Mangroves provide storm protection, habitat for native species, weather regulation and carbon sequestration. Mangrove forests, invaluable ecosystems on the planet, are depleting rapidly due to climate change and over-development.
Protecting the mangroves in the Cayman Islands has been on activists’ agenda for many years. With over 60% of the mangrove forests, about 3,900 hectares, lost in the western areas of Grand Cayman since 1970, this is not surprising. The remaining 8,500 hectares left and the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the Caribbean – the Central Mangrove Wetlands – remains under threat primarily due to illegal dumping and tourism development. In addition, some local Caymanians see the mangroves as ‘stinky swamps’ and do not necessarily understand the value in protecting them.
Emerging Mangrove Protectors
The latest group to join the battle to protect and preserve what they call the ‘heart of Cayman’ is the Mangrove Rangers – the brainchild of Chris Lujten, founder of Cayman Mangrove Conservation that is now part of the Mangrove Education Project, the NGO flagship of the Rangers. Martin Keely, the founder of the Mangrove Education Project is the co-founder.
The Cayman Islands Mangrove Rangers was set up in August 2020 to protect to preserve the mangroves in the country and enlighten youth and locals on the importance of mangrove forests.
Who are the Mangrove Rangers?
Mangrove Rangers are a group of young volunteers who are passionate about protecting our environment. They come from diverse backgrounds such as marketing, law, hospitality and education.
They undergo training through a series of workshops conducted by experts in areas ranging from science to law, for example, the mangrove ecosystems and Mangrove Species Conservation Law introduced in 2020. Not only do they use their knowledge and special skills to protect Cayman’s invaluable resource, but they also help educate students, parents, teacher and their communities to understand and monitor the mangroves in the Cayman Islands. They are engaged in observation, outreach, data collection and advocacy activities.
In addition to public education, they hope to influence policy decisions and legislative changes and stop illegal dumping in the mangroves.
Six Months Later
Within a mere six months of startup, the Mangrove Rangers have been able to catch a large factory illegally dumping cement in the mangrove forests resulting in the company cleaning the area.
They held their first two-day Mangrove Discovery Camp at the end of January to celebrate World Wetlands Day (2nd February). This camp involved a series of hands-on activities based on the Marvelous Mangrove curriculum taught in all Cayman schools for over twenty years.
The Rangers began working on piloting the new Marvelous Mangrove curriculum in the classroom early this year with Year 11 students. As part of the curriculum, Year 11 students will collect, analyse and record data every year from a location identified in March.
Mangrove Rangers are involved in various projects such as developing a video series for teachers entitled ‘Creature Features’ that focuses on the inhabitants and dependents of the Central Mangrove ecosystem, surveying mangrove concrete dumps and, education programs for students.
The Mangrove Rangers piloted a kayak tour of the Central Mangroves for students in conjunction with Sea Elements – kayak operators. School and public education programmes and class presentations for Years 10 and 11 were held.
The Junior Mangrove Rangers for 11 – 18-year-old students, launched in March, is a structured programme designed to educate young ones about Cayman’s mangroves and the coastal lagoon ecosystem and equip them with skills such as data collection.
Mangrove Rangers continues to work with partners such as Protect Our Future and the Cayman International School to educate young people to protect the Cayman Islands’ ecosystem
Q & A with Mangrove Ranger: Dinara Perez
Last year, twenty-year-old Caymanian Dinara Perera took a sabbatical from her studies in Sustainability and Environmental Management at the University of Leeds, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, she spends much of her time with the Mangrove Rangers to protect and restore the mangroves in the Cayman Islands, where it has become a major environmental issue.
What motivated you to join the Mangrove Rangers?
I became interested in the environment when I was fourteen years old, working with the Water Authority Cayman as an intern. I realised how the environment and society are linked with water. When COVID happened, I became even more aware and felt that I needed to do something. So I applied to be a volunteer with Mangrove Rangers.
What is your role at Mangrove Rangers?
I am now the secretary responsible for the administrative aspects of Mangrove Rangers. I help with the camps, training and raising public awareness. I also attend Central Planning Authority meetings particularly those where the development sites have a mangrove impact. I record what is left of the mangroves, what they are filled with and any wildlife.
What would you like to see in the future?
I want to see more rangers get involved in activism and advocacy to protect Cayman’s Central Mangrove Wetlands. I also want us to expand data collection to help establish baseline data and how change is affecting Cayman. We need data to stimulate policy change and data to back up proposals. We need to start now so that it can be used in the future.
For more articles on sustainability and social engagement in the Caribbean, read our latest issue of ApaNa Magazine.
Issue 5 provides a range of technical articles covering the environment, climate change and renewable energy, corporate giving and features nonprofit organisations including the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS), Barbados Youth Business Trust, the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange, Martin Keeley (renown mangrove activist and educator who developed the Mangrove Education Curriculum) and the Cayman Islands Mangrove Rangers.
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