Delwin McLaughlin has been boating on the waters around Cayman for many years, but what he saw last Thursday stunned him: a floating stream of plastic more than a mile long in the ocean west of George Town.
“I’ve seen plastic here and there, but not miles long,” said McLaughlin, a harbour patrol officer for the Port Authority. “I’ve never come across miles of trash in my whole life.”
He said his fellow officer on the boat that day has even more years on the water than he does, and he had also never seen a stream of pollution like the one they encountered.
McLaughlin, who has worked for dive companies and for the Department of Environment, took a video of the trash, with his concern evident in his accompanying commentary.
“It was like 15 minutes to half an hour of constant trash,” he said.
The flotsam included plastic utensils, foam cups, plastic bags and other material.
“The video doesn’t do it justice,” he said, adding that because of the glare on the surface of the water, it’s impossible to see that much of the plastic is submerged. He estimated the floating patch was a foot or two deep.
“It’s heartbreaking,” he said.
Some people who have seen his video have blamed the trash on the cruise ships that visit Cayman, but McLaughlin said he is certain the ships are not responsible, based in part on the content of the debris.
He said he has seen images before of islands of trash floating in the open ocean. But to see something similar a mile and a half off the shores of Cayman made an impression on him.
“To see it in person, it brings a whole new level of concern,” he said. “Something has to be done immediately. If we don’t do something soon, it’s going to get a lot worse.”
Officials at the Ministry of Health said months of discussions have led to a meeting this Wednesday on addressing plastics on Cayman.
Chief Officer Nancy Barnard said this will be the first meeting addressing the scourge of single-use plastic. “I’m super excited about this,” she added.
She said the ministry would release information on the discussions following the meeting.
On Monday, McLaughlin said the floating trash had dissipated somewhat.
“We went out again this morning,” he said. “It wasn’t as bad and it was a little closer to shore.”
But he said he knows all the plastic he saw is still in the ocean.
The experience has spurred him to change his personal habits, he added.
He and his wife sat down a couple of nights ago to discuss ways to use less plastic and recycle more.
“After seeing this, it’s brought a lot of light to me,” he said, adding that while he is only one person, “you have to start somewhere”.