Marine research centre stepping up its game

 With a bare bones staff and tight budget the Central Caribbean Marine Institute has steadily grown to become a premiere research centre over several years. Now it has brought on a new managing director to step up its game.
   A key initiative for managing director Brenda Gadd will be raising the research centre’s profile within the local community and fundraising to get it to the next level: Education and increasing public support on marine conservation. This will free up the research centre’s founder, Dr. Carrie Manfrino, to focus on developing the research and academic programmes.
   “We want to engage the community more and take what we have and make it better,” says Gadd. “We have been here for ten years and there are still people in Little Cayman that don’t know what we do. While we have good relations with the media and partner organisations we are doing a bad job of getting the word out.”
   Up until the time Gadd coming on board, Manfrino managed the Marine Institute with the help of few key board members, says Manfrino, who comes down to the research centre throughout the year.
   “At that time the board decided to set in place a number of volunteer committees, which would help me manage fundraising and development, education programmes, and the financial aspects of the organisation,” says Manfrino.  “Now, with Brenda on board as our managing director, we have the full-time operational and management leadership that our organisation needs in the Cayman Islands.“
   Gadd is using the two-month lull over September and October in the research centre’s operations to putting the pieces in place to raise its profile a few notches. She will be working on ramping up the committee and other efforts for the Festival of Trees, an annual fundraiser event that brings in about 40 per cent of the research centre’s budget.
   There is a lot of work in holding a first class fundraiser event like the Festival of Trees. There are the trees to gather, set up and decorate at Camana Bay for three days. There are hundreds of donated gifts ranging from getaways, jewellery, art and other merchandise for the silent auction that need to be collected from shops and companies. There are also e the food and beverage arrangements needed for the main event.
   Gadd will also be working on building stronger relationships with government agencies such as the Environment and Tourism departments.  Meeting the board members and supporters are also on the agenda. And re-opening the Grand Cayman office and hiring two employees. One employee will be working on educational and community outreach efforts in Grand Cayman year round. The other part-time employee will focus on fundraising.
   The Marine Institute already has donated office space from Stewart Walker Hersant law firm. It is small, but it is enough space for two employees to work.
   When the busy season for the research centre starts up again, Gadd will be heading back to Little Cayman. She will be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the research centre. From making sure that visiting scientists and instructors get the boats, equipment and other things they need to other things that crop up, like needing another diver for underwater for camp.
   Another initiative will be adding three eco-cottages to the property for visiting scientists and instructors. The current dormitory sleeps 24, but frequently visiting instructors will bring down groups with more than that and the overflow has to be put up in nearby resorts.
   Working on an island with a population ranging from 50 to 150 people year round will not phase Gadd. Before coming to the Cayman Islands, Gadd managed a marine research centre in Exuma, Bahamas for four years. When there were no visiting scientists in residence, the total population on Exuma was two people.
   There are tradeoffs in doing this type of work, says Gadd.
   “If you want to go on improving the conditions of the marine environment and stewardship, then you have to live there,” says Gadd. “And most of the time, stewardships  are in remote places.”
 Research centre analyzes 10 years of data
   The Central Caribbean Marine Institute has just completed collecting ten years of data on the conditions around Cayman. Preliminary results show minor coral coverage in the last five years, says Dr. Carrie Manfrino, president and director of research at the Marine Institute.
   “The massive bleaching event in 2005, which resulted in losses around the Caribbean had little impact on the reefs around Little Cayman,” says Manfrino. “We are working up the fish data results, but preliminarily, we see little change in our fish density (number fish per volume) over the past ten years.”
   “This is good news because it suggests that the fishing pressures around Little Cayman are low enough to maintain our reef populations,” she added.
   Analysis of the data has just gotten underway. Manfrino expects the analysis to be completed in January 2010.