the other Cayman

I’m soaring. It’s moments like this that make life worth the bother. I pause to take it all in. In front of me is a dramatic jagged vertical cliff. Infinity lay behind me, or so it appears. Beneath me there is a bottom somewhere but I can’t see it. I look up and far away my eyes find the small outline of a boat hull. The tiny vessel is back where I came from but I don’t feel connected to that place anymore. For the moment I am in another world, and better for it.

That dive off of Grand Cayman’s North Wall is one of the many spectacular and moving dips below that I will always remember. I also especially cherish the memory of time spent at Bloody Bay, Little Cayman. I have visited the Amazon rainforest and marvelled at its staggering abundance of life. But Bloody Bay is no less alive than a rainforest. In fact, it is more so. The life is everywhere. Large and small, it’s everywhere. In addition to the coral, arthropods, and fish, there is the water itself. One does not merely swim in the Caribbean Sea to be near ocean life. In this sea, one doesn’t swim with life. One swims in life. It is all around, too plentiful to separate from non-living water. Millions of tiny animals, plants and “others” inhabit every cubic foot of seawater. The late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau was as accurate as he was poetic when he described seawater as “the broth of life”. Every day, scientists discover more about ocean life. Tens of thousands of new life-forms still await our notice. Coming years are sure to stun, excite and enlighten us in profound ways as we learn more about the role of marine viruses and the immense microbial ecosystem that exists in the deepest bottoms. I can’t wait.

Every child is told a batch of simple facts about the ocean in school. They hear that the Earth’s surface is covered mostly by water. But few children are taught how important the ocean is to land life. The world as we know it simply could not work without it. I’d consider that an important lesson. And few children are taught about the current condition of the marine environment and how human activity is degrading it overnight, geologically speaking. How many Caymanian children know that human-caused acidification is a catastrophic threat to ocean life cycles? How many have heard about the depressing estimate that all the world’s coral reefs will be dead by the year 2050? Do they understand the state of the world’s fisheries? Why aren’t we teaching all our children about how human actions on land impact the water around us? Knowledge must come before anyone will care and do the right thing. Today’s children will one day be politicians and business owners. And if they don’t know, they won’t care.

Given Cayman’s deep historical and cultural connections to the sea, one would think that every Caymanian child would be required to learn the basics of modern marine science. It’s not like they wouldn’t love to hear about it. I know this firsthand after giving lectures to young students in Cayman about oceanography and exotic marine life. They can’t get enough of it. It fascinates them and they instantly understand that it matters.

Beyond hearing about the ocean, however, shouldn’t every child see with their own eyes some of the beauty and wonders out there as well? Don’t underestimate the attitude-changing power of seeing a coral reef ecosystem, not in a photograph, but in person. Why not issue masks and snorkels on first day of primary school? Our world—including the Cayman Islands—does not end at the water’s edge and seeing is believing.

It was encouraging to see West Bay MLA Cline Glidden become a certified diver. He set a fine example for others. Anyone who has the desire to lead a three-island country like ours should be an experienced diver with an understanding of Cayman beyond the beach. Experiencing what is down there does not guarantee smart policy making when it comes to the marine environment, of course, but it should at least make irresponsible governance a bit more distasteful.

Maybe politicians, developers and business owners wouldn’t be so quick to ignore, degrade, destroy, and sell off our natural environment if they were avid divers who knew something about the immense beauty lies so close to our shores. After all, it’s far easier to neglect or ruin something you never knew.