Mangroves are a crucial part of the Cayman Islands coastline where they protect communities from storms, prevent erosion, store carbon, and are an important habitat for threatened species. The Cayman Islands’ mangrove forests serve as a sanctuary for sea turtles, parrots, iguanas, sea horses and many fish species. Since 1970, 3,900 acres of mangrove forest have been lost in the Cayman Islands and with only 1,500 acres of mangrove left it is vital to protect this remaining area…which is exactly what the Cayman Island Mangrove Rangers are doing.
The Cayman Islands Mangrove Rangers program has been established to protect the Islands’ last remaining mangrove forests. The program trains young Caymanians to protect the remaining mangroves and to help create a sustainable future for the Cayman Islands. The rangers are working to protect the mangroves and to educate and enable students, teachers, and local communities to understand the importance of these incredible ecosystems. As well as raising community awareness, the rangers are collecting vital data on the health of the mangroves and are monitoring mangrove destruction through illegal forest removal and coastal development. They ensure that developers and landscapers are aware of the laws surrounding mangroves and the Species Conservation Plan in the Cayman Islands.
We were lucky enough to sit down with one of the Mangrove Rangers, Dinara, to find out more about their vital work:
What drew you to mangroves in the first place and how did you get involved with the Mangrove Rangers?
Dinara: I first became interested in the environment when I started doing internships at the Water Authority – Cayman, where I learnt about the interconnectedness of our nature and society. This later inspired me to study Sustainability and Environmental Management at the University of Leeds in the UK. However, I only got involved in mangroves when I joined the Mangrove Rangers.
It was through our training and work as rangers that I learnt more about the intricate ecosystem, the Central Mangrove Wetlands, which is the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the Caribbean, and about how data informs policy which helps to create change. I had deferred my university studies this academic year, so this allowed me to become deeply involved in the Mangrove Rangers and learn as much as I could.
Can you tell us your favorite story or experience you’ve had in the mangroves?
Dinara: It was one of my first experiences exploring the mangrove forests as part of the Mangrove Rangers. We had heard of a huge development coming up, so we wanted to check it out. However, to get to the actual site required a bit of a trek through some of the remaining mangrove forest in that area.
Once we got past the trash on the boundary between the roadside and the mangrove forest, we were surrounded by all these big and beautiful mangrove trees. It was an amazing experience like no other… we saw some native plants and a few wildlife as well.
However, it was incredibly disheartening once we reached the development site because much of the land had already been cleared and filled. Plus, we knew that the mangroves we had just come through were likely to be next.
Why are the mangroves so important on the islands of Cayman?
Dinara: Mangroves provide so many ecosystem services that are invaluable for Cayman. For example, they affect our rainfall patterns; they help to replenish our freshwater lenses (which some people use for their domestic household water or for agriculture); they protect our homes and communities from storms, and they are even important for the general wellbeing of Cayman. Whether it is by being a place where anyone can go to visit or by helping to regulate our climate. Tourism is our second biggest industry and our intricate mangrove ecosystems help to support this due to the incredible wildlife they are home to. Mangroves are also a part of the coastal lagoon ecosystem and thereby support our coral reefs which is a major tourist attraction.
Mangroves play a really important role in our future in the face of climate change. As a small island, Cayman will be greatly affected by the impact of climate change and sea level rise in the coming years. Therefore, it is not only important that we increase our resilience to climate change, but we help to lead the way in creating a climate resilient future. This includes protecting our mangrove forests, especially the Central Mangrove Wetlands, which is the largest contiguous mangrove forest in the Caribbean. Mangroves are so important, because the sequester carbon, known as blue carbon, which helps to mitigate climate change. When these mangroves are torn down and filled then all the carbon stored in the peat is released significantly contributes to climate change.
Can you describe some of the threats your mangroves face? What does a typical day as a ranger look like and what are you doing to help?
Dinara: In Cayman, I would say that the primary threat to our mangrove forests is unplanned and inappropriate development. Since the lockdown was lifted, we have observed an explosion of construction. And, from what I understand, there is a lot of pressure to develop right now whether it is because of COVID and the economy or foreign interests or corruption or even just our traffic problem. However, our mangrove ecosystems are more valuable alive and intact, instead of covered in cement. While it is really disheartening to see so many mangroves being destroyed, it is incredibly inspiring to see how many people are taking a stand to protect our remaining mangrove forests.
A day as a ranger can vary significantly. Sometimes we are attending meetings with stakeholders or visiting a development site and collecting data. We also recently launched the Junior Rangers which is a new aspect of our education program for the youth.
What does the future of mangroves (in the Caymans) look like to you and what can you and young people do to help?
Dinara: I am hoping that we will be able to protect the Central Mangrove Wetlands, in its entirety. I know that my generation is becoming more involved and aware, but we are also seeing our ecosystems and surroundings destroyed before our eyes, so it is easy to feel helpless. I think it is very important to be involved at a local level about what will happen in Cayman. That means writing letters, attending meetings, asking questions, and using your knowledge and awareness to educate others. In my experience, I have found this to be tough because sometimes you do not think you have enough experience to say anything but it is so important to put yourself out there and show that you care, even if sometimes that means you might fail.
Mangrove Action Project is working alongside the Mangrove Rangers to increase the number of rangers and to educate and empower local communities. This includes providing funds to expand the program, develop training materials, and purchase monitoring equipment, and to offer continued support to local communities to ensure they can protect and manage the Cayman Island mangroves for generations to come.
You can help the Mangrove Rangers by donating to their project. Your donation will help train mangrove rangers to develop the necessary skills to protect and monitor mangroves and educate communities to understand the true value of mangrove ecosystems and their importance to the Cayman Islands