Try to visualise 1,857 pounds of trash – enough to fill 87 tall kitchen trash bags.
It’s the equivalent weight of about two grand pianos or two American quarter horses. It’s also the amount of trash cleared by volunteers from Cayman Brac beaches in just two days.
Plastic Free Cayman teamed up with the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, Rotary Club of Cayman Brac, Beach Combers and Protect Our Future to support the island’s brown booby population by cleaning the birds’ nesting grounds.
Finding plastic bottles, utensils, Styrofoam and other rubbish in these areas was the easy part.
“On Saturday alone, each person carried out more than 40 pounds of ocean debris, washing up on the shores of this little island. We returned back to the same stretch of beach the following day because there was just so much of it,” said Plastic Free Cayman in an email.
“The first sights of the beach invoked apocalyptic imagery,” the group said. “The beach was literally covered in plastic. It was obvious that the Caribbean has a huge waste management issue.”
Teacher Bill LaMonte said volunteers worked through rain and shine, sorting through bottles, toothbrushes and shoes. The list goes on.
The trip allowed Plastic Free Cayman and the National Trust to do outreach work in the Brac by visiting local schools and hosting a meet-and-greet.
“[Brac students] expressed sadness that their beaches have become the landfill for ocean pollution, as their shores are covered in plastic. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman provide a buffer for Grand Cayman, collecting the trash as it flows from countries like Haiti,” LaMonte said.
He added that the Brac would benefit from more support in managing the amount of waste that reaches its shores.
Catherine Childs, education manager at the National Trust, explained that most of the plastic waste in Cayman Brac was not generated there. Much of the trash results from poor waste-management and environmental practices elsewhere.
“Instead, it washes ashore from other countries that have few garbage-collection services. The real culprits though are the corporations that should be doing a better job of using biodegradable materials,” Childs said.
“Even though the trash didn’t originate in Cayman, it’s on our shorelines now and we must take the initiative to deal with the problem beyond a few dedicated volunteers. The problem is so big, it will require a larger initiative to address.”
One of the most notable impacts of the Brac’s plastic problem has been on the brown booby population.
Childs said the birds have been seen incorporating plastic into their nests and that the seabirds are at risk of ingesting the material.
“When birds eat plastic, it may puncture their internal organs, block their digestive tract, or their stomachs may become filled with this undigestible material, leading eventually to starvation,” Childs said.
To support the Brac’s community and environment, student Dejea Lyons, 16, encouraged residents of Grand Cayman to remember their neighbours.
“The Brac and Little are often called our ‘sister islands,’ but we are all of Cayman and we must fight to protect the future of ALL three islands. Not everyone understands this, as they try to divide us,” Lyons wrote.
DID YOU KNOW?
In 2018, the Department of Environmental Health reported collection of 50,079 tons of waste in the Cayman Islands. In 2012, that number was 22,947 tons
Source: Compendium of Statistics 2018