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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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The Art of Baking From SCRATCH

 

My love for baking comes with my love and appreciation for simple ingredients. I believe that food should be gorgeous to look at and rich in flavour; balancing salty and sweet so the two work in harmony…I started off as a science major, pursuing a degree in structural engineering -but my passion for baking lead me down the path to make it a lifelong career; one I could make my own…from SCRATCH. – Brittanni Seymour

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Brittanni Seymour, is a professional pastry chef.  Her background extends from being a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island to working as head gourmet pastry chef at the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort.  Her experience has equipped her for the next stage in her career as a local business owner — pastry chef extraordinaire.  Her signature baking style is aesthetically beautiful and delectable desserts.  Brittanni is an inspiration to us all.  She proves that anyone with dedication and passion can achieve their dreams.  At the heart of her journey, Brittanni has proudly built her business from scratch— using the finest “ingredients” dedication, passion, creativity, strong work ethic and integrity.  The name of her company, “Scratch” beautifully embodies her journey of mastering the art of baking from scratch, and  building her company.  Her devotion to be hands on and take great care when creating something with her hands whether it is her assortment of gourmet desserts and transforming them into works of art, to running her company it has served her well.  A testimony that incredible things can be made from the process of learning and creating from scratch.

Treat Yourself 

Scratch” takes cake seriously – every cake and macaron we make is made with the most fresh and the finest ingredients just to be sure you enjoy the best dang cake experience you have ever had. No weird additives or preservatives included. -Brittanni Seymour

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Fellow foodies and dessert connoisseurs get ready to indulge in a real treat.  Brittanni, founder of “Scratch” gourmet desserts offers a delightful selection of desserts with an array of flavors fantastic for birthdays, weddings, events and simply to just enjoy on regular day (everyday is an occasion for doughnuts and cake).  From doughnuts, to cupcakes, to macaroons, to cakes all are made with love, homemade and most importantly from scratch.  The dedication and care Brittanni adheres to when baking results in only the finest of ingredients being used.  When available ingredients are locally sourced.  Her desserts while decadent have a wonderful  sweet and refreshing lightness — they are not overdone with sugar by any means — they are the perfect balance of rich and light.  Great news for those of you who are vegan or have food allergies (gluten and dairy) Brittanni makes incredibly delicious vegan and gluten free doughnuts and other sweet treats.  There is something truly special about desserts made from scratch. Somehow, you can always tell when something is made from scratch, you can just taste it.  Homemade desserts and pastries have a wonderful sweetness about them and the quality is just splendid. You really just can’t beat desserts and pastries made from scratch— they are absolutely the best.

 

Let Them Eat Cake 

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To make a custom order for your next batch of doughnuts, macaroons, cupcakes or a cake for any celebration contact Brittanni.

Brittanni Seymour

Email: bee.seymour@hotmail.com

Tel: 1-345-923-0081

Bet You Can’t Eat Just One!

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Currently craving doughnuts? Click here to view her selection

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Check out her cake and gourmet treat options by clicking 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 

FORCE BLUE: A Call of Duty to Heal the Ocean

I had the honor of meeting U.S RECON Marine Sergeant Rudy Reyes and listening to him share his story about his experience as a former combat diver and now a veteran on a mission to help protect and restore the marine environment. I cannot truly capture in words how profound his story is or the eloquent way he spoke about his life’s journey. Nor, can I begin to fathom the magnitude of the experiences he has been through and endured as a combat diver. All I can humbly offer is that listening to him speak with such humility, eloquence and passion I was incredibly moved by his words and a part of me was changed forever by his heartfelt story. His life’s journey has lead him to a new call of duty, dedicating his life’s work to empowering other Special Ops veterans to join FORCE BLUE’s conservation efforts to help restore critical marine ecosystems around the world. While on his first trip to the Cayman Islands two years ago, diving off the shore of Sunset House with friends Jim Ritterhoff and Keith Sahm, something remarkable happened. The former combat diver found healing and a sense of peace while being in the ocean as a recreational diver. It revived his human spirt. It was then, FORCE BLUE was formed. That trip gave him a new purpose in life and a new mission to carry out. It was a monumental moment. It ignited a passion within him to dedicate his commitment to a life of service to ocean conservation to help heal the ocean and to help other Special Ops veterans to find healing as he did. Rudy is now an advocate for ocean conservation and a cofounder of FORCE BLUE, along with Jim Ritterhoff and Keith Sahm. Together, they are working to change the lives of veterans and work towards the betterment of our environment through ocean conservation. Rudy, along with six other team members of FORCE BLUE’s Team One, embarked on the first deployment in the Cayman Islands. It brought forth a remarkable experience that brought back meaning and purpose into the lives of these humble and inspiring veterans.

