On Saturday, World Clean Up Day, 300 volunteers in Cayman converged on eight beaches across all three islands and removed 2.12 tons of trash – a record amount of marine debris collected locally in a single day.
The local clean-up teams joined efforts across the globe, in which 50 million volunteers took part in 180 countries.
The event was a collaboration between Plastic Free Cayman, CayOcean, Protect Our Future and the Mangrove Rangers, with these groups being joined by volunteers from schools, businesses, government offices and other local charities.
Governor Martyn Roper and his wife Lissie joined the Gun Bay clean-up, filling multiple bags.
Former MP Ezzard Miller spoke to the Protect Our Future students in North Side while clearing large areas of debris left behind by Tropical Storm Grace, and Minister for Financial Services André Ebanks helped out in West Bay, organisers said.
As the clean-up came just days after the first local transmission of COVID-19 was reported in a year, social distancing and the use of hand sanitiser and masks were encouraged at all locations.
The organisers said that, with gathering limits in place, having several areas instead of one large beach clean-up event allowed for a more holistic approach and a cap on volunteer numbers per location.
“In a time when anxiety is elevated in our community, this event showcased a way to gather and undertake community service in a safe and effective way,” the organisers said in a statement.
Cassandra MacDowell, of the Mangrove Rangers, said, “Over 60 volunteers cleaned up the area around West Bay dock where we were able to collect 231 pounds of trash. It was nice to see so many young kids come out with their friends to support World Clean Up Day.”
Plastic Free Cayman clean-up coordinator Sophie McBride was inspired by the Beach Bay volunteers, saying, “It was wonderful to see people who were out enjoying a run, sunset or a swim as they joined in the clean-up efforts. Small steps like this make a huge impact in our community.”
On average, each volunteer helped haul more than 14 pounds of trash from local shores. More than 2,000 pounds of rubbish was removed from Grand Cayman at six different locations (North Side, Gun Bay, Barefoot Beach, Beach Bay, Red Bay and West Bay); 1,824 pounds from beaches in the Brac; and 355 pounds from Little Cayman.
At Gun Bay, where he cleaned up with Governor Roper, Protect Our Future leader Thomas Dickens, said, “Our efforts were commendable, however, according to global statistics, today we picked up the total amount of plastic that our island consumes in just over 2 hours. Hopefully this will open people’s eyes to the extent of our consumption problem.”
As has been seen in most local beach clean-ups in recent times, the majority of the debris collected on Saturday was made of plastic and microplastics, including bottle caps, plastic spoons and forks, cigarette butts, toothbrushes, fishing line and rope, bits of polystyrene, shoes and parts of plastic bags.
Each site presented its own challenges, as trash was often embedded in rocks, sargassum, sand and at the base of the plants that line the coast. Several items were found to contain hermit crabs that have made plastic caps and bottles their home, the volunteers reported.
CayOcean Founder Brody Thomas, in the statement, said he was “ecstatic to see the turnout of volunteers and the amount of plastic collected across the Islands. I hope the results resonate with the government especially that we need a system change and with the people, a cultural change in the way we see, use, and treat plastic.
“Past events have shown that as a community we can come together; to rebuild and support in times of need. Our Islands are suffocating from plastic, and today because of our actions it was able to breathe a little better.”
The Plastic Free Cayman Team continues to push for a National Clean-up campaign and plastic ban policy similar to what has been done in other nations around the world. Last year, for example, the EU banned several single-use plastic items, including plastic cutlery, straws and plates, plastic bags, cotton buds, and polystyrene cups – which are also some of the most common items washing up on Cayman’s shores.
Plastic Free Cayman founder Claire Hughes said there were always mixed emotions at clean-up events. “There is joy and gratitude for the amazing volunteers, but sadness that we have to clean up in the first place,” she said in the organisers’ statement, adding, “Large corporations must take responsibility for their packaging and it is clear that we desperately need a National Clean Up Scheme in the Cayman Islands.”
The organisers thanked Lucky Slice for sponsoring raffle prizes for volunteers at each location, and the Department of Environmental Health, the Department of Environment and JUNK for supporting the event.