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Crookedfinger Art: Sustainable Fashion & Art

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Crookedfinger Art is an expression of my person style and creative impulses. – Kim Cadenhead

Meet Kim! 

Kim Cadenhead is the founder of Crookedfinger Art.  Kim has a unique quirk, two crooked pinky fingers, a result of a genetic glitch.  Her little quirk resulted in the inspiration for her company name, it is an ode to her unique characteristic which she embraces and has allowed her to flourish as an artist with her original artistic style.  Kim is passionate about various medias for art projects.  Her portfolio includes: paintings on canvas, mixed media, handcrafted sustainable products and graphic t-shirt designs.  Kim recently took part in an artist workshop in North Carolina.  The workshop gave Kim an opportunity to grow as an artist and finesse her painting skills.  Her experience there lead to her latest creative endeavor a series of floral paintings on both canvas and repurposed wooden trays— both wonderful works of art for home decor.

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Kim is an artist who is inspired by the environment around her and incorporates the very essence of her surroundings into her paintings, handmade items and mixed media projects.  In my humble option, I view Kim’s most recent floral collection as having a touch of influence from impressionist paintings incorporated with her own modern signature style, blending beautifully together.  Her floral paintings from her 2016 collection are my personal favorites.  Kim sells both original canvas artwork and canvas prints.

Sustainable Fashion and Eco Art

Since moving from Toronto, Canada to the Cayman Islands, Kim has visited local thrift shops to gather materials for her latest sustainable art projects.  It is her aspiration to repurpose materials found locally and transform them in sustainable handcrafted products including: beach tote bags, hand tote bags, messenger bags rugs, pot holders, coasters and even mixed media art pieces.

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It is rather astounding when you take a moment to realize the magnitude of materials available that has the potential to be repurposed and used in a sustainable way.  All of her eco-friendly items are handmade.  Kim’s sustainable art pieces have all been made from magazines that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill.  Kim is an artist with an eco-conscious mindset.  Her sustainable fashion and home products prove that recycled and repurposed materials can be transformed into chic sustainable products.

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Support Local

Kim’s artwork and eco-friendly products are available for sale at Art Nest Creative Studio, at Pasadora Place.  You can also visit Kim at Camana Bay’s local Farmer’s Market on Wednesdays.

Stay Connected

Follow Kim on Facebook, click here

Follow Kim on Instagram, click here 

Visit her website, click here 

 

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Sea of Hope: Preserving the Heart of our Planet

 

Photo Credit: National Geographic

SEA OF HOPE follows iconic ocean explorer and conservationist Dr. Sylvia Earle, renowned underwater photographer Brian Skerry, author and captain Max Kennedy, and their unlikely crew of teenage aquanauts on a year-long quest to secure their future. Deploying science and photography, they hope to inspire the creation of blue parks across an unseen and imperiled American wilderness.

It was an absolute honor to be published in Mission Blue’s Ocean Stories.  Please visit their website to read my full article Sea of Hope: Preserving the Heart of our Planet.  Sea of Hope is airing 15th January 2017 on National Geographic.

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Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

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Epiphany: How A Family Of Explorers & Conservationists Overcame Their Fears

 

View Epiphany Movie Trailer

A popular definition of epiphany as defined in the Oxford Dictionary is: “A moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.  For me, an epiphany is a sublime moment.  It is an awakening, when your thoughts come into focus and there is a moment of clarity.  The opportunity presents itself as an illuminating thought.  A moment of such great revelation can bring forth incredible things.

I have had the privilege to get to know award-winning filmmaker and wildlife cinematographer Michael Maes and his wife Ellen Cuylaerts, an award-winning wildlife photographer.  They are truly two of the most amazing people I have ever met.  They are inspiring, compassionate, kind, generous, brave and humble people.  I am grateful to know them.  As a family they live intriguing and extraordinary lives as explorers and conservationists.  They explore the world and use their gifts and talents in film and photography to share their passion for conservation with the world.  An underlying message in their documentary Epiphany is the power of film and photography.  I am a firm believer that art whether it is in the form of film, photography, writing or any other genre has the ability to create change and have a positive impact.  The photographs and film both Michael and Ellen share with the world captures stunning encounters with wildlife, marine life and spectacular scenic views of nature.  It serves to remind us this planet is worth fighting for and protecting.  Art has an incredible ability to connect us all on a universal level.

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For Michael and Ellen, film and photography is a means for them to contribute to nature and conservation— a way of giving back.  They use their films and photography to educate, and create awareness about various environmental issues.  A strong image whether captured in a still photograph or a moving picture can evoke emotion, share a powerful message and allow an opportunity for one to be enlightened and enriched.  In particular, a scene in their documentary Epiphany with Whale Sharks captures a collection of beautiful moments spent in the presence of these majestic creatures.  There is utter tranquility within this scene and the Whale Sharks swim gracefully.  The scene showed the majesty of sharks— they are not to be feared but respected.  Other scenes with Oceanic White Tips present the elegant poises and patterns of these sharks as they glide through the water, depicting them beautifully in their natural habitat.  The sharks and divers were able to inhabit the space harmoniously.  It is important to note, the divers still had to remain very vigilant at all times.  Ellen and Michael take great care in the composition of their photography by ensuring they develop a connection with the wildlife during their encounter and allow that to translate in their photography.  By doing so, it creates a powerful image illustrating that there is a story and meaning behind every photograph.  The heart of their photography and film is to remind us all what a privilege it is to live on this beautiful planet and to not take for granted our natural resources, the environment, the ocean and all animals.  There is a great urgency for a united effort and action to happen globally to increase conservation of the environment and protection of all animals.  As advocates for the ocean they are keen to promote awareness of the urgency to protect sharks.  Ellen and Michael use film and photography to promote conservation and help rehabilitate the image of sharks by showing us that sharks are to be respected not feared.  The real fear is a life without sharks.  The reality is if sharks continue to be slaughtered for their fins and their population continues to rapidly decline they will face extinction.  Sharks have been roaming the ocean immensely longer than humans have inhabited the planet.  It would be a great tragedy for sharks to become extinct.  There is no coming back from extinction.

 

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Recently, I had the opportunity to watch their documentary Epiphany a film that is inspiring and moving.  The film left a profound impact on me.  It is a film that I hold dear to my heart, as it was truly special to watch a film friends of mine had made and with such admirable bravery they shared their story with the world.  I implore others to watch their award-winning documentary which is currently available on iTunes.  The documentary touches on a variety of themes: the power of art and film, conservation of sharks, environmentalism, Autism, the unbreakable bond of a family and finding bravery to overcome fear.  Michael and his family are incredibly courageous to share a vulnerable side of their lives and their journey through life with the world.  Primarily, the narrative of the film tells the journey of Ellen and how she finds the bravery to overcome her fear of the ocean.  It is her kids that leads Ellen back to nature.  It is on this journey, Ellen rediscovers her love for photography which allows her to overcome her fear of the water by swimming with sharks and photographing them.  The film also touches on Michael and their kids Margaux and Max leading extraordinary lives with autism.  A takeaway from their documentary is that there is a need in this world to look past each others differences and accept one another as they are.  We are all uniquely different and that is what adds to our individual beauty.  There is a need for society to stop labelling and creating divides due to differences— being different can be a remarkable gift.  A beautiful message within in the film, is the families unbreakable bond.  The diagnosis of Autism running in their family understandably initially created a feeling of isolation, fear and hardship.  However, together as a family they were able to thrive and live out their passions.  All of them having wonderfully marvelous courageous lives.  As a family they inspire us all to live a life of compassion, kindness and bravery.

 

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The power and healing of nature is beautifully interwoven within the story which unfolds throughout the documentary.  Nature serves as a catalyst to connect the family together, strengthen their bond and open doors for amazing opportunities to share their passion for conservation, film, photography and art.  A beautiful synergy is built between the family as they collectively immerse themselves in exploring nature and the depths of the ocean.  A profound message the documentary presents is that Ellen is able to move past her fear of the ocean and develop a trust within nature.  The ocean serves as a bit of a paradox in Ellen’s life, while on one hand it is the foundation of her fear of water, yet on the other, it serves to inspire her to contribute to conservation, follow her passion of photography and connect deeply with her family.  By having nature as an integral component of their lives, the differences within the family does not create walls to divide them, in fact nature bridges the family together and anchors them.  Moreover, through expeditions exploring nature, it brings forth a bravery within each of them to overcome their own personal fears.  Through their conservation efforts and giving back to nature, each of them were able embrace their individualism and remain true to themselves and their passion for the environment, photography, film and art.

Meet Michael Maes

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Michael Maes is a wildlife filmmaker, specialized in big animals and animal behavior. His portfolio (both underwater and topside) covers the polar regions, temperate waters and the tropics. He has a passionate interest for polar bears and Arctic whales.

His work has been broadcast on various national television like Nat Geo Wild, Outside Television, CBC. It also received recognition at a myriad of international film festivals; reflecting the ability to translate the need for wildlife conservation onto the screen.

In 2015 Michael was inducted as cinematographer in the Ocean Artists Society (http://www.oceanartistssociety.org), an organization uniting artists worldwide to raise awareness and protect the marine environment through art. Michael is also a founding Navigator of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (http://www.reefresearch.org), a leading scientific research centre in the Caribbean focusing on coral reef restoration, research on coral resilience, and ocean education.

More About Michael  

Website michaelmaes.com   (Currently Under Construction)

Check out some of his recent Arctic Work:

 

Q & A with Award-winning Filmmaker Michael Maes

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1. What inspired the documentary and for you to tell this story?

Ellen Cuylaerts; my wife; challenged herself to overcome her fear of water and sharks, culminating her personal growth by feeding those feared sharks. That was the story to which many viewers can relate to.

2. What is the heart of the documentary? Or the core message for audiences to take from watching the film?

Basically Epiphany is a story about all of us. Everyone has his or her fears, everyone faces challenges of life, we can all make decisions to alter our paths.

Epiphany shows the viewer setbacks can be turned into strongholds of life itself.

In short, Epiphany is a story of hope.

3. Did you face any challenges while making this documentary?

Apart from logistical nightmares, the complete lack of privacy for our family during the 18 months of filming was very exigent. Although most of the shootings were at dream locations, we constantly had cameras and microphones pointed at or near us. Especially Ellen as I was fortunate enough to be behind the camera for most of the underwater filming and all areal cinematography.

Next would be the communication between the producer (me) and the rest of the crew. Having autism makes it very difficult to communicate my thoughts; up to a point where I even think I “say” something but I actually only “think” it. That has lead to many difficult situations, frustrations and even words. But, ultimately and always thanks to Ellen, we regrouped and were able to finish a gem.

4. What was one key lesson you learned from making this film?

Don’t think what you say but say what you think!

5. Is there a particular scene in the documentary that resonates with you or has the most significant meaning to you?

To me the most emotional scene in the documentary is at the end where Ellen stands strong among tens of sharks circling her and I (you can’t see that of course as I am filming it) am lying flat on the sand at her feet; filming Ellen from that extreme low angle; all the way up to the water surface; sharks everywhere.

That scene grabs me the most as it portrays in images the fact that Ellen conquered her fear, surrounded by sharks yet she is the one who is in charge! There she stands, holding food next to her body, telling the sharks with her body-language to not come in for the food… she… her… your wife… the mother of your two children… surrounded by sharks… I cannot express how powerful that scene is for a filmmaker who’s the husband of the talent…

As a cinematographer that scene also grabs me as it is – excuse-moi the bragging – simply a formidable shot completed by the genius score of music written by the Belgian musician Eric Bettens.

6. What was your favorite filming location?

Honestly? None! They all had their particular challenges and filmic rewards. A favorite moment I could tell you: a close to two hour dive with only Ellen and myself at Tiger Beach. We were down there without bait or chum. We just wanted to have our Zen moment; away from the fuzzy madness of the production. Did we get rewarded for being there: we had three 12 feet tiger sharks and a bunch of lemons and reefies. A mind-blowing peaceful moment! This footage did not end up in the documentary as the sequences were too long and beautiful to cut. Now that Epiphany is released I will review those amazing scenes again.

7. What do you hope this documentary will accomplish? Or what is your goal or hope for this film?

Of course we want to spread awareness on the sad condition sharks are facing globally. But we also want people to think about their own life and take action if they want to. We want Epiphany to bring hope to those whom are trapped in a fixed pattern, caught in a seemingly hopeless situation.

8. What does the film mean to you and your family?

30 months of blood, sweat and tears.

9. Do you believe film and art has the power to help bring positive changes to the environment?

Many of the world’s environmental issues are far out of reach of most people. Pictures and film bring those issues closer to many, though often in the hard “documenting” way – which is good of course.

Bringing the animals and their world to the beholder in all beauty – nature as it is – makes people see the beauty of those animals. This could lessen the fear of the unknown and invoke interest in the animal or its habitat. Every time I get a message from someone I don’t know telling me some work of mine made him or her get interested in that animal or its environment, is a bigger reward to me than a paycheck.

10. Do you find using art and film as a medium allows you to see the impact and changes in the environment differently, than as opposed to just reading about the issues our environment faces?

As I am a person whom thinks in images, I would believe so. However I feel this question should better be answered by an avid and passionate reader.

More Info about Epiphany 

Website            : www.epiphany.movie

Epiphany on iTunes : https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/epiphany/id1169290433

Trailer Epiphany                     : https://vimeo.com/156486645

Special Thanks

Special thanks: Photos and video courtesy of Michael Maes and Ellen Cuylaerts

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For The Love Of Animals: Ian Somerhalder Foundation Medical Emergency Grants

 

Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

A truly heartwarming initiative was started by the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF) to aid in the rescue and rehabilitation of animals that have heartbreaking stories of being abused, neglected or suffered a traumatic injury.  These animals are deserving and in need of a second chance.  ISF created their Medical Emergency Program to extend compassion to these animals and assist in aiding to their recovery and wellbeing.  ISF launched their Medical Emergency Grant Program on Valentine’s Day, 2014.  A day symbolizing a commitment of love and compassion towards animals— inspiring others to do the same.  Since the inception of this program, they have helped over 1,000 animals including: cats, dogs, turtles, birds, bats, horses, sheep, cows, sea lions, goats, rabbits, and more.  All have benefited from an ISF Medical Emergency Grant— giving them an improved quality of life, resulting in a touching success stories.  These animal rescues are now living happier lives with their new families in their forever homes. The testimony of these animals show, that animals have an incredible resilience no matter how difficult the hardship they faced.  They also remind of us of the incredible bond animals establish with humans, despite the suffering they endured, once they found a new and loving family in a safe environment they continue to express love unconditionally.