A Brotherhood United

 

FORCE BLUE Team One, includes seven combat diver veterans from around the world: Rudy Reyes, U.S. Air Force Silver Star recipient Roger Sparks, U.S. Navy SEAL Lt. Geoff Reeves, U.S. Marine Will Hinkson, U.S. Army Green Beret Sean Moore, British Royal Marine Commando Jon Slayer and former U.S. Military combat medic Nathan Quinn. They set out on FORCE BLUE’s first ever deployment to aid in helping with the coral reef conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands. It was an unprecedented event, training veteran combat divers to recalibrate their skill set for ocean conservation. The training and work with coral reefs took place over the course of two weeks in the Cayman Islands. Their mission to help protect and restore coral reefs gave them purpose which is fundamental to their way of life. Being mission driven is the commonality between them that brings them together. This honorable endeavor was an experience that not only taught them about conservation but lead them to learn something about themselves. It gave them an opportunity to go through a transformative journey of rebuilding their lives, self-recovery, finding a new brotherhood, being part of a team once again and being part of something that was much bigger than themselves. They are a new voice for ocean conservation. As they applied the knowledge they acquired during more than 130 total hours of classroom training and learning about preserving coral reefs it allowed them to see the positive impact they were creating. In particular, working with Cayman’s Coral Nursery Recovery Program and out-planting viable coral fragments onto damaged coral reefs showed them first hand that they were making a difference to better the environment.

For these seven veteran combat divers, their undeniable desire and dedication to a life of service has transitioned into a new cause, one of hope and healing for both the ocean and veterans. This experience gave them a sense of belonging and togetherness once again. These veterans were able to find a place in society where they could continue to have a mission oriented lifestyle. Their motto is, “One team. One fight.” A mantra that is the epitome of what the experience brought forth, the uniting of these veterans together as a new brotherhood and family, as they fight to save the oceans’s ecosystem. A strength of togetherness extended beyond that. A united force was built amongst the special operations community, the scientific community and the environmental community as they unified as one team working on a common goal, preservation of coral reefs and ocean conservation. During the time they engaged in diving and exploring the wonderment of the ocean and coral reefs they found themselves forming a deeper connection to nature. Being surrounded by the vast beauty of the ocean they discovered how truly interconnected we all are to the ocean and our dependency on this fragile life-support system. As they engrossed themselves in restoring coral reefs it taught them to have a new perspective on life. They learned how to rebuild themselves and their human spirit. The powerful experience of their journey lead them to find healing through ocean conservation and ultimately the healing that came from finding mercy, love and grace. The revolutionizing experience awakened something within each of them. It helped to fill a void. It brought forth new meaning into their lives as their work allowed them to contribute to the greater good. It inspired them to become advocates for saving the ocean as well as helping to improve the lives of veterans. A strong commonality uniting the brotherhood of FORCE BLUE’s Team One is their honorable dedication to a life of service and their unequivocal need to continue serving. The veteran combat divers who serve on FORCE BLUE Team One continue their noble commitment to a life a service for the greater good. Being mission driven is often how they find value in their lives. Their new call to duty, ocean conservation, is a noble pursuit for the betterment of the environment and to help transform the lives of veterans. It is also a call to action to encourage other Special Ops veterans to join them in the fight to save the world’s oceans.

