Thankfully in the face of rising concerns over Cayman's environment, many community members and organisations are stepping up to do their part.
Here, you'll find our guide to Cayman's Green Scene, which outlines current environmental issues and the initiatives in place to combat them.
Environmental issues facing Cayman
Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD)
Caymanians and marine conservationists are focusing their attention on the rapidly-increasing outbreak of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (STCLD). STCLD is a parasitic disease that has already affected over 20 species of Caribbean coral. It first emerged in 2014 in Florida, and was originally suspected to be a bacterial pathogen spreading through Cayman’s waterways. However, new research as of August 2021 has found that STCLD may not be caused by bacteria, but a viral disease called Zooxanthellae that releases infectious substances.
Although the disease has not yet made an appearance on corals in Little Cayman and Cayman Brac, SCTLD spread rapidly among Grand Cayman’s coral reefs throughout 2021 and, devastatingly, by November of the same year, SCTLD encompassed the entire of Grand Cayman's coast.
Researchers have so far been unable to determine the cause and method of transmission of this coral disease. It has been suggested that it is a bacterial pathogen that is transmitted by touch and water circulation. Whilst other findings suggest it is a viral pathogen that may be disrupting the natural symbiosis between the coral and the algae that depend of each other to survive. Unfortunately, there is currently no known cure for this disease.
How can you help?
- Report it Report suspected signs of SCTLD. Send photos and your location to the SCTLD Caribbean Report, the AGRRA tracker or the Facebook page.
- Disinfect your dive gear Modes of transmission are much higher when divers are in the water, as bacteria and other microorganisms live inside divers’ gear, especially wetsuits and gloves. These pathogens spread from the gear into the water. Disinfect all equipment and boat bilge water with 1% bleach
- Don't touch As above, pathogens can spread and the effect is even worse if divers touch the corals directly.
- Volunteer time The DOE are looking for people who are nitrox trained, have dive insurance (preferably DAN), have their own dive gear (with a minimum of 100 dives) and are available at least 2 days per week for training and SCTLD search. Email: Tammi.Warrender@gov.ky to volunteer to help with the project or to seek further information about SCTLD.
Preserving the Mangroves
Mangrove trees are often known to be the 'first line of defence' against natural disasters for coastal countries. Not only do they protect our coastline from flooding due to rising sea levels, but they also conserve carbon, maintain good water quality by filtering sediments, as well as provide biodiversity hotspots for crabs, sea turtles, birds, fish and many other species - some of which are endangered. As outlined in the National Conservation Act, section 17, the following mangrove species are considered as protected wherever they are naturally growing, or in cases where they have been restored: Red Mangrove (Rhizophora mangle), White Mangrove (Laguncularia racemosa), Black Mangrove (Avicennia germinans), Buttonwood (Conocarpus erectus).
Mangroves are arguably one of the most important ecosystems in the Cayman Islands, forming the framework of seasonally and largely flooded wetlands. Mangroves are what protect Cayman's coastline from significant environmental damage, erosion, as well as lowering the chance of us being affected by tidal floods.
According to the Cayman Islands Mangrove Rangers,
The Cayman Islands Mangrove Rangers are an organisation aiming to protect the Islands' remaining mangrove forests. They currently train young Caymanians to understand the importance of preserving the mangroves in a sustainable way. They also collect data on the human impacts upon mangrove ecosystems in the Cayman Islands through intense observation, and they then report these results to the Department of Environment (DoE).
Click here to view the National Conservation Council's Species Conservation Plan for Mangroves.
Lionfish began appearing off Cayman’s coast in 2008 as a foreign, invasive species. Once lionfish are introduced into an environment, it is near-impossible to drive them away without strict eradication efforts, as we in Cayman have unfortunately found. That is why, in Cayman, we have introduced ‘culling’ – a control programme to reduce the lionfish population. Lionfish mass-produce at unprecedented rates – females can release up to 30,000 eggs every four days. They are voracious predators that devour small, juvenile fish and crustaceans in large quantities and they compete with native species for space and food.
How can you help?
The Cayman Islands United Lionfish League (CULL) is an organisation that was formed to raise awareness for the need to cull lionfish to protect our precious reef fish. To learn more, see their Facebook page.
Learn more about the Lionfish University programme and which of Cayman's dive operators are involved.
A majority of on-Island dive operators offer lionfish culling courses. DiveTech offer a DoE Lionfish Culling course for CI$100. Learn more by visiting this page.
Ocean Frontiers also offers a Lionfish Hunter Certification, which you can sign up for here. Ambassador Divers also offer a PADI lionfish spearing/culling certification, as do numerous other dive operators on-Island.
Local residents have raised concern towards the increased amount of debris seen in the waters around the FIN development site. Once local resident Rachel Osbourne expressed her concern to FIN, they were quick to hire a local dive team to clean up the area. There were also, however, concerns not only about debris in the water but also silt from removing the ironshore. In February 2021, it was reported that silt from the FIN construction site had reached and spread across the coast by approximately several hundred feet. Indeed, general litter, especially on the sides of the road and across the road from construction sites is an ongoing problem in Cayman. On any given day you will find roads littered with plastic bottles, styrofoam food containers, glass bottles, plastic bags and other rubbish lining the road.
How can you help?
Although developers have agreed to monitor the debris and waste around the site and where it may end up, we are still reminded that beach clean ups are very important in our community to maintaining the beauty and health of our beaches.
