Cayman schoolchildren gathered on the steps of the Government Administration Building on Friday to call on the government to take urgent steps to protect the local environment.
The children waved posters and placards asking for a ban on single-use plastics, as well as a halt to plans to build a cruise pier in downtown George Town and greater protections for local coastal areas.
During the peaceful protest, which was attended by some adult residents as well as about 150 students, the children wrote their demands and comments in chalk on the building steps and held up banners that read: “Our reef is our future” and “Ignorance decides our future.”
Passing motorists expressed their support by honking their horns as they drove past on Elgin Avenue.
The students had a number of demands, including calling for a plastic-free Cayman, protecting local seagrass, a reversal of plans to build a cruise ship pier in George Town, the creation of more recycling outlets, cleaner seas, and generally greater protections for the environment.
“We want change and we want it now, because it is not just about plastic. It is also about coastal development and the destruction of our natural habitat,” one student protesting in front of the building shouted through a bullhorn.
Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour met the students on the building’s front steps and through a loudspeaker said that government was committed to addressing their concerns.
He told them he had grown up at a time when Cayman could not afford to waste anything. “As soon as you would put something aside that looked old and of no use, someone would come to your house and ask you if you’re not using that anymore, and can they have it. So, we grew up re-purposing things here in Cayman,” he said.
He said when progress and prosperity came to Cayman’s shores, products were taken for granted, and he urged the students to keep the pressure on.
Kenneth Bryan, elected member for George Town Central, told the children that they will be the generation that changes the world. “Continue to apply the pressure to get us in line to save the island,” he said.
Students from East End Primary, Wesleyan Christian Academy, Grace Academy, Cayman International School, Cayman Prep and Bodden Town Primary were among the demonstrators. The kids ranged in ages from 5 to 18.
Richard Weber, 18, the Cayman International School coordinator of the event, said the children were trying to achieve change regarding single-use plastics in the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean.
Weber said there were several issues affecting Cayman’s ecosystem and culturally and environmentally important habitats, such as Barkers or Eden Rock.“The fact that a lot of these areas have been … put to the side instead of being in the forefront of government environmental policy shows to me that the government needs to take greater attention in … establishing a body that can officially protect our habitats for the youth of today, as well as tomorrow,” Weber said.
He said great strides were being taken to reducing and almost eliminating the use of plastic at his school.
“We went away from single-use plastic to using metals and reusable metal forks and knifes. There have been clampdowns on plastic water bottles and the school has set up water centres. We are also seeing this happening at other schools,” he said.
Fellow Cayman International School student Olivia Zimmer, 18, said the students organised the protest for the youth to show local leaders that young people in Cayman are concerned that the government is not doing enough to protect their future.
“The protest also draw public eye to the awareness of single-use plastic, which poses a threat to the natural environment and, indeed, even health,” she said.
“Most of us have grown up here. The beaches, the oceans and all our mangroves are the beautiful things we love about this island [that] we are seeing slowly go away,” she said.
Mikayla Corin, 18, also from Cayman International School, said, “It is so important to us that those things are around in the future and if the government does not start fighting back about some of these plans and development that are being put in play, then we are going to have nothing to protect in the future,” she said.
This is the second consecutive year students from local schools have taken their concerns about the environment to the government’s front door. Last June, on World Oceans Day, students gathered on the Government Administration Building steps and handed letters to Environment Minister Seymour calling for an end to single-use plastics.