Saving Grace

 The memorial service held off the shore of Sunset House, Cayman Islands, was a dedication to veterans. A powerful, poignant and moving experience for those who were there. It was a moment of remembrance and reflection. The FORCE BLUE team along with other veterans and those who have lost loved ones came together on a forty minute dive. A remarkable moment occurred during the memorial, a tear never before seen on the mermaid statue poetically appeared that day. An incredibly touching and moving moment that words could not capture.

Later that evening, FORCE BLUE’s Team One of seven veteran combat divers had a graduation ceremony commemorating their successful training program and coral reef conservation mission. Each veteran shared their experience as FORCE BLUE’s first deployment team and what working on coral conservation meant to them. Wallace J. Nicholas, author of Blue Mind was the keynote speaker. He gave an inspiring speech. A notable moment, was the handing out of blue marbles. Everyone in attendance received a blue marble. Attendees were asked to introduce themselves to someone they had not met before and simply share a memory tied to the ocean and then exchange blue marbles. The significance of the blue marble as Nicholas describes is, that the blue marble is symbolic of this planet we all call home, and the ocean that connects us all.

I was deeply honored to have met the veterans that made FORCE BLUE’s Team One. I am incredibly proud of their tenacity to fight to save our coral reefs and share their experience to help transform the lives of other veterans.

Mercy, Love & Grace: The Story of FORCE BLUE

 Check out their documentary.

Support FORCE BLUE

Please visit their website to learn more about FORCE BLUE or to make a donation towards their honorable cause.

Photo Credits: FORCE BLUE

Visit their website https://forceblueteam.org 

World Oceans Day 2017

The ocean is the heart of our planet and it is our life-support system.  Oceans provide over 50% of the world’s oxygen, so it is vital that we maintain a healthy ocean.  We depend on the ocean for our survival.  Coral reefs are home to 25% of marine life.  Coral reefs are often viewed as the rainforest of the sea and have intrinsic value. The caribbean alone has lost approximately 80% of its coral reef coverage.  Coral reefs on a global scale are under threat.  There is an urgent need to protect the ocean and preserve coral reefs.

The ocean has this incredible power to unite us— we all are connected to the ocean. The ocean is vast and full of wonderment and spectacular beauty.  Let us all join together to help protect the ocean and conserve coral reefs.  It is important that we also take the time to connect with nature and celebrate the beauty of our planet.

A simple way we can create positive change is by recycling and removing trash scattered along the beach and from the ocean.  Or, volunteer and get involved in your local community with environmental organizations. Volunteering with local organizations is a great way to help create a positive impact.

Happy World Oceans Day! xoxo

Here in the Cayman Islands:

If you are interested in becoming a turtle volunteer email: doeturtlemonitoring@gmail.com or to report a nest/poaching phone the turtle hotline 938-6378

If you are interested in becoming a shark logger or to report a shark sighting email: sharkloggers@gmail.com

Special Thanks and Video Credits:

Lori Speirs, Marique Cloete, Johanna Kohler and Dale Williams.

Special Thanks, Guest Appearances

Marique Cloete, Aaron Hunt and Talya Metlem.

 

 

Plastic, Caught In Our Blind Spots

Christine Ren, is making waves with her thought provoking art, drawing attention to environmental issues.  Her piece entitled, “Blind Spots” is mind blowing.  A satirical piece, sparking conversation about environmental concerns as it makes an interesting commentary on society’s consumption of plastic.  The portrait of a girl blindfolded with a shopping cart full of plastic products that are cascading out of the cart and into the ocean, is perfectly constructed to highlight society’s behavior in terms of not taking ownership or responsibility for the massive accumulation of plastic that has over years been dumped into the ocean.  It shows how easy it is for society to lose sight of critical environmental issues that are right in front of us and problems that are increasing.  And, if not lose sight of a glaring issue, the ease and ability we have to push it out of our minds or into our blind spots to avoid dealing with it. Christine’s art forces us to stare at the blatant issue of plastic pollution and face the reality of a situation we would rather remain in our blind spots.  The powerful image carefully articulates the theme of being blind.  Commenting on society all too easily turning a blind eye towards our actions of contributing to the growing problem of plastic pollution in the ocean and being oblivious to the consequences incurred.   Furthermore, the picture depicts the nonchalant attitude of society feeding into the over consumption of plastic products and not questioning what happens to those products when they filter their way into the ocean.  Society is deeply entrenched in a dependency on plastic products and over consumption. The image brings forth the notion, of a cautionary warning if we continue down this path and ignore the urgency to a call to action to change our consumption behaviors, recycle more, reduce plastic waste, reduce our use of plastic and reduce the amount of trash that overall ends up in the ocean, our ocean will continue to suffer greatly.