Animals have an exquisitely poignant way of teaching us, through demonstration, how to love and be loved. We learn compassion, as well as expand our perception of the infinite connection to the environment around us, from our creature friends–whether they are furry and lick us, or slither and swim. We owe it to these creatures to provide protection, healing and love. That is exactly why I am so proud that the IS Foundation has launched our first grant program — the Emergency Medical Grant for Animals – Ian Somerhalder

ISF provides grants to both the US and Canada and works closely with dedicated teams of amazing rescuers in various parts of the US and Canada who are on the front line every day finding animals in need of a better life and urgent care.  These admirable individuals advocate on the behalf of these animals.  Animals that receive an Emergency Medical Grant have been found either, abused, neglected or have suffered a traumatic injury.  ISF reviews applications and typically makes a decision within a week.  They then have the money sent out the following week to the treating veterinarians and rescuers.  The ISF Medical Emergency Grant criteria and eligibility can be found on the ISF website, Grant Information Page.  “The purpose of this grant is to provide animal victims a second chance by alleviating their rescuers of the financial stress of treatment so they can focus on facilitating the animal’s adoption into a permanent, loving home” ISF works with individuals, animal rescuers, veterinarians and non-profit organizations seeking to rescue and rehabilitate animal victims.  (ISF)

The ISF Medical Emergency Grants Program has done an incredible job of bettering the lives of so many animals.  Animals that have had the opportunity to recover and rehabilitate now have wonderful success stories inspiring us all to help protect and care for animals in need.  ISF has established a network of dedicated animal rescuers (grantees) and built amazing relationships with them over the past 2 years.  Their collaboration and teamwork has created a positive impact.  An added bonus, the ISF have met so many loving animals that have greatly benefited from their program.  In instances when the animal in need and the rescuer are near by, the ISF take the opportunity to meet with the animal and rescuer(s).  The ISF have shared a plethora of wonderful heartwarming success stories of the animals they have help give a second chance to. To read their success stories visit their grant success page.  Their dedication to provide resources to assist in bringing a life changing positive impact on the lives of animals that have deeply suffered, inspires us all to work together to be a voice for animal victims that have endured a painful hardship.

Must Love Animals

Below are a few success stories of the ISF Medical Emergency Grant

Meet Elsa

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Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Meet Ozzy

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Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

Meet Twinkle Toes

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Photo Credit: Ian Somerhalder Foundation

To support the Ian Somerhalder Foundation and stay up-to-date with their projects follow them on Facebook and Twitter or visit their website 

The Cayman Islands: A Haven for Sharks & Rays

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Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

The Cayman Islands has built its name and reputation primarily on being a renowned diving destination.  Pioneers in our local diving community over the last few decades contributed to building our diving industry into the premier operation that it is today.  They recognized the exquisite beauty our underwater landscape had to offer and have since then made it accessible for locals and tourists to recreationally experience and explore the beauty that lies below the surface for themselves.  With a desire to showcase our natural resources comes with a commitment to preserve them.  Our duty towards conservation for both land and the ocean is beneficial not just from an environmental perspective but also an economic one.  Our tourism industry is strongly tied to our island’s natural resources.  Ergo, an obvious reason to ensure that our natural resources are protected.  Last year on Earth Day (2015), the Cayman Islands officially became a Sharks and Rays Sanctuary.  The sanctuary expands across all three islands.  This is a positive step towards ecotourism as many tourists are keen to visit places that are committed to conservation.

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Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

 

“I’m extremely grateful that the Cayman Islands recognized the need to make the islands a shark and ray sanctuary. Not only will their protected status benefit the health of the reefs but it’s also a strong statement towards the tourism industry which is an important source of revenue. By protecting our natural resources the Cayman Islands puts itself in the the market of the informed and eco friendly tourist making the right choice for the future generations.” -Ellen Cuylaerts

Sharks in the Water

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Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

By virtue of us standing by and not acting to protect coral reefs and marine life that are under threat there is a very likely possibility that corals reefs will continue to become degraded and even destroyed.  The caribbean has already lost 80% of its coral reefs.  There is an intricate connection between coral reefs and all marine life.  If keystone species such as sharks continue to decrease in population it will have a tremendous impact on the coral reefs and the marine life that depend on the reefs.  A scary thought that should be racing through everyone’s minds is what if I never see a shark in the water again?  Our fear should be driven by the thought of what will happen to our ocean and the ecosystem if shark populations globally continues to spiral down or worse become extinct.  Sharks are a keystone species and are fundamental to maintaining the health and balance of: coral reefs, marine life and the ocean.  Without their presence there could potentially be a devastating collapse within our fragile ecosystem as their role in keeping our “life support” viable is monumental.  Ultimately, we need a healthy ocean as 70% of the world’s oxygen comes from there.  Healthy shark populations means healthy reefs.  Coral reefs support 1/4 of all marine life.  Healthy reefs means a flourishing population of marine life.  This is beneficial for: our ecosystem, recreational divers, snorkelers and for fisherman.  Balance within our ecosystem is key to benefiting the preservation of the planet, as well as a thriving diving industry, tourism industry and fisherman.

We can’t fail to act to protect our ocean and marine life.  The ocean is often referred to as the heart of the planet.  There seems to be a collective assumption that the ocean is indestructible, that no matter the amount of pollution pumped into the ocean it will always reset itself, that there will always be coral reefs and an abundance of fish, sharks and all marine life.  It is as though we cannot fathom the thought that it could all go away one day.  The reality is the ocean like anything else has its limitations.  We cannot keep testing the ocean’s ability to bounce back.  It is evident that the ocean is under an immense amount stress due to climate change and the rapid decrease in the populations of a multitude of marine species.  For instance, sharks and rays are under threat.  Every year, 70 million sharks are killed for their fins (Fin Free).  In comparison it is reported that targeted Manta Ray populations have declined by an estimated 56% to 88% in recent years (Wild Aid).  With this in mind, there is an urgency for countries around the world to declare their waters as a shark and rays sanctuary.  The more protection coverage of the ocean for sharks and rays will by virtue allow for coral reefs, and fish populations to have time to recover and recuperate.  This is beneficial to everyone.

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Specifically to our waters, current research indicated that we have a lower shark population than expected for a healthy reef ecosystem.  This suggests that our waters need an increase in sharks to ensure our coral reefs can remain healthy.  Shark populations recover over a significant period of time and sanctuaries can provide a safe haven for populations to recuperate.  Presently, there are no comparative ray nor shark surveys specific to our region.  It is difficult to state how our population of sharks and rays compares to other islands in the Caribbean.  However, some research conducted by Marine Conservation International (Research Partners of Department of Environment Cayman Islands) suggests that Cayman’s shark numbers are relatively low in comparison to our Caribbean neighbors.  Notably, numbers will vary from species to species.  However, our waters have a fair population of sharks and rays. Both species are being threatened across the Caribbean and around the world.  Protecting sharks and rays regionally will benefit not only our territory but also on a global scale as it encourages other countries to designate their waters as a sanctuary for these magnificent creatures.  It is evident that the protection of sharks and rays needs to be made as a united effort, and the Cayman Islands is doing their part to help in this initiative.  Now that our waters have been designated as a shark and ray sanctuary there is hope that it  will give our shark population a chance to recover.

A Sanctuary for Sharks, Rays & Coral Reefs

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The sanctuary serves as a haven for our sharks and rays. Our sharks and rays are of great significance to our coral reefs and marine environment both ecologically and economically.  Most importantly their protection is needed to ensure their survival —our ecosystem depends on it.

The sanctuary also serves as a means to benefit our island not only from an ecological standpoint but economically.  The protection of sharks and rays has a direct impact on benefiting our tourism industry.  Sharks are a highlight for divers.  Whereas, rays can be seen in a large school at Stingray City located at the sandbar on the eastern side of Grand Cayman.  Protecting our sharks and rays within our region will not only allow for a positive impact on improving the health of our coral reefs but also it will help to maintain our status as a popular diving destination.  Flourishing reefs serve us ecologically but as an added bonus they are attractive diving spots helping our tourism industry and economy.