Plastic Free Cayman host regular beach clean ups. They often post upcoming clean ups on their website, so be sure to head there to keep in the loop.
Protect Our Feature also holds regular beach clean ups, which you can follow at their Facebook page.
Finally, we can all do our part. Don't litter. Teach your children not to litter. Take a small plastic shopping bag with you when you got for a walk and pick up litter that you see.
Sargassum on Cayman's Beaches
Sargassum occurs naturally on beaches, albeit in smaller quantities. It plays a role in beach nourishment and is an important element of shoreline stability. During decomposition there will inevitably be a smell and insects around. The experience in locations that have left the sargassum on the beach is that it will eventually get washed away or buried in the next storm, with rain easing the smell. Leaving sargassum on the beach has proven to be the simplest and lowest cost approach, also helping to nourish the beach and stabilise the shoreline.
How can you help?
It is always preferable to leave sargassum where it is, if possible. Where this is not possible or feasible, the guidelines below should be followed. Removal of sargassum by mechanical means cannot be undertaken without consultation with the DoE and issuance of a letter of approval, which will outline any conditions to be followed. In some instances it may be necessary for a member of DoE staff to be present to check for wildlife e.g. turtle nests, prior to any clearing;
Least intrusive practices are preferred – hand raking is preferable to machinery. Permission is not required from DoE for raking the beach. Extreme care should be taken during turtle nesting and hatching season, with peak activity spanning from May to November.
Removal of sargassum should be from and to agreed areas only, and equipment should use the same route on to and off the beach to prevent destroying beach vegetation or turtle nests.
Any attempts to clean Sargassum must be undertaken extremely carefully as its removal can have a very destabilizing effect on beaches and can result in worsening erosion through the removal of sand, particularly if machinery is used.
Solar Power & Grid-Tie Systems
Created in 2009 with attempts to reduce our carbon footprint and provide work to the small business sector, the CORE programme consists also of the FIT (Feed-In-Tarriffs) programme, which has been in place since 2011 but has received many revisions over the years.
The FIT scheme is used for anyone who has installed renewable energy sources with a capacity of 5MW or 2kW. FIT payments are made based on a meter reading you send to your supplier to ensure you are not undercharged or overcharged for your energy use.
The Renewable Energy Auction Scheme (REAS)
As of October 2021, in alignment with Cayman's National Energy Policy, OfReg have announced that they will commence a new 'auction scheme' for businesses and/or investors, allowing them to 'bid' against each other through long-term renewable energy contracts at low prices. The policy is aiming to reach for a 70% threshold of electricity supply being generated from Cayman's renewable resources by 2037. Currently, Cayman is at a 5% level of renewable energy supply (10 MW).
Many benefits have been said to come from such a scheme, as it has proven successful in other countries. This includes the UK, who launched their Contracts-for-Difference (CfD) renewable energy scheme back in 2014. As of September 2021, the UK have offered their highest-valued auction yet, offering 55 million pounds (GBP) towards offshore wind projects and 24 million GBP towards floating offshore wind turbines. This contract was offered to ensure the UK reaches it's target set: to reserve 40 GW (gigawatts) of renewable energy by 2030.
In the Cayman Islands, the auction scheme therefore aims to encourage large-scale investments in renewable energy to not only drive economic growth and create job opportunities, but to also secure a solar and/or renewable energy plan for Cayman's future, slowly growing through a 'pipeline of auctions'.
We anticipate the REAS to open in the first quarter of 2022, managed by OfReg. OfReg hope to have achieved 140 MW of solar-generated electricity by 2030, where they already have a 25MW solar renewable energy allocation for 2021, albeit a small amount. They are also aiming for an increase of 30MW in wind power (from utility scale solar power) by 2028, without the caveat of increased monthly utility costs for residents.
Auction dates and amounts/renewable, 'low-cost energy' contracts up for grabs will be announced sixty days before each auction.
How to Move to Green Energy
If you’re considering moving to solar electricity, the CUC CORE system is a good way of being charged fairly for your energy use, as all of the electricity you use is sold to CUC, and then channelled straight into the grid and redistributed.
You can also sell your excess electricity to reduce waste to CUC, built at a ‘demand-rate’ structure. This way, you will only be charged for the rate in which you consume energy. Their newest Distributed Energy Resources (DER) programme allows you to produce and consume your OWN energy, generated by your own renewable energy system.
Also, see our page on Solar Systems for a list of Solar companies and panel installers.
Caribbean Utilities Company Ltd. (CUC)
Cayman's public electric utility service provider. They are reliable and efficient and provide 24 hour service in case of emergency.
The Dump & Improper Disposal of Batteries
In January 2021, a fire broke out at the George Town landfill due to an old cell phone battery. Although a small surface fire, workers will have to keep on top of potential re-ignition in future.
Note: To learn more about the newest efforts to remediate The Dump, Project Regen, see The George Town Landfill.
How can you help?
Batteries should not be disposed of as you do with other items. Instead of throwing them in the bin and mixing them with your other materials, such as paper and plastics, take lead acid batteries to a garage or any retailer that sells lead acid batteries. You can also use a battery recycling bin, which are located on Island in West Bay, George Town, Central George Town, Industrial Park, East End and more. For a list of detailed battery recycling bins, see this page.
See also Recycling Locations for details on where you can recycle other items.
Learn more about the green communities in Cayman that you can get involved in.Read More