The theme of blindness is intricately woven into the artwork, creating a true representation of our culture today.  It examines our culture of consumption and plastic becoming a facet of our daily lives.  It captures a startling truth about ourselves, we would prefer to be blind to.  We would prefer to be blind to how much we have contributed to the deterioration of the health of the ocean, coral reefs, fragile ecosystems and marine life by allowing more than 8 million tons of plastic to be dumped into the ocean every year.  We would prefer to close our eyes and not see the reality of the situation we have with the proliferation of plastic and the massive environmental problem that has rapidly become.  We would prefer to not know the extent of the consequences of our actions and how deeply and greatly it has had a negative impact on the ocean and the environment as a whole.  It is easier to turn a blind eye, keep the problem with plastic out of sight, out of mind rather than face it and deal with it. But, we cannot remain blind. Nor, can we ignore the issue and pretend like the peril our ocean and increasing problems it faces because of plastic pollution does not exist.  We can no longer carry on allowing major environmental concerns to fall into our blind spots.  We need to shift our focus and make a commitment to change our actions for the betterment of the environment.

Removing the Blindfold

The image of a girl blatantly oblivious to plastic consumption habits that results in trash ending up in the ocean emphasizes the notion that society cannot stand by any longer in a passive state and be relaxed about such an imperative issue as plastic pollution in the ocean.  We must remove the metaphoric blindfolds and open our eyes to the striking reality of our ocean being in crisis.  Environmental concerns about plastic pollution in the ocean must shift to the forefront, it can no longer remain in our blindspots.  Christine Ren’s bold image, “Blind Spots” is a catalyst for change.  Through her passion for art, media, film and advocacy for the environment she is urging us to examine our daily use of plastic and work towards reducing the amount of plastic we use.  She encourages us to acknowledge our part in contributing to plastic pollution in ocean and seek out measures that can be taken to help resolve this issue.  Her satirical portrait speaks volumes, pushing us to all be more active in creating change and not stand by passively allowing plastic pollution and over consumption of plastic products to continue.  The striking image provokes us to be environmentally responsible as it emphasizes the urgency to rectify our consumer habits and the devastation we have allowed to be inflicted upon the ocean.  We cannot afford to be careless with the products we consume.  We must not allow plastic products to continue ending up as marine debris.  The ocean is not a trash can.  The ocean is vast, but it is not invincible. There are serious repercussions due to plastic pollution.  Marine debris is a major threat to marine life and plastic is the most prevalent form.  Often marine life ingests plastic as it is mistaken for food, or become entangled in fishing lines, and plastic debris often resulting in their death.  Microplastics is a major concern as it is prolifically polluting the ocean and harming marine life.  Microplastics are tiny plastic pieces that resulted from larger plastic debris that degrades while in the ocean.  Plastic is everywhere.  Plastic pollution is serious threat to the ocean and an endangerment to marine life.  We need to collectively strive to keep plastic out of the ocean.  We can do so by reducing our use of plastic, recycle and remove trash along the beach and directly from the ocean.

The Making Of Blind Spots

Meet Christine Ren

Photo Credit: http://christinerenfilms.com/about/

“After pirouetting my way from science, and dance, to a Master’s in Ocean Policy and Advocacy, there’s a truth I’ve uncovered in my journey… that there exists a singularly unique way for each of us to affect change with our own individualized talents and skills.” Christine Ren

Christine Ren is a revolutionary and talented artist.  She has merged her passion for the arts with her advocacy for the environment to promote positive change.  She uses art and media as her platform to voice her concerns for the environment and to provoke a conversation about environmental issues and resolutions to remedy the problems our planet faces.

