With the arrival of Earth Day on April 22, 2016. there is one tourist destination, surrounded by clear and dramatically beautiful ocean, taking it very seriously. While the Cayman Islands attract millions of visitors each year to treasure its innocent and naive beauty, those who call this picturesque island home know the difficulties in keeping this bucket list beauty hypnotizing with the amount of traffic filtering in and out of the region daily.
Scuba diving is one of the major draws to the island day in and day out. It doesn’t get any more pristine and peaceful than this but constant preservation is the key to its virtue.
So, as Earth Day approaches, the Cayman Islands have all kinds of activities planned and a young Cayman resident, 24-year-old Gabriella Hernandez, has been meeting with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, the National Trust of the Cayman Islands and other organizations. Hernandez is also actively involved in Save Cayman, a non-profit organization focusing on sustainable tourism. One of Hernandez’s top priorities is protecting Cayman’s reefs and educating students on sustainability. Save Cayman has given Hernandez and other advocates like her, the proper platform to spread the word and build a greater and much needed awareness for the cause. Save Cayman sprang up in protest to a government approved cruise berthing facility in George Town, another equally hot and crucial topic, but its broader mission is sustainable tourism.
“These young Caymanians have helped organize events, provided energy for the cause, and have helped get the message out via social media,” said Keith Sahm, General Manager of Sunset House and one of the founders of Save Cayman. “They need to be involved – it’s their future at stake.”
Also of strong moral support and equally helpful, Cayman’s dive operators make it a priority to work with local schools throughout the year on programs aimed at educating students about conservation.
“We try to expose kids to the marine environment every chance we get to show them what’s underneath the water, so they can learn to appreciate it,” says Red Sail Sports Operations Manager Rod McDowall. “As they say ‘out of sight out of mind’ so we try to remedy that by taking kids out on our Catamarans and dive boats as often as we can to get them in the water.”
“We especially need young people as they seem to understand that ecosystems are quite literally the life-support systems that enable humanity to thrive (fresh air, clean water, pollination of crops etc.),” said Alistair Yeomans, who is an advisor to Save Cayman. “This is, in part, due to advances in school curricula (certainly in the UK) embracing the concept of sustainability.”
This message is loud and clear to the young people carrying the Save Cayman banner into 2016, and as they watch other island nations balance economic diversification with responsible usage of limited natural resources.
“In the Pacific there are island chains focusing on a ‘Green and Blue’ economic model, in which sustainable utilization of aquatic resources are ensuring their population’s economic well being,” says Rory McDonough, another young Caymanian involved in sustainability. “The Seychelles serve as an example of such a drive, with stringent marine controls and a commitment to the preservation of the marine life in their waters.”
McDonough says communication with other island nations, including Cayman’s Caribbean neighbors, and sharing research that can be used to educate the next generation will strengthen Cayman in the future.
“Increased community involvement in local food production and domestic renewable energy production will enable avenues for Caymanian employment to be opened as well as a national reduction of reliance on imported food supplies and fossil fuels,” he said.
“I believe that Cayman will have no choice but to embrace sustainability,” says Gabriella Hernandez. “We need a vision and to develop a national plan in which government officials are obliged to commit regardless of their party affiliations. A serious commitment to renewable energy, intelligent land use, increased protections for our natural resources, and a heavier investment in education so that young Caymanians can compete in a diversified and globalized economy.”
Hernandez and McDonough both say government needs to take a more active role in sustainability, and that without collaboration on all fronts, Cayman will fail to ensure that present and future generations can create a living in their homeland.
“Cayman is a small place and community willpower is a powerful force for change,” says Gabriella.