks, much of this floating waste that wasn’t generated here ended up scattered along the beaches,” Mr. Lawrus said. “Plastic is everywhere, but this time was quite bad as it is normally not like this.”
The small group, which included several children under age 5, managed to clean up most of the trash after a few hours.
“After a lot of hard work, help from the grown-ups, 20 full extra-large garbage bags and a few swim breaks, they managed to clear the short stretch of beach of the majority of trash and restore it to its natural state of beauty,” said Mia Nielson, mom of one of the little girls, Rowyn Bush, who helped with the cleanup.
The remote North Side beach is hardly the only waterfront stretch in the Cayman Islands to have been affected by an influx of garbage.
It is a problem the volunteer group Plastic-Free Cayman has been attempting to address, in partnership with Red Sail Sports, since last year.
Since beginning efforts in September 2017 at Colliers Beach in East End, the group has collected thousands of pounds of trash from waterfront areas around Grand Cayman. Nearly 500 pounds were gathered during the Colliers cleanup. The next month, 1,100 pounds were gathered from Beach Bay in Bodden Town.
Since then, the group has been involved in cleanups at Barkers park in West Bay, the George Town Barcadere and Hog Sty Bay along the George Town waterfront.
The next cleanup is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 4, starting at 8 a.m. in SafeHaven.
The Sister Islands have seen their share of trash on local beaches as well, with some more well-known tourist areas like Point of Sand in Little Cayman being cleaned up on a regular, if voluntary, basis.
“Every bit helps,” said local schoolteacher Claire Hughes. “Every single bottle picked up is one that doesn’t break down into microplastics,” which are tiny pieces of polyethelene that can get into water and food supplies.
Ms. Hughes started Plastic-Free Cayman last year. The group has led some significant volunteer turnouts and had good progress in cleaning up beaches that otherwise might not receive much attention. However, Ms. Hughes has acknowledged that unless overall consumption habits change, the group is fighting an uphill battle.
“You can [do] beach cleans every week, but unless you start reducing plastic pollution, you’re going to have major problems,” she said.
Ashley Rossy of Red Sail Sports said the cleanups make local beaches look pristine, but “a week or so later, the plastic will be back.”
“It’s everywhere, it’s difficult to make a dent,” Ms. Rossy said. “But the cleanups are bringing more awareness to the community and more people are going out and doing their own cleanups as well.”
Ms. Hughes said single-use plastics, such as straws, bags, plastic bottles and plastic cups, are the “big four” when it comes to ocean pollution, and notes that much of the refuse ending up on Cayman’s shores does not necessarily come from here.
“We’ve been able to track a lot of stuff back to Haiti and the Dominican Republic,” she said. “Residents on these islands sometimes don’t have anywhere to dump their trash, so they just throw it into the sea.
“We’re addicted to it [plastic] really. It’s become so convenient for us that we don’t think twice about it. Fifty years ago, we didn’t have these things.”