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Declaring Cayman waters as a sharks and rays sanctuary is a positive step towards ecotourism and beneficial for our islands.  Countries making a shift towards ecotourism demonstrates that we can find a balance between developing the economy of a country but not at the cost of losing their natural resources.  It is possible to use our natural resources and benefit from them and not destroy them —rather there is an emphasis on the preservation of natural resources as they have intrinsic value.  Specific to Caribbean islands our natural resources are everything to our tourism industry which greatly impacts our economy.  For Cayman, we could look at the ocean as the very soul of our island.  Our culture is bound to the ocean and it is imperative that we continue to move forward in protecting our ocean, coral reefs, marine life and natural environment.  Cayman’s transition into ecotourism has helped to establish the Cayman Islands as setting a positive example for other islands in the Caribbean by way of encouraging other islands to consider becoming a sharks and rays sanctuary to increase the coverage of areas that serve as a haven for them.  While, our waters protect a small percentage of sharks and rays in our region, and is making a positive impact, it would be greatly beneficial if other regional countries made their waters a sanctuary.  Alone, we can make a small difference, but together we can make a much stronger impact.  Protecting the coral reefs, marine life, sharks and rays is a global need.  

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Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

 

This article was also published in Mission Blue’s Ocean Stories please click here 

Sage Larock: Sustainable Swimwear Re-Releasing The Chateau Swimsuit

Sage Larock is Re-Releasing their sustainably made Chateau Swimsuit on 15th November (America’s National Recycling Day) to raise awareness about ocean pollution and ghost nets.  The ethos of Sage Larock is to redefine and redesign fashion to be sustainably and ethically made for the betterment of our environment.  Their commitment to ocean conservation is the driving force behind inspiring their swimsuit collections.  Sage Larock uses sustainable fashion as a platform to raise awareness about the plastic pollution crisis and the impact it is having on our oceans.  Plastic impacts nearly 700 species in our ocean, ranging from plankton to whales.  Seabirds and sea turtles often mistake plastic for food which can result in dire consequences.  Plastic has been found in more than 60% of all seabirds and in 100% of sea turtles species (Ocean Conservancy).  Even coral reefs are affected by plastic.  When plastic debris becomes entangled on coral it starves corals of vital oxygen and light, and releases toxins enabling bacteria and viruses to invade  (UN Environment Program).  Furthermore, ghost nets are also a major problem endangering marine life and coral reefs.  These lost and abandoned fishing nets floating around the ocean can easily become entangled on coral reefs or marine life resulting in negative and sometimes fatal consequences.  Thus, knowing the magnitude of the impact plastic has on our oceans should be the driving force for everyone to make more conscious decisions about our consumption and sustainable practices.  We can all make positive changes in our lifestyle such as quitting single-use plastic, like plastic straws, to help be part of the solution.   

On a personal note, I am thrilled that Sage Larock will be re-launching The Chateau swimsuit.  It was the first swimsuit I received from Sage Larock.  This swimsuit is a significant part of where my journey began as a brand ambassador for Sage Larock as I became more conscious of sustainable fashion and the positive impact it has on the environment.  I began to learn more about how clothes could be made in a sustainable way using recycled plastic and ghost nets.  I became more aware of the magnitude of the impact plastic pollution was having on our oceans and that sustainable fashion could be part of the solution.  The Chateau is a timeless swimsuit and my favorite from the Sage Larock collection.  Beyond that, it serves as a statement piece raising awareness for protecting our oceans from ghost nets and plastic pollution.  Sage Larock, has found a way to make something beautiful and meaningful out of recycled plastic.  Through sustainable fashion, Sage Larock is helping to provide a solution to ocean plastic pollution.  I am proud to be a brand ambassador for Sage Larock and join them on their mission to educate others about sustainable fashion practices that work towards helping remove plastic pollution and ghost nets from our oceans and transforming recycled plastic into new materials to create clothing.  At the heart of Sage Larock is raising ocean awareness and supporting ocean conservation. 

Q&A with Taryn Larock, Founder of Sage Larock

1. What is the significance of re-releasing the classic Black Chateau Swimsuit? 

The Chateau in black has always been our best seller and it is a classic black piece that can easily be worn from season to season or as a bodysuit.  It is pretty much our version of the little black dress! We believe that part of being sustainable is also making garments that are high quality and that can be worn year after year, so we feel the Chateau in black embodies this. We chose November 15th to re-launch the suit as it is world recycling day, so we felt this was meaningful that we were re-launching our most versatile popular style, which is made of recycled fishing gear from the ocean. I personally kept the very 1st black Chateau we made almost 3 years ago, and although I wear it at least 2x a week to the beach or as a bodysuit, it is still looks great and can be worn so many ways.

2. Do you find inspiration going back to your roots, where it all began designing sustainable swimwear? 

Like you, and probably so many of your readers, I have always been most at home near or in the ocean, so this is where I always draw inspiration from. The Sage Larock swim collection is really a tribute of love & respect to the ocean.

3. What is the breakdown of all the recycled material that is used to make the swimsuit?

The fabric we use is 78% recycled nylon, which comes from upcycled fishing nets. This is so important because our oceans are literally being destroyed by commercial fishing and nets, and also because virgin polyester is the least sustainable fabric on the planet and is plastic. The remaining 22% is elastic, which is needed for stretch in performance fabric and this is made from rubber. Our fabrics are also certified to be made with non-toxic dyes & without heavy metals, which is very different that the way polyester is made.

4. What impact do you hope to make through your sustainable swimwear? 

We hope to raise awareness about and help provide a solution to the plastic pollution crisis, specifically the 640,000+ tons of plastic nets that enter our oceans each year [40% of plastic in the ocean is commercial fishing gear] and that create mile long death traps that kill millions of marine animals annually, wipe out coral beds and breakdown into toxic microplastic particles. This 640,000 tons of nets is equivalent to almost 2x the weight of the Empire State Building, so its really a huge quantity.

We simultaneously work to provide women with high quality, stylish swimwear & apparel that is sustainable, ethically made & free of toxic chemicals.

Shop Sage Larock 

Visit www.sagelarock.com and use the promo code ECOCHIC and receive 15% off through November 2019. 

Photo Credits:

Lori- Ann Speirs

Sage Larock

People Protect What They Love

“People protect what they love, they love what they understand and they understand what they are taught.” – Jacques-Yves Cousteau,

The quote above has always resonated with me. It’s true, people protect what they love. Growing up in the Cayman Islands I learned from an early age that our oceans, marine life, and coral reefs are one of the greatest treasures and assets we have been bestowed custodians of. We have a moral obligation to protect and preserve the precious coral reefs surrounding our islands. After all, our coral reefs are the very heart of Cayman. From a young age, in school, we are taught that Cayman has always had a strong and deep connection to the ocean. Our Coat of Arms has the words, “He Hath Founded It Upon The Seas” inscribed.  For many of us, these words serve as a reminder that our past, present, and future is and always will be linked to the ocean.

The generations before us built our heritage on this strong connection to the ocean.  The Cayman Islands heavily relies on our Tourism Industry, and a significant component of that is built on the snorkeling and diving industry. Thanks to pioneers in Cayman’s diving industry such as Bob Soto, who saw that our underwater paradise is an invaluable asset to Cayman and by making it accessible to both locals and tourists Cayman has become a world famous diving destination. This legacy and pride of showcasing our reefs as a major tourist attraction continues with young Caymanians. Today, there is an increase in young Caymanians who are becoming PADI certified divers and taking courses focused on marine biology and environmental studies. Moreover, the youth of Cayman, like the generations before us, recognize the ecological and monetary value of preserving Cayman’s marine environment.

