You probably gathered rather quickly that this magazine is keen on ocean conservation. It’s a passion of Guy Harvey’s as well as a growing contingent of fishermen, boaters, and divers. With this in mind, the editors though it might be a good idea to highlight conservation efforts in destinations we all visit (or dream of visiting) to catch that big billfish, dive a sheer wall, or sit on the beach and sip on a cool drink.
Our first thought was Panama. It’s Guy’s favorite place to fish. He’s just come out with a new book called Panama Paradise, about the Tropic Star Lodge. And well, we all wanted to take a quick jaunt down there. Then I found myself in Guy’s hometown, Grand Cayman, interviewing him for this inaugural issue. Everywhere I looked I saw environmental stewardship going on. The idea hit me like a wahoo on a ballyhoo – highlight Guy’s home turf – Grand Cayman. So we did. Sorry Panama, you’ve been bumped to next issue.
Cayman’s Responsible Cuisine
You won’t have a problem finding a great restaurant in Cayman. A good inexpensive eatery is another story. A BK whopper costs five bucks and don’t even ask about a bucket of KFC. Of course, most of us don’t go to the tropics for fast food and Cayman shines in the fine cuisine department. A program, sponsored by the Cayