For young Caymanian Milo Dack, protecting Cayman’s mangroves is not just a duty, it’s a calling he’s felt since he first started working as a tour guide in his teens.
He is one of 10 Caymanians training to be mangrove rangers in an initiative spearheaded by Mangrove Education Project director Martin Keeley.
“I think that it’s important that we start to educate young Caymanians, that… it’s important that we start to understand the importance of the ecosystem and the importance of the mangroves particularly,” Dack told the Cayman Compass in a Zoom interview Monday.
The project, a local non-profit organisation, launched the mangrove rangers initiative to mark World Mangrove Day last month.
Dack said when he saw a Compass article about the programme, he knew he had to get involved.
“I’m also involved with some of the other environmental programmes, such as Plastic Free Cayman. I applied and I thought… this would be a really good opportunity to get involved with the mangroves, to learn more and to start taking the future of the island a bit more seriously, and looking at how I can actually play a part,” he said.
He said having lost his job, he felt it was also an opportunity to educate himself on the environment.
“I’d say that it’s really important that young Caymanians get involved because it’s something that is such an important part of us as an island. It’s also an important part of the world because with climate change [and] global warming, mangroves play a huge part in protecting our island’s ecosystem,” he said.
It’s that mindset and desire to protect local mangroves that Keeley is hoping to encourage through the mangrove rangers initiative.
He said the rangers, who began training on Saturday, will be observing local developments to ensure they are following the law.
“It needs to be done to see if they are actually following the species conservation protection and, if not, then we will be reporting that information to Department of Environment… [I]t’s up to [the DoE] to decide what to do with it next and if they’re breaking the law, then they have to be taken to court,” he said.
Keeley said Cayman’s mangroves are under serious threat and require active protection to save them from being destroyed.
He pointed to the need for data detailing dates when various actions were observed because without that chronicle, “you don’t have any tangible evidence”.
At Saturday’s training session, the first of three for the rangers, Catherine Childs, education programmes manager with the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, conducted an in-depth session on mangroves and their ecological system. The rangers were also taken on a tour to explore the mangroves where they got firsthand training on species identification.
Keeley said the upcoming training sessions, which will be conducted over the next two Saturdays, will focus on the science behind data collection, “because one of the things they will be doing will be establishing data analysis of different areas of mangroves, like sea level rise, impacts of different kinds of changes to the mangroves, [and] measuring the amount of CO2 in our mangoes, which is almost double the international average, which is really interesting.”
He said the rangers will also be trained to test water quality and catalogue the different species of birds, reptiles, fish and crustaceans they find in the mangroves.
Steff Mcdermot, one of the project’s executive rangers who is leading the initiative with Keeley, said she was pleased the programme has taken off and that there is interest from young Caymanians.
“It perfectly aligned with my goals and I believe the Cayman Islands needs environmental conservation. The main reason why I got involved with it [is] because it promotes a blue and green economy. It is a COVID-response programme, so it grants opportunities to those who worked in the hospitality industry, but lost a job because of COVID-19, and it is also helping students who cannot go back to university,” she said.
The exciting part for her is “training [and] paying Caymanians to do environmental conservation work”, she added.
Mcdermot said she hopes the programme will set a standard for environmental conservation and show that young Caymanians can get paid to work in conservation with a diverse skill set.
“So you don’t have to be a science major to do conservation. You can also be a videographer, a marketer, or a graphic designer… [O]ne thing I really look forward to… is exposing the different career fields that’s needed in environmental conservation,” she said.
To learn more about the training programme, visit the Mangrove Rangers website.