Protect mangroves as they have protected Cayman

Mangroves are key to history and culture that are at risk of being lost if we don’t protect them like they’ve protected us.

Silver thatch palms, wild banana orchids, elusive blue iguanas. Representatives of the flora and fauna of the Cayman Islands.

Protect Mangroves in the Cayman Islands
Aleigha General

They reside on our national symbols and tell a story of the island’s history, its resilience and unfettered natural beauty, all of which can be seen and felt in the mangroves that spot the coastline.

You may have heard that these extraordinary mazes of roots and branches are home to hundreds of different fish, insect and bird species (including our very own Cayman parrot).

Or you may know that the mangroves are our first line of defence against weather-related flooding. It may even be common knowledge to you that the mangroves influence the structure of the island as a whole, protecting against coastal erosion made worse by climate change.

But what if I told you that the value of the mangroves is deeper and so much more intimate than we tend to realise?

To dive deeper into this value, I spoke with Emily Decou, a young Caymanian, sustainability consultant and mangrove ranger who has made protecting the mangroves her career. When asked why the mangroves mean so much to her, she discussed how learning about them at an early age helped her develop a sense of purpose.

Seeing firsthand just how dependent we are on the systems and practices they protect, the mangroves quickly became part of her identity as a Caymanian. Through educating other young Caymanians about all the ways mangroves make our ecosystem viable, Miss DeCou has found a way to keep the culture she grew up with alive as times continue to change.

This sentiment is not a new one.

She states, “Climate change threatens to take away the places, traditions and communities we hold dear, so mangroves are particularly important.”

This can be seen all over the world as temperatures continue to rise, along with sea levels and strong weather patterns. As climate change worsens, communities all over the world have lost their livelihoods and significant parts of their culture and history.

Alongside Miss Decou, Miss World Cayman Islands Leanni Tibbetts is also an avid mangrove enthusiast and environmental activist. She has been vocal about the importance of preservation and recently spoke out about the mangroves.

Protect Mangroves in the Cayman Islands
Mangroves growing in shallow lagoon, bay of Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

Most recently she has shared a petition to encourage democratic discussion as it pertains to construction projects. Through collaboration with organisations such as Sustainable Cayman and True. Miss Tibbetts is facilitating outreach to younger members of the population who may not know how they can protect the mangroves on a personal level.

Traditions like fishing in the mangroves are a key memory for many older Caymanians who have watched the country develop. A gentleman in his late 40s who spoke to me, remembers spending hours in the mangroves with his friends and family as a child and wishes he could take his children to have the same experience now.

However, recent construction projects and demolition work have made this significantly difficult, not only in getting to the mangroves but finding ones that haven’t been removed altogether.

This is the heart of why ecosystems like the mangroves are so important.

The ability to share cultural activities with new generations is what connects the young to the old and gives young people a sense of belonging in their community.

It is nearly impossible to know where you’re going if you don’t know where you have been and protecting the mangroves protects a passageway back to history. That history has the capacity to teach lessons and cultivate national pride in a unique way.


This story was published by Caymancompass.com with the support of the Caribbean Climate Justice Journalism Fellowship, which is a joint venture between Climate Tracker and Open Society Foundations.

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Aleigha General

Aleigha General

Aleigha General is a passionate International Relations student at the University of West London. She is driven by a desire to address pressing social issues in her region. Inspired by her recent experience at COP27, Aleigha is determined to raise awareness about sustainable practices and advocate for a better environment. With her storytelling skills and dedication, she aims to inspire change and become a powerful advocate for climate justice.

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