People travel from all over the world to explore and experience the stunning underwater landscape that surrounds Cayman. We have 365 dive sites, offering world class diving experiences for both locals and tourists. Some of our most famous world renowned dive/snorkel sites include Eden Rock, Devils Grotto, The Balboa (Historic Shipwreck), and Soto’s Reef that are situated in the heart of the George Town Harbor. Currently, these iconic dive sites that have existed for over 10,000 years, and collectively is approximately 20 acres of coral reef is under threat of being damaged, removed and/or transplanted should the proposed expansion of a cruise ship berthing facility go through. I cannot truly express the gravity and the magnitude of the potential loss of this paramount ecosystem. My heart sinks when I begin to think of the loss of biodiversity, the loss of the clarity of our ocean in this particular area, the loss of history and the loss of our heritage. Furthermore, it is more than a significant loss from an environmental standpoint, it impacts our economy, diving industry, and tourism industry. Watersport activities including snorkeling and diving in the George Town area earn approximately $6-8 million dollars a year. If the proposal for the cruise ship berthing facility goes through then we potentially could lose hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue over the next 20 years, due to the loss of this precious ecosystem.

Why We Should Protect Our Underwater Paradise

The Balboa. Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

Living in the Cayman Islands allowed me to have the incredible privilege of having easy access to some of the world’s most spectacular coral reefs, where an abundance of marine life is teeming. I remember when I was a child and my dad taught me how to swim and to snorkel. I remember all the weekends we would spend exploring the ocean. I remember for one of my birthday’s my parents took me and my friends on a glass bottom boat so we could see the coral reefs and marine life in the George Town Harbor.  As kids, it was an exhilarating and memorable experience. We all marveled at the world that existed below the surface, it was truly fascinating. Whenever friends and family came to visit we would always take them on the Atlantis Submarine so they could see the underwater world that we were proud of and are fortunate to have access to every day. It was never something to take for granted. In particular, I spent a significant amount of time as a child and even still today exploring Eden Rock. It is a place I cherish most. It is such a profound privilege and luxury to have easy access to crystal clear waters and exploring firsthand the extraordinary beauty that resides just below the surface. Throughout my life, a tremendous love for the ocean has always been instilled in me. As well as, an urgency to protect our oceans and all life that calls the ocean home. Knowing that this spectacular underwater world exists and surrounds our tiny islands, is something to be proud of. It is something that is so valuable to our island, our community, our economy, and our heritage that it must be protected through conservation. We must unite and preserve these iconic dive sites in the George Town Harbor that were part of the genesis of building our island’s diving and tourism industry. We need to preserve these reefs so that the youth today, and generations to come can be afforded the same privilege so many of us have had, seeing these ancient coral reefs in all of their glory. As a child, it never occurred to me that these reefs could one day be gone. Now, decades later, there is a very real possibility that these iconic reefs and historic shipwrecks could disappear.

Preserving Cayman’s Unique Harbor

diving in cayman

Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

The George Town Harbor is a designated Hope Spot by Mission Blue. A Hope Spot is a special ecological habitat that is considered to be critical to the health of the ocean. These special areas are recognized as being in need of protection and conservation. The preservation of Hope Spots around the world allow valuable ecosystems an opportunity for coral reefs, and marine life to rejuvenate and strengthen. This is vital to their surrounding habitat and marine life dependent on its survival. Hope Spots and Marine Protected Areas remind us that our marine ecosystems are precious, fragile and worth preserving. Our oceans are home to an underwater paradise, parallel to rainforests. Coral reefs are intricate ecosystems that are fundamental to marine life and the underwater communities dependent upon them.  Marine ecosystems have a precarious balance, and everything is interconnected. Therefore, any form of breakdown in one part of the ecosystem sets off a ripple effect.

The George Town Harbor is unique as it acts as a safe and stable environment for coral reefs, fish, turtles, sharks to thrive and replenish their populations. This makes it both special from an environmental standpoint and as a tourist attraction. The marine environment generates $69 million USD from tourism every year in the Cayman Islands (Wolfs Company 2017). The George Town Harbor is an ideal snorkeling and diving area as it has mostly calm throughout the year making it very appealing to tourists who have traveled to Cayman just to see our reefs and have less than 24 hours to explore our oceans. A unique feature of the George Town Harbor is that in the relatively shallow water, 30ft deep, you can find some of the largest coral reef structures in Cayman, with the exception of, off the main wall. Moreover, tourists with limited time to explore Cayman, have the incredible opportunity to easy access to the multiple snorkel/dive sites in the harbor within minutes thanks to multiple dive operators in the area. As a result, these are some of the most visited and most photographed dive sites in Cayman. Moreover, coral reefs also serve as a barrier, protecting our mainland during storms and hurricanes. The reef is responsible for $5 million USD protection to infrastructure in the Cayman Islands from storms and wave erosion each year (Wolfs Company 2017).

Eden Rock & Devils Grotto

Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

Famous for the unique underwater caves, silversides and tarpons make Eden Rock a beloved dive/snorkel site. It is one of the most accessible sites throughout the year. Other highlights to see snorkeling in this area are the coral reefs, spotted eagle rays, parrotfish, silversides, angelfish and nurse sharks.

The Balboa

Photo Credit: Aaron Hunt

One of Cayman’s most famous shipwreck’s, The Balboa is an important part of our history. In 1938, the navy vessel was crewed by a number of Caymanians, some of their families still reside in Cayman today. The Balboa was brought in during rough weather but unfortunately sank. This historic shipwreck is a highlight for snorkelers and divers as the shipwreck has coral reef formations on it such as brain coral, star coral, soft coral, and sponges.

Soto’s Reef

Photo Credit: Jim Caitlin

Soto’s Reef is an integral part of Cayman’s diving history, as Bob Soto was a pioneer in the diving industry. Soto’s Reef is a truly spectacular coral reef structure and a hub for an abundance of marine life making it one of Cayman’s most treasured and beloved dive/snorkel sites. The coral reefs extend a mile long and about 30ft in height. As a snorkeler, you can marvel at the coral reefs only 10ft below the surface. An array of schools of fish can be seen such as: blue tangs, damselfish and parrotfish.  An amazing spot for taking underwater photos. Coral reef structures include fire coral, brain coral, as well as colorful sea fans and sponges. Often you can see turtles and spotted eagle rays swimming along the reef.

Preserving Our Iconic Underwater Paradise

Photo Credit: Ellen Cuylaerts

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” -David Browner.

Globally, our environment is in crisis. And we have a chance to protect and preserve 20 acres of ancient coral reefs that have existed for over 10,000 years in the George Town Harbor. We have an incredible opportunity to choose a legacy of preserving some of Cayman’s iconic reefs to ensure that they remain part of the future of the youth today and generations to come. The diving industry is the economic heart of our tourism industry. Diving and snorkeling is the single most popular reason why tourists visit Cayman. Grand Cayman, at this moment, continues to be unique as it still has crystal clear water and thriving coral reefs in the harbor. This is due to the fact that unlike other Caribbean islands, up until now, we have not expanded our port. By doing so, we have been able to maintain the integrity of our island’s heritage and protecting Cayman’s beloved underwater national treasures.

We cannot rob future generations of the opportunity to experience the coral reefs in the George Town Harbor that were instrumental in making Cayman a leader in the diving industry and tourism, that we have had the chance to experience. If the port goes through, iconic dive sites such as Eden Rock, Devil’s Grotto, The Balboa and Soto’s Reef will be gone. We will never see the recovery of this 20 acre ecosystem in our lifetime. It took 10,000 years for those reefs to become what they are now. For many of us, at least we will have beautiful memories of marine life, coral reefs, and the Balboa. Future generations won’t even have that. They will only have the memories we share, photographs and videos that document what was there. Once it’s gone, it will leave behind a graveyard of coral, a wasteland. This will result in negative consequences for local fisheries and the marine environment as a whole. We will be left with the ghost of a memory of the underwater world that existed there. Not only will we lose a significant ecosystem, but we also stand to lose a profound piece of our island’s heritage, for many a piece of their childhood, and for some their livelihood. We have this one last chance to make a difference, to protect what we love and what has helped build our island into a major tourist destination, supporting our economy. We have this one opportunity to choose a legacy to preserve this iconic piece of our heritage and underwater paradise.

