The Mangrove Education Project is seeking a few good Caymanians for its Mangrove Ranger programme.
The non-profit organisation is set to launch the new initiative on Sunday as Cayman prepares to mark World Mangrove Day.
Martin Keeley, executive director of the Mangrove Education Project in Cayman, said on Thursday that the Mangrove Ranger programme was borne out of a need to educate and protect the vital habitats around the islands.
He said Cayman’s mangrove destruction is worrying, as he has seen the country move from development to overdevelopment.
“We have seen in the last 30 years serious problems with the destruction of mangroves in Cayman. We have seen a major loss of mangrove all over the islands,” Keeley said in a telephone interview with the Cayman Compass Thursday.
He said when he first arrived in Cayman, more than 20 years ago, there were only two hotels on Seven Mile Beach and two hotels on Sound Sound road, including Sunset House which is still going, and “the rest was mangroves all the way from George Town to West Bay”, he said.
Back then, he said, from South Sound to Savannah was also just mangrove; there were hardly any roads and basically no development.
However, that is no longer the case, and the Mangrove Education Project’s main focus for the mangrove rangers will be to protect Cayman’s central mangrove forest.
“We are not seeing any control [of development]. We have a chance now, with what happened with COVID and the green economy plan that is being proposed, to shift our focus on doing it right,” he said.
He said the non-profit organisation is looking for between 12 to 20 mangrove rangers, all Caymanians between the ages of 18 and 40.
“It is voluntary for people that have work, but for young Caymanians, in particular, who were unable to work due to COVID, they will be paid a small stipend,” he said.
Keeley said the creation of mangrove rangers is an important component in giving effect to the recently passed mangrove conservation provisions.
In March, the government adopted the Species Conservation Plan, which formalises mangrove protection. Anyone who removes, damages or kills mangroves commits an offence under Section 33 of the National Conservation Law.
“The idea is to be able to monitor what is going on and to establish a baseline data on mangroves around the island because, at the moment, there is very little data, and so we need to establish that. For example, we need to monitor sea-level rise. We actually do not know the impact of sea-level rise right now, we know that it is a problem,” Keeley said.
The data will be fed to the Department of Environment and any breaches of the law discovered by the rangers will be acted upon by DoE conservation officers.
Keeley said a major area of concern for his team is the change in the Emerald Sound development in South Sound, which is now renamed as Cayman Crossing.
“There was massive mangrove destruction and removal there, and we just saw that has been changed, without any knowledge and notice to anyone, to another development,” he said.
He said Cayman’s central mangrove forest covers 8,500 acres and is considered to be the largest continuous mangrove forest in the Caribbean.
Keeley said Cayman has already lost thousands of acres of mangroves and he is hoping the destruction will stop or, at least, be better managed.
Back in the 1970s when he first arrived, Keeley said there were 5,300 acres of mangrove along the West Bay peninsula. Now, there are only 1,500 acres of mangrove left there.
“Although mangrove habitats help retain carbon, protect our island from storm surges and hurricanes, and are home to immense biodiversity, they are severely threatened. Mangroves are disappearing five times faster than overall global forest losses. In fact, in the last 40 years, it is estimated that we have lost 50% of our global mangrove coverage. Here in Cayman, we have less than 40% of our mangroves left, most of which can be found in our Central Mangrove Wetland ecosystem,” a Mangrove Education Project statement said.
Mangroves, Keeley added, are important for staving off the impacts of sea-level rise and rising ocean temperatures.
He said the team at the Mangrove Education Project, which includes Steff McDermot and Bill Lamonte, will begin processing applications for the ranger positions on Sunday.
All of the rangers, he said, will be trained in mangrove ecology, the conservation law and data collections, which will take three weeks.
Keeley said he expects to have the rangers fully functional by the end of August.
World Mangrove Day was adopted by the General Conference of UNESCO in 2015 and, according to a media statement, “aims to raise awareness of the importance of mangrove ecosystems as a unique, special and vulnerable ecosystem and to promote solutions for their sustainable management, conservation and uses”.
To sign up for the rangers and for more information on events for World Mangrove Week (26 July-1 Aug.), email [email protected].