The future of climate action

Sea-level rise, sustainable development worry young Caymanians

Cayman’s youth have become a resounding voice in discussions around environment and climate change. In the past year, high school and college students have organised community beach clean-ups and campaigned for a single-use plastics ban. Their activism has challenged development of a cruise port, degradation of mangroves and growth of landfill waste. They have rallied to protect community spaces like Smith Barcadere and promoted awareness through social media.

The Cayman Compass interviewed some of the islands’ students about their thoughts on climate change, the environmental policies they’d like to see implemented and the role young people play in the climate-change debate.

Their responses hinted at growing anxiety over sea-level rise, sustainable development and carbon emissions. Cayman’s students, if anything, are tuned in to the climate debate and concerned about what the future holds for their island home.

Here are some of the responses they shared.

Protect Our Future students meet at Cayman International School to tackle climate change.

On climate concerns:

“Climate change is a real thing and is happening now. It is important that we wake up and realise that, whether we like to admit it or not. We need to come together in order to bring change, save our beaches, save our reefs, save our mangroves and save our island. I think the government could take a major step against climate change by protecting our ecosystems, such as mangroves. … Our mangroves help absorb large quantities of carbon dioxide and they serve as barriers against tropical storms.”

– Ashanti Reid, 18

“The main thing here will be sea-level rise. People in Indonesia have already had to leave their small islands due to climate change and sea-level rising. Here, that is going to be a problem very soon – sooner than we know it. I live in South Sound and the road is very slanted. So as soon as water gets over that road, all of South Sound is just going to flood over.”

– Connor Childs, 17

“We need to get a grip on climate change. We need to understand that it’s not fake. It’s not a hoax. Most importantly, it is going to affect my generation and the generation below me. … I want [government] to put policies in place that will reduce the carbon footprint that we put on this earth, ban single-use plastic. We shouldn’t have so many cars on the island. We need to fix the dump.”

– Aquinnah Ebanks, 19

Ben Somerville leads protesters in 2019 during a demonstration about the port project and climate change. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

On protecting ecosystems:

“My overarching goal is to see our reefs 100% protected and our mangroves 100% protected. I’d like to see the government implement a policy that says you cannot, under any circumstance, rip out certain environments. But sadly, right now, the case is they say that in writing but people bypass this and they pay the low fines for ripping out our ecosystems.”

– Ben Somerville, 17

“The rising sea temperatures would have detrimental effects to our ecosystems, specifically the coral reefs, as this contributes to ocean acidification and coral bleaching. Growing up on the island, I’ve been really connected to the ocean and especially the coral. Seeing them degraded would be horrible.”

– Isabela Watler, 16

“Cayman’s coral reefs are important not only because they bring tourism but because they are vital for marine life. Without them, many habitats will be destroyed.”

– Marleigh Smith, 16

“Mangroves and seagrass are vital to the environment because they help stabilise the ocean’s floor. They also act as a barrier for storms and act as habitat for fish. If we work to protect these things, we can have a stable environment and also a place for tourists to enjoy.”

– Lily Gammage, 16

Students Lili Aleria (left), Nicolas Corin, Lilly Langevin, Amber Ebanks and Luke Sell spoke to the Cayman Compass about climate change.

On renewable energy:

“I would like to see more steps toward transitioning away from fossil fuel dependency. As we’re a high-income country that is very highly dependent on this for transportation, electricity, a lot of our lifestyle is dependent on this but there are other alternatives out there and it’s important to keep those in mind and develop solutions that slowly reach towards more sustainable [living].”

– Isabela Watler, 16

“Renewable energies are important for the future because they are not finite and we can use them as much as we want without damaging the environment too much. And fossil fuels, they are finite, they will run out and they release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, increasing global warming. Solar energy is the most suitable and effective for here in Cayman.”

– Rufus Davies, 16

“The government recently put in the ban on the four plastics and Styrofoam. That definitely is a step in the right direction. But also, they could do more in the sense of using renewable energy resources or making it more available for people on island. As we are a small island, it would be easier than in a bigger country to turn the entire island green and make it so that our carbon footprint as an island is small.”

– Sadie Finch, 17

On sustainable development:

“An important one for me is the way that we zone areas. A lot of areas of environmental importance to Cayman, such as mangrove areas, are just sold off as places for development, and mangroves are key to Cayman. They’re nurseries for fishes and many other types of animals as well. They help hold the sand and rock and the floor of the island in place. During hurricanes, that could erode the surface and cause millions of dollars in damages if we get rid of the mangroves. So, I think the importance of them cannot be [overstated]. We can’t keep developing on land that has mangroves.”