The thought of losing these precious dive sites that are thriving with life is devastating. Some things in this life are irreplaceable. Once it’s gone you can’t go back to it, you can’t rebuild it, you are just left with the memory of what once was, and what use to exist. Those coral reefs are not just part of our marine environment, they are part of our home. That is something worth protecting, cherishing and preserving for future generations.

Knowing that there is a chance it could all be gone. I implore you to join the National Trust for the Cayman Islands and special guest speaker Aaron Hunt who will be leading the tour exploring the 20 acres of historic coral reefs, Eden Rock, Devils Grotto, Soto’s Reef and the wreck of the  Balboa. See for yourself, the life that lives below the surface, the turtles, sharks, array of schools of fish, and coral reefs rich in biodiversity. Take a good look at the underwater paradise that is at stake of being lost for generations to come.

Photo Credit: Jim Caitlin

Photo Credits:

Aaron Hunt

Ellen Cuylaerts

Jim Caitlin

What You Need To Know About Turtle Nesting Season In The Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands was originally named “Las Tortugas” in 1503 by Christopher Columbus, due to the abundance of turtles found in our waters.  Five hundred years later, turtles are still one of the most beloved and iconic animals in the Cayman Islands.  There are three species of turtles that can be found in the Cayman Islands: the critically endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle, the endangered Green Sea Turtle, and the vulnerable Loggerhead Sea Turtle.  Sea turtles are a strong symbol for the Cayman Islands and need support through protection and conservation.  That being said, during Turtle Nesting Season it is vital that turtles and their nests are kept safe and not disturbed, so that hatchlings (baby turtles) are able to make their way to the water.  

Some simple ways the community can help protect turtles during nesting season include keeping the beaches clean of litter and keeping nesting beaches dark and safe for turtles. Homes in popular nesting areas are asked to keep blinds closed and to use ‘turtle friendly lighting.’ This attractive amber lighting meets the needs of beachfront property owners without disorienting baby turtles and causing them to crawl away from the sea.  Beachfront residents can also remove beach chairs and watersport equipment off the beach, when not in use, to avoid creating obstacles for the nesting females and hatchlings.  In the event that you come across a turtle nest, or are looking for more information on turtle friendly lighting, you can contact the Department of Environment (DoE) at 938-NEST (938-6378) or doe@gov.ky. 

Turtles, like all marine life, depend on healthy oceans and ecosystems.  In order to help increase their chances of survival it is vital that we all do our part to keep our oceans free of plastic, as plastic in our oceans has become an increasing problem.  Ingesting plastic is harmful to all marine life, and turtles can easily mistake a plastic bag for a jellyfish.  According to 4Ocean, “It’s estimated that over half of all sea turtles have ingested some form of plastic” (https://4Ocean.com/).  Also, removing ghost nets and recycling fishing line is just as important, as turtles and other marine life can easily become entangled which can be harmful and even in some cases, fatal.  For a list of fishing line recycling bin locations, see http://doe.ky/marine/fishing-line-disposal/.   

Q&A With Trevor Dunbar, Volunteer with DoE Turtle Team

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What inspired you to become a volunteer with DoE Turtle Team?

TD: Since I arrived on island I have always loved snorkeling with turtles at Spotts Beach, or have been really excited when one shows up during a scuba dive.  One morning at Spotts beach I met Lorri and Paul (both part of the DoE Turtle Team) processing a nest on that beach.  They were both so keen to educate me and other onlookers as to what they were doing and I was fascinated!   I believe that in Cayman we are so spoiled with turtles that we take it for granted.  It’s great that I get to see turtles every weekend, but I wanted to do something more to ensure the conservation of these animals, so that any visitors to this island get to share in this experience for many years to come.   

What is a typical day like looking for turtle tracks and nests?

TD: I walk the beach twice a week looking for turtle nests.  The stretch of beach I walk was allocated to me by the DoE Turtle Team, and I walk on the same two days of the week that they “work” those beaches to record and process any nests.  I am usually on the beach by 06h15, as I have to have my report through to them by 07h30. Some nests (especially a fresh green turtle nest) are REALLY obvious to spot- the up and down tracks in the sand, as well as the massive hole, next to a pile of soft powdery sand.  If a nest is a few days old, the tracks have usually been walked over by people on the beach, and the hole is less pronounced, and that becomes more of a challenge.  Kids building sand castles, dogs digging holes, and people dragging paddle boards on the sand all complicate things even further, and this also leads to false reports of nests – but the DoE Turtle Team checks all reports to confirm whether a turtle laid eggs.

How do you help protect the turtle nests that you find during your patrols on the beach?

TD: Great question!  Actually the most important part of my walk is making sure that I find ALL of the nests, as the DoE Turtle Team comes directly to the nests that I call in. This means that if I miss a nest, so do they, and that has implications for research, as well as survival of the unhatched turtles.  In the event of a big storm hitting our coast, the team is able to go directly to nests and relocate them if the waves are getting too close to them. If they don’t know about a nest, they cannot relocate in such an event.  Also, when it is close to hatching time, the team tries to encourage resorts/houses overlooking that beach to turn off lights to limit mis-orientations (when the babies crawl towards the lights instead of the sea).

Interestingly, the eggs are laid deep enough in the sand that even if you were to walk over a nest you would not crush them (although please don’t go do that!).  After the Turtle Team is done processing a nest, they will rake over the tracks and fill the hole, so you wouldn’t even know it was there.  This also helps prevent the same nest being re-reported after they have processed and logged it.

Are there particular beaches that are more popular for the turtles to make nests? 

TD: Definitely!  And this also varies between species of turtle. Unfortunately, I would prefer it if you don’t publish which exact beaches are more popular (and you will see my pictures never show obvious landmarks) because I would hate to encourage poachers to come to these specific spots.

What are some of the dangers turtles face during nesting season?

TD: People!  When these turtles come up on the beach they are very slow moving and are like sitting ducks, and this is when most poaching happens.  

Also, adult turtles mating in the water are often tormented by snorkelers which can disrupt the breeding cycle.  

Once babies hatch, lighting from the street or from houses/condo complexes disorientate thousands of hatchlings a year in Cayman. When they emerge, they instinctively crawl towards the moon light reflecting off the water.  When there is a brighter light on the land side, they crawl towards that, where they cross the road/get eaten by land crabs/dehydrate when they don’t reach the water by sunrise- all of these are horrible ways to die, and are all completely avoidable!

How can the public help keep turtles and turtle nests safe?

TD: Firstly, report any actual or possible turtle nesting activity to the Turtle Hotline (938-NEST / 938-6378). It is really helpful if your report is as detailed as possible, and if you can include pictures with landmarks in the background that is even better!  

Also, please report any suspicious activity or poaching to DoE Conservation Officers at 916-4271 or to 911. Each year the team and DoE enforcement officers prevent multiple poaching incidents through tip offs from the public.  

Lastly, do not interfere with nests or hatchlings, and respect mating turtles.   

How many eggs are laid and when will the eggs typically hatch?

TD: This varies between species and turtle to turtle, but a typical clutch is between 100-150 eggs per season.  A female lays 5-7 times per season, and this alternates year on year ie the females laying in 2019 will be back on our beaches in 2021 -or even later.  (Typically, 2-4 years.). Eggs usually incubate for 45-60 days before hatching.  Interesting fact is that the temperature inside the nest determines the amount of time for the nest to hatch and the sex of the hatchlings.

Are the baby turtles left to make their own way into the wild?

TD:  Correct.  After the female lays her eggs, deep in her dug-out egg chamber, and still covers that with a pile of sand, she leaves and does not return to check on or defend her eggs or babies.   After all of the babies hatch and there is enough movement and energy inside the nest, they “erupt” out of the sand and then scurry off to the water.

What is the most interesting fact about turtles that you would like to share? 

TD: Female turtles will always return to nest on the beach that they hatched on. Even more interesting is that the resident turtles you snorkel with in Cayman do not nest here.  Through genetic studies, we know that our juvenile turtles come from across the Caribbean, and through satellite tracking, we know that our nesting females actually live in Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and other Central American countries when they are not nesting!  

How can the community get involved?

TD:  I think there is loads that people can do.  

The team is always looking for volunteers to walk the beaches and look for nests (reach out via the hotline number to get more information on this).  

People that live on or close to known turtle nesting beaches should be changing to turtle friendly lighting, or questioning their strata/landlord whether their exterior lights are turtle friendly.  Thankfully this is the norm for many new developments, however getting existing developments to change over has been really tough.  

Lastly- simple life choices like recycling, avoiding single use plastics, and being involved in beach clean ups is all part of the cause! It breaks my heart to be snorkeling with turtles and see plastic in the water, because they do eat it, and it will eventually kill them.  Local eco-friendly groups like Plastic Free Cayman and Protect Our Future also organize multiple events on the ground in Cayman, and spread a really positive message about the environment in general, so I would encourage people to get involved in their initiatives.  Cayman is such a small island that you as an individual can make a difference!

 

Stay Connected On Instagram: Trevor Dunbar, DoE,  Eco Chic Cayman

Photo Credits: Trevor Dunbar

Resources: Trevor Dunbar and DoE

 

Protecting the Biggest Fish in the Sea with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

Personally, whale sharks are my absolute favorite shark species.  It is an incredible privilege to see them in all their glory in the wild.  For some of us, the opportunity to swim with a whale shark is once in a lifetime.  They are fascinating and docile creatures.  They reach an impressive size, up to 14 meters making them the largest fish in the ocean.  Whale sharks are considered to be gentle giants of the sea.  Their mesmerizing distinctive pattern is thought to aid camouflaging in their environment and is a unique, identifying mark like human fingerprints.  There is still so much to learn about Whale Sharks.  On that note, today we are featuring Ocean Conservationist Louisa Gibson from Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to learn more about their team’s research studying the behaviors of Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres, Mexico.  

About Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Whale Shark Research

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Guy Harvey Research Institute have partnered with a research group in Isla Mujeres, Mexico called Ch’ooj Ajauil to tag whale sharks with SPOT (smart position or temperature) tags. This type of tag allows us to track the animals in near real time by sending a satellite ping when the dorsal fin breaks the surface. Whale sharks are the largest fish in the sea, and inhabit tropical and temperate waters around the world traveling huge distances. Between May and August every year, hundreds of whale sharks aggregate off of the Yucatan Peninsula in response to a species of tuna spawning in the deep sea. This is the largest known aggregation in the world; it attracts thousands of tourists every year to experience swimming with the sharks, and is the perfect opportunity for us to gather scientific data on the species. Once the sharks leave this aggregation, we have no idea where they travel to and why. If we can learn more about their migrations, we can protect them from threats such as ship strikes and commercial fishers. We also aim to identify their key habitats, such as breeding grounds and nursery sites.

Q&A With Ocean Conservationist Louisa Gibson

 

How would you describe your experience swimming with Whale Sharks?

If it isn’t on your bucket list, I highly recommend adding it towards the top, right now. The experience is surreal, its magical! You jump in and have to move fast, because their movements are misleading. It looks like they are swimming slowly but their massive tails propel them through the water quite quickly. They aren’t bothered by having people swimming alongside them, as long as you don’t touch them. If you are lucky enough to witness a “botella,” which is when the shark floats vertically as it gulps in gallons of water to feed on concentrations of fish eggs and plankton at the surface, you suddenly share the trans-like state that the shark is in. You feel so small in the vast ocean, next to this giant graceful animal. It’s really quite a moving experience and it makes you appreciate how incredible our ocean is.

 What was the aim for your Whale Shark research?

GHOF, GHRI and Ch’ooj Ajauil aim to learn about the whale sharks migrations to identify key habitats and behavior in regards to breeding, feeding and traveling in order to protect them in the open ocean. Very little is known about the whale sharks reproductive behavior, and where they breed and give birth is currently a  mystery. So far 10 whale sharks have been tagged, 4 of which were tagged last year and all travelled in different directions only to return to Isla Mujeres a year later. Others,  tagged this year are still enjoying the rich waters off the Yucatan Peninsula as we speak. The more animals we tag, the more likely we will be able to identify patterns in behavior between males and females, adults and juveniles. To follow our tagged sharks visit GHRItracking.org, or to contribute to this research visit GHOF.org.

 

What do you find most fascinating about Whale Sharks?

There are so many fascinating things about whale sharks! They are the largest fish in the sea, however feed on the smallest (eggs, plankton, small fish). The white patterns on their dorsal surface are all totally unique, like our finger prints, and can be used to identify individuals. They are from the order Orectolobiformes, otherwise known as “carpet sharks” which typically live near the bottom of the sea, yet whale sharks also feed at the surface. Other examples of Orectolobiformes are the nurse shark and the wobbegong. Some whale sharks in the Caribbean region have an intrinsic pull to the Yucatan at the same time every year – how do they know?!

 

What do you think people would be interested to know about Whale Sharks?

They are filter feeders so technically don’t need teeth but they actually have rows of hundreds of tiny teeth, just like other sharks. Almost nothing is known about whale shark reproduction, however over 300 embryos were found inside a pregnant female in the 90s. The embryos were in all stages of development, and when 29 were genetically tested, all had the same father which could mean that this species can store sperm from one mating event and fertilize their own eggs later on. Incredible stuff!

 

Also, they are harmless sharks making them very fun to swim with.

 

Can you share a bit about GHOFs shark conservation efforts?

GHOF and GHRI focus on the research and conservation of a number of different shark species including the mako shark, tiger shark, oceanic whitetip, silky shark, and the whale shark which are studied predominantly out of Cayman Islands, Maryland and Mexico. Since the Guy Harvey Research Institute was established in 1999 we have reached some significant milestones in shark conservation. In 2006, scientists at GHRI identified that up to 73 million sharks per year are killed in the shark fin trade alone, sparking international concern about the plight of sharks. More recently GHRI discovered, through fisheries-independent data, that mako sharks are harvested 10 times more than previously thought when 30% of tagged sharks were killed. This led to emergency protections for the species in the NW Atlantic; and data from our shark research also influenced the complete protection of sharks in the Bahamas and the Cayman Islands.

 

Learn more about Whale Sharks

Check out Jessica Harvey’s Expedition Notebook series for bite-size learning about the whale shark and other cool species!

Co-Author

Louisa Gibson

Resources

Louisa Gibson

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

Photo Credits

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation

A Day In The Life Of A Shark Conservationist: Ellen Cuylaerts

One of my personal heroes is Ellen Cuylaerts.  I have great admiration for Ellen’s ocean conservation efforts.  She is a true luminary.  Ellen faced her fears and learned how to dive and swim with sharks.  By embracing her fear, she gained a deeper love, respect, understanding, and appreciation for sharks.  It is her bravery, and curiosity to learn more about our ocean and sharks that teaches us we can all do great things if we stay true to ourselves and follow our passions.  Ellen’s tremendous love and dedication to shark conservation are evident in her underwater photography.  She uses her passion for photography to show sharks in their natural habitat.  Her photos not only capture incredible ocean moments and encounters with one of the world’s most fascinating creatures, but they tell a powerful story.  Sharks are incredibly misunderstood creatures, resulting in them often being feared.  Through her photography, Ellen strives to change the perception of sharks by reminding all of us that sharks are not to be feared, but respected.  They play a vital role in maintaining the balance of our oceans ecosystems.  Likewise, healthy shark populations are an indicator of healthy coral reefs.  The ocean has a delicate and intricate balance, and we need healthy shark populations to ensure the future of a healthy ocean.  We can all do our part to contribute to shark conservation and raising awareness about the importance of sharks.     

Q&A with Ellen Cuylaerts

1. What inspired you to be a shark and ocean conservationist?

I became an ocean conservationist because I was grateful for all the ocean is giving us; the calm just looking at the waves, the serenity being in water, the healing benefits of the ocean, the oxygen produced in it…and yet we hardly take care of her and all life in it. We take the ocean for granted, pollute it and damage all life. When I became a snorkeler and later diver and shared the ocean with my children, they reconnected me with nature and taught me lots about fish and sharks, marine mammals and creatures from the deep.  Sharks fascinated me but I had a healthy fear, I wanted to know all about their behavior before I would enter their proximity….but one of my first dives I was lucky and saw 3 sharks and they stayed close during the whole dive. What I experienced was no fear but an immense calm that came over me: these were magnificent creatures, misunderstood, not looking at us as if we were food but just observing us like we observed them.

I wanted to know more and read about the different species and different behavior and feeding patterns, already aware their numbers were dwindling due to the cruel act of finning and them being the victims of bycatch too. I wanted to take images of them the way I saw them, as not to fear but admire for the important role they play in our oceans as apex predators on top of the food chain, keeping the reefs healthy. My shark shots (of reef sharks, oceanics whitetip sharks, tiger sharks, whale sharks, Galapagos sharks, silky sharks, blue sharks, nurse sharks, tresher sharks and hammerheads) are all with their mouth closed, peaceful and serene, showing the beauty and informing people why exactly they are so important.

2. What is your favorite species of shark?

Ahhh difficult question. I love them all, the skin, their ampullae of Lorenzini, their eyes, fins, tails: so different for every species and yet so alike. Maybe the tiger shark is my favorite because of its size, the stripes and the way it slowly and gracefully moves but then again, they all do. Maybe it’s easier to choose my favorite time in the water with sharks: that was on Ascension Island where  I spent hours and days in the water with juvenile and adult Galapagos sharks. The juveniles stayed close to a rock, boatswain Bird Island, a seabird breeding colony, waiting for chicks to fall in the water so they could feed on them. the water was crystal clear, jacks and black durgeons everywhere, the occasional visit of turtles and mahi-mahi…it was just paradise and heaven all together. Pure and wild!

3.  What was your first experience like swimming with a shark?

As mentioned it was on one of my first dives and it was a true eye-opener that they had a calming effect on me and they were not to fear as long as you know what to do and what not to do.  Sharks do NOT feed on people. Almost every shark incident can be explained as a shark mistaken a human for it’s usual prey.

4.  What can people do to help protect sharks?

Use your voice to protest against shark finning and killing of sharks. Shark numbers are decimated the last decades and almost all species are either vulnerable or threatened with extinction. 

Sharks get killed for their fins (to produce shark fin soup) for their skin, for the medicinal use of their cartilage, as bycatch in commercial fishing. Between and 70 million and 100 million sharks are killed every year, those are the estimates, could be lower, could be much higher.

Stop eating fish, for every fish we eat, the amount of bycatch is mind-blowing, we are depleting the oceans for our convenience without thinking, without conscience. 

5.  What do you love most about sharks?

I love them for keeping the oceans healthy and diving with them I absolutely love their predictable patterns and how well you can read the different characters once you spend more time with them.

6. What do you think is the biggest misconception about sharks?

That they are men eaters….they are NOT. I once did a shark feeding course to better understand them and to ’shark myself’ with the amazing Cristina Zenato. I had fish in a tube and was standing between 25-40 sharks and I’ve never been so calm.

7. What is the most interesting fact you know about sharks? 

It might not be the most interesting fact but it’s something not everyone realizes: sharks are more vulnerable to stress than we think. Even tagging sharks for research or catch and release sharks in sport fishing might have an increased lactic acid build up in the blood as a result and cause a delayed mortality. It’s not because the sharks swims away after the facts that it will live on. 

I read a lot of B..S of people pretending to protect sharks (but commercially sell tagging trips and even offer catch and release)…it’s sadly all about greed and ego! 

Wishing everyone a great shark week!

 

Photo Credits: Ellen Cuylaerts

Miss World Cayman Islands EnviroWalk: Walk For The Planet

“We recognize the privilege we have living in the Cayman Islands being surrounded by the serene beauty of our oceans and nature.  It is important to us that we work alongside our community to preserve our oceans and local wildlife.  We believe in doing our part to contribute to raising awareness about environmental issues impacting our island and conservation efforts.” – Laura Butz, Committee Head for Environment, Miss World Cayman Islands Committee. 

Miss World Cayman Islands (MWCI) is raising environmental awareness one step at a time.  On 30th June 2019, will be their first ever ‘EnviroWalk’ to raise awareness for the environment.  “We are very excited to host our first EnviroWalk/Run on June 30 and sincerely thank our sponsors of the Walk – Flowers and Jacques Scott. We hope to continue doing this event as a fundraiser for the Miss World CI pageant but more importantly to bring awareness to the public about what we can do to help our environment. We believe it is important to preserve what we have now so our kids and grandkids can enjoy the environment for many years to come.” – Pamela Ebanks-Small, Director of Miss World Cayman Islands.  The aim of the EnviroWalk is for MWCI to share their ongoing mission of “Beauty with a Purpose” with our local community.  The “Beauty with a Purpose” project promotes MWCI commitment to using their platform to raise awareness about local environmental issues and collaborate with local environmental non-profit organizations.  That said, funds raised from the EnviroWalk will go towards both Miss World Cayman Islands environmental projects and their pageant.  In addition, a donation will be made to a local environmental non-profit organization to aid them in their conservation efforts.  The local environmental non-profit organization that will be the beneficiary of a donation will be decided on the day of the walk.  Moreover, the walk will be an eco-friendly event as much as possible.  Participants are encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottle to refill at sponsored hydration stations courtesy of Flowers Bottled Water.  Highlights to look forward to at the event include a quick 10-minute warm-up session led by MWCI’s fitness sponsor F45 just before the 5K Walk/Run begins.  Miss World Cayman Islands winner Kelsie Bodden and the governor Martyn Roper will be leading the 5K Walk/Run.  They will both run the course as a friendly competition.  Throughout the course, participants can look out for eco-tips on signs to help educate the public on easy tips for living a sustainable lifestyle.    

Sign Up for the walk online at Cayman Active. 

Sign Up at these locations:

Saturday, 22 June: Fosters Strand 9:00am-2:00pm 

Monday, 24 June: Government Office Building 11:30am-1:30pm 

T-Shirt Distribution

Wednesday 26 June: Governors Square Board Room, 6:00pm-8:00pm

Saturday 29 June: Governors Square Board Room, 9:00am-12:00pm 

EnviroWalk 30th June: 7:00am at Safe Haven

Stay Connected

Stay connected with Miss World Cayman Islands on Instagram 

Miss World Cayman Islands EnviroWalk on Instagram: @envirowalkcayman 

Kelsie Bodden, Miss World Cayman Islands 2018 on Instagram

 Special Thank You

Miss World Cayman Islands would like to thank their sponsors for EnviroWalk 5K Walk/Run.

Event Sponsors

Jacques Scott Group Ltd.

Flowers Bottled Water

JUNK

Raffle Prize Sponsors

F45

Le Visage

Ride With Us Watersports

Brasserie

Refuel