UCCI Friends of the Environment met for the first time 27 June at an informal guest speakers programme thank you event.
Speakers have given presentations based on their own knowledge and expertise to associate degree science students as part of the voluntary guest speaker programme developed by the math and science faculty over the past half-decade.
Lois Blumenthal presents and advises on a variety of environmental issues including bats and butterflies of the Cayman Islands and the recovery programme for injured wildlife. Her daughter Janice, research officer with the Department of the Environment, walks the turtle nesting beaches weekly with Joni Solomon. They always invite students and interested persons to participate.
Joni and Janice have both imparted a wealth of information on the biodiversity of the aquatic and coastal ecosystems of Cayman and either Joni or John Bothwell captain DOE boat and field-trips for UCCI students.
UCCI students have also greatly benefited from the plant, butterfly and wildlife expertise of Ann Stafford and Ms Blumenthal. Geddes Hislop, former wildlife ranger in Trinidad now land animal and education curator at Boatswain’s Beach Park, also generously dispenses years of hands-on knowledge about Cayman Island and Caribbean tropical plant and animal behaviour.
Geddes gave a talk recently at UCCI about reptiles and the identification of the recently captured crocodile in Cayman waters. It is alive and well, and according to DNA tests, is allegedly a hybrid resulting from the mating of a Cuban with an American crocodile.
Joe Parsons is the Boatswain’s Beach expert on turtles who shows students the temperature and humidity-controlled hatching rooms where turtle eggs reside until they join their compatriots at the farm or on the turtle release programme.
Cayman Coral Reef life continues to be well-documented through the expertise and superlative photography of Brian Chapell, Courtney Platt, Darvin Ebanks, Cathy Church, adding to the much-needed education of science students.
Speakers about the plight of captive dolphins are regularly brought by Billy Adam of Hobbies and Books. The UCCI SCUBA Club is an offshoot of the Environmental Science Programme, run entirely by enthusiastic students who snorkel and dive from the shore, often courtesy of Sunset House Divers.
The terrestrial ecosystems are not neglected. The Blue Iguana Recovery Programme fronted by Fred Burton has seen Mr. Chapell and students assist with the Blue Iguana hatchling release at the Cayman Salina Reserve.
Less intrepid students and members of UCCI faculty enjoy talks given by Chris Carr and the Blue Iguana breeding facility assistants at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, managed by Andrew Guthrie who is also a keen guest speaker on the history of the park, botany of the Islands and orchid propagation. .
The Department of the Environment provides speakers and advice on coastal and aquatic research and planning issues, the Darwin Project (Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Tim Austin). Students have seen power- point presentations, discussion and exercises based on DOE roles and responsibilities (Joni Solomon), coastal mangroves (John Bothwell), turtles, Barkers National Park (Janice Blumenthal, Catherine Bell), terrestrial ecosystems, tropical plant botany, land management, (George Proctor, Mat Cottam), enforcement (Ladner Watler and team). Bradley Johnson and Kirsten Luke also give state-of-the-art talks on their respective research topics. Further expertise on simplifying the complexities of global environmental law was given in a talk by Murali Ram.
The National Trust for the Cayman Islands, located at the Dart-funded public park by the sea on South Church Street, is also a haven of information, advice and friendship, linking students to wildlife through their shop, meeting room, library, photography, displays, and talks.
The NT team presents various educational talks, including some on orchids (Frank Roulstone), wildlife biodiversity and bats (Marnie Laing).
The National Museum of the Cayman Islands has provided audio-visual aids, models, environmental and cultural displays (Anita Ebanks, Peggy Denton and Teams).
The group has seen specimens, maps and the 3D model scaled to show Cuba, Jamaica and the three Cayman Islands rising from the 7000+ metres deep [21,000+ feet] Cayman Trench out of the Caribbean Sea.
Volunteer speakers from the Department of Environmental Health (Tania Johnson) and the Water Authority (Marcella Martinez-Ebanks) have helped students understand the niceties of water, air and soil quality. There is always an emphasis on the importance of reducing and recycling waste.
Energy have been covered by Joey Ebanks and Dave Sawchak who both spoke on household power-saving strategies and alternative energies for the future such as solar power.
The knotty problems and varied scientific, local and personal solutions pertaining to global warming and climate change issues were covered by Fred Sambula, senior manager of the Cayman Islands Weather Service. Lisa-Ann Hurlston of the DoE brought Emma Tompkins who spoke on climate change research, jointly conducted with the UK Tyndall Centre on Climate Change.
Integrated pest management, and the control of mosquitoes on the Islands were featured in presentations and innovative labs on real insects given by Alan Wheeler and Paul Clayson of MRCU. Department of Agriculture Colin Wakelin supervised a visit to the slaughterhouse at the Department of Agriculture in Lower Valley.
Environmental science students also benefit from visiting the annual Agricultural Shows and the private trout farm owned by Leroy Mitchell, supervised and assisted by Alexander Benn.
Pilar Bush and Patrice Donald of the Department of Tourism held discussion groups. Patrice Donald, Catherine Bell, Janice Blumenthal and Joni Solomon helped run environmental questionnaires past our students who learned the value of survey and analysis from the exercise.
Anyone interested in being a UCCI guest speaker for environmental science and/or biology topics or those who want more information can contact [email protected] or [email protected] for more information.
Lois Blumenthal and Billy Adam have been guest speakers at UCCI. Photo: Submitted