A group of volunteers is helping to restore mangroves along the South Sound shoreline.
Cayman resident Chris Luijten’s newly established group, Cayman Mangrove Conservation which he started last month, already has 10 volunteers.

Luijten said he is seeking advice from a lawyer on how to register the group a non-profit organisation.

“In the meantime, we already have a website. We have started the project all alongside South Sound … up until Red Bay Dock,” he said.

Last month, Luijten donated $75,000 to purchase an area of mangroves to help offset carbon dioxide emissions by Protect Our Future students’ travel to Spain last month for a United Nations climate change conference.

He has set a 10-year timeline to restore mangrove species along the southern coastline. The plan includes replanting mangroves and protecting them from threats, he said.

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“The threats that are impacting mangroves are human activity, but it’s also sargassum [seaweed],” he said. “You can change the human aspect by educating people and creating new laws, but the combination of high tide and sargassum are going to kill what you’re doing. Sargassum management and mangrove restoration go hand in hand.”

He added that sargassum, which has plagued the Cayman Islands and the wider Caribbean in recent years, is a big issue for mangrove survival because when the seaweed comes in, it starts rotting, creating nitrogen which is detrimental to mangroves.

“Basically, it’s a chemical process, and you can really see that certain branches sort of sacrifice themselves to save the rest of the plant because they were the ones further from the sea,” Luijten said.

He said he also has seen landscaping companies incorrectly trim the mangroves to the point of damaging them.

“It’s important for everyone to follow the mangrove-trimming guidelines because if you don’t, you can kill the plant, and each different species of mangrove has a different requirement for trimming,” he said.

Luijten said he is looking at the whole spectrum and trying to learn from what has not worked, adding that he has only seen restoration efforts focus mainly on red mangroves, but he stressed that it is important to also restore black and white mangroves.

“The way mangroves appear in nature is they grow with the red mangroves more into the water, the black mangroves behind the red mangroves, and the white mangroves grow behind the black mangroves. The black mangrove traps sediment, which retains the shoreline, and the shoreline, of course, creates strength for the red mangroves. If you put one without the other, the chance that it will still be there 10 years later is lower,” Luijten explained.

He said that mangroves grow with the protection of bigger plants and trees and will wash away if they have no barriers or protection, and that his conservation group has found a solution to growing mangroves that it thinks is going to work.

“What we want to do is plant trees that grow very quickly, like plop nuts, coconut and sea grapes, so that we can create a small canopy under which the black mangroves have some protection. Then, once the black mangroves are big enough, they will either pass the canopy or we will trim back the plants that were there only to give them a start,” Luijten said.

The group got this idea through seeing the results the Department of Environment achieved when it undertook its mangrove-restoration project using ‘reef balls’ in 2007 in South Sound, after the damage wrought by 2004’s Hurricane Ivan. At the time, the DoE placed 800 of these reusable reef balls, which hold mangrove seedlings under water, protecting them during their initial growth.

“I’ve asked the DoE if they would allow us to reuse the pots that are now empty on the ocean floor to repeat this effort. Then, hopefully, once we hear from DoE on reusing those empty [ones], we can also make an effort into putting them in the water,” Luijten said.

DoE told the Cayman Compass it has not yet met with Luijten to discuss reusing the reef balls.

Luijten said he believes that through education and exposing people to the marine-life nurseries that mangroves house, Cayman’s tourism industry can be redefined.

“If you would do snorkelling under the mangroves, you see the most amazing things,” he said. “When there is a reef and there is a healthy functioning mangrove nearby, the reef can have up to 20 times more fish because the mangrove and the reef work together. Cayman needs to develop new types of tourism, do mangrove tourism, and show the beauty of the mangroves.”

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