– Luke Sell, 18

“I think if climate change keeps getting ignored, we’re going to see a large drop in our economic prosperity on island, which then results only in more job loss. A lot of the development in Cayman promises job opportunities. However, with the real negative environmental impact that it provides, it’s almost the opposite that it’s offering. It’s offering the fact that there will be short-term jobs but in the long run, in the time where I am a working class individual and I have the opportunity to work, I’m not going to have the same job opportunities as others because I don’t have the same environment.”

– Ben Somerville, 17

“Sustainable development is important to climate change in Cayman because Cayman is arguably developing too quickly. It’s resulting in the destruction of our natural resources and assets. For example, Seven Mile Beach in the past 10 years has developed so quickly that it’s resulted in too many cars on the road constantly and overpopulation. It causes noise pollution, air pollution.”

– Yasmin Vernon, 17

On waste management:

“It’s crazy how fast this landfill is growing and usually the first thing people see when they set foot on this island is our disgusting landfill. And that’s not something that tourists want to be exposed to when they first set foot on a beautiful island.

“I hope that as government bans five different types of plastic, they also look at alternatives for recycling for different types of plastic since that’s a recurring type of litter that’s showing up around the world and it’s affecting all of our Sister Islands.”

– Lilly Langevin, 18

“Every day, because I take the highway to school, I can see the borderline between the highway and Mount Trashmore – the trees – getting thinner and thinner. Every day, I see them cutting down more and more trees. If we look at it scientifically, we see how trees really, positively affect our environment as a whole. So, by cutting down more trees, we can see that they’re adding more negative effects onto the list of pollution, Mount Trashmore and all the development.”

– Lili Aleria, 14

“A couple of weeks ago we had a dump fire and had to be sent home from school. That’s how big of a problem it is. It’s causing us to not get as much learning time as we should as students. And it’s causing problems for our health and the air [quality] of the island as a whole.”

– Nicolas Corin, 15

On government’s role:

“We can immediately take measures today to prevent, limit or control the excesses and impacts of climate change in the Cayman Islands. Of course, we cannot only do it alone. That is why we can work in a regional setting. We can work with CARICOM. We can make communications with Latin American nations so that we can work collaboratively. We can work internationally and that is how we can really mitigate climate change.”

– Richard Weber, 18

“As Cayman begins to address climate change and the way it’s affecting our island, it’s important to consider the decisions that we make through our governments that are affecting our surrounding environment, [such as] considering more sustainable development methods, especially when it comes to damaging our coastlines.”

– Mikayla Corin, 17

“The things I think government and managers in the Cayman Islands should focus on is traffic issues and regulations. If this upcoming port were to be developed in the future, they should definitely look at ways to limit traffic, since everyone is being affected by it. And also Mount Trashmore. Those are the two items that must be on the agenda.”

– Lilly Langevin, 18

On elevating the youth voice:

“Climate change is such a big topic here in Cayman, especially with the youth, as it is our generation that is going to be affected by everything that’s going on. With issues such as the port being built, Smith Cove being developed, overdevelopment and destruction of our wetlands, it’s really important that us as the youth rise up and spread the word, spread the message. Everyone that helps out is really appreciated and the fact that we’ve got so much involvement with these projects really shows that Cayman’s youth does care about climate change, which affects us here and the rest of the Caribbean nations.”

– Matt Gilmour, 17

“I’m really excited about all of the youth that have come together in support of climate-change initiatives and I think it’s really important for students to be educated about this and to take initiative because in the end it’s our future that’s going to be affected by climate change.”

– Isabela Watler, 16

“The kids are the ones that get their parents talking. Parents often don’t care enough about specific issues to research it themselves or even to go vote on it. But if the kids become passionate about this, if students start learning about it either in school or other activities, then they’ll start to talk to their parents about this. It will only have a knock-on effect in a positive way, as people become more aware of the impact of not only climate change but other issues that are going on on island.”

– Sadie Finch, 17

“We’ve come together and advocated a lot. There’s definitely change going on. Just voicing your opinion is important. Everyone’s opinion is important. It’s what creates change.”

– Amber Ebanks, 16

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