Photo Credits:

Art direction and modeling by: Christine Ren and Photography by: Brett Stanley Photography.

Visit their websites:http://christinrenfilms.com and http://brettstanleyphotography.com

Video Credits:

Directing, modeling & editing: Christine Ren (http://christinerenfilms.com) Photography: Brett Stanley (http://brettstanleyphoto.com) Photography: Hair & MUA: Jaime Leigh McIntosh BTS footage: Brian Bradley

Wanderlust Wednesday: Cuba, Compassion is a universal language

Photo Credit: Lori Speirs, TWI Hippies

Today’s Wanderlust Wednesday post, is by guest writer Talya Meltem. Talya is cofounder of the TWI Hippies  blog.  In her article, she shares her experience of visiting Cuba.

We made it to Cuba. Our lifelong dreams of seeing the famed colourful old time cars and Spanish colonial architecture of La Habana Vieja (Old Havana), had finally came true when we stepped foot onto Cuban land, last Friday. It was hard not to stare at the beautiful people, or tune into every word that we recognized as vocabulary from Spanish Class years ago. We were greeted by two friendly taxi men, holding up a sign reading: “Lori Speirs.” By this time it had started raining cats and dogs, and even as they kindly helped us get into the cab without getting wet, it still hadn’t hit us that we were really in Cuba.

Photo Credit: Lori Speirs, TWI Hippies

Our driver sped down the rainy highway, zooming past the gorgeous, lush greenery of trees and mountains. For 38 minutes, I had to endure the irrational thoughts of us driving over other motorcyclists and kept squeezing my eyes shut thinking that we were too close to the other vehicles coming from the opposite direction. Upon reaching our destination in Cojimar, my relief at being able to get out of the car was short-lived as I began to worry if we had made a big mistake by selecting our stay with Airbnb.com in a place that we had never even heard of.

Photo Credit: Lori Speirs, TWI Hippies

I was soon comforted in knowing that Cojimar is actually a safe place to live. Our hosts were very lovely and helped arrange cab drives for us to the various spots on our list of places to go. They even cooked breakfast for us every morning! It was so nice to wake up to a hearty meal to start our day.

My first night was restless due to a dreadful sore throat that grew into an unwanted flu throughout our time in Cuba. “Why on earth did it have to happen this weekend?”, were my thoughts exactly. Regardless, I pushed myself as we scoped out the land for our upcoming project. Time was of the essence since we only had 4 days to document that which was necessary. It was very hard for me to enjoy Cuba the way I had hoped. I am not sure if it was because of my “flu-blues,” but Cuba was a very depressing trip for me. Yes, I had reached the climax of the several years build-up of wanting to visit this land. And yes, the scenery of the “City of Columns,” closely resembled what I had imagined. But it was the people that broke my heart.

Photo Credit: Lori Speirs, TWI Hippies

Most of the people didn’t know anything different, and the things that stood out to me were just normal life in their eyes; the deteriorated homes and ram-shackled roads were incongruous amidst all the beauty. Yet you’d see the happiest daughter and father going for a walk or a young couple falling helplessly in love in these circumstances. It was the poverty that was hard to witness.

Photo Credit: Lori Speirs, TWI Hippies

Everyone was eager to make the extra buck. Before I could snap a picture of an old lady in her traditional dress, smoking a cigar, she put up a finger and said “1 CUC” (which is equivalent to USD$1). While dining at a restaurant, a round of applause was not sufficient for live musicians. They would walk around asking “Tips for music please?” And could I blame them? No. But, it was the rawness of a bike taxi man that annihilated every beautiful thought for a moment, when he spoke about wanting to provide for his daughter.

In doing some research for our project, I asked this nice man, Julius, if he ever felt oppressed. “That is a good point,” he said. We told him that it was okay to speak in Spanish and that we would get the recording translated later. Although we could not understand his verbal response, we could feel his heart. Compassion is a universal language. Holding back his tears, he then told us in English, that he would work all month for the government and only make CUC$30, which is exactly what he made within the 3 hours he transported us. This educated man, who spoke near to perfect English, traded in his job with the government to taxi tourists around because he needed to earn more money for his family.

While I am glad to be back home, because there is nothing sweeter than your own bed while recovering from being sick, my heart still hurts for Cuba. I have returned to Cayman with loads of questions and many prayers. I thought that this would be another fashion post, about what we did and how I dressed, but in reality, it couldn’t have been anything else except the true impression.

Photo Credit: Lori Speirs, TWI Hippies

Photo Credit: Lori Speirs, TWI Hippies.

 

Guest Writer: Talya Meltem, cofounder of the TWI Hippies blog

Connect With Nature

Happy World Environment Day! Every day, we should all make an effort to spend some time in nature.  Today in particular, is a perfect time to connect with nature and celebrate the beauty and importance of the environment.  There is no planet B, so it is vital that we take care of our environment.   For me, my favorite place to connect with nature is the beach. I love the ocean!! Growing up on an island I have been blessed to be surrounded by the Caribbean Sea and I can’t help but gravitate towards the sea.

Huge thank you to Lori Speirs from TWI Hippies  for making this video!!! It was a great collaborative project!

One Man’s Trash, Is Another’s Recycled Art

Marc Laurenson, local artist and cofounder of Stoak’d Cayman, is starting a new art movement in the Cayman Islands.  He is bridging his passion for art with conservation.  Specifically, he is repurposing materials that would have otherwise ended up in the landfill or recycle bins (depending on the product) into his canvas and transforming trash into bold artwork. One of his pieces in his new collection was constructed entirely from Coca Cola products.  Another, was made from Heineken products.  Marc’s newly inspired artwork, creates great statement pieces and an interesting commentary on consumerism.  It illustrates the impact marketing and advertising have on our society.   Consumerism has essentially become a major component of our culture.  We are constantly bombarded with marketing and advertisements pushing us to buy more, consume more products.  Marc’s artwork made entirely of consumer products forces us to examine the amount of products we consume and purchase on a daily basis.  Moreover, it highlights the urgency there is for us all to collectively make the effort to recycle, repurpose or reuses products whenever possible.  We all need to do our part in reducing the amount products that end up in landfills.  Unfortunately, consumerism has a dark side, whereby products such as those made from plastic (though it can be recycled) when not recycled it adds to environmental problems.  For instance, the havoc wreaked on the ocean when plastic degrades in the ocean. Or, mistakenly plastic items are viewed as food by marine life.  Marc’s artwork made from products that are recyclable or non-recyclable urges us to be more socially aware of the impact our consumer habitats impose on the environment.  His recyclable artwork encourages us as a community to join the movement to recycle, to reduce the amount of products that end up in the landfill.  As well as, keeping trash out our environment and ocean.  Marc’s collection of recyclable art is an inspiration to other artists to use art as a catalyst for change and to help make a difference.  Art is a powerful tool to create awareness and to spark conversation.  His inspiring collection invites artists to a call of action, to use their artwork to voice environmental concerns and encourage positive change that leads to the betterment of our environment.

Q&A With Marc Laurenson from Stoak’d Cayman

What inspired you to create recyclable artwork?

My wife and I where traveling Europe on our anniversary and in Paris, France we stopped by a gallery and in the window was the most amazing recycled artwork portrait. At the time we were looking for a new style.

What statement or message would you like your artwork to say about the environment? 

I want our art pieces to inspire other artists. A lot of artists here in Cayman paint canvases. I would love to see people come out of their comfort zone and experiment with mixed media. Was the best choice I made.

What are your thoughts on the amount of products you were able to find to use as material for your artwork and this project? 

The products are endless. Im looking for more companies to get involved and donate advertising / recycling material to us so we can show Cayman what we can do. We would also like to start a recycling program for other artists to pop by and take what they want to make their own art pieces.

I also try and look at trash in a different way. Can it be salvaged? What can I do with it. My wife thinks I’m a hoarder as my art room now is full with materials that I can use for art pieces. I now just need the time to make them. If anyone reading this would like to be apart of the recycling movement please contact us at stoakd1@gmail.com we would love to chat to you and collaborate.

Photo Credits: Marc Laurenson, Stoak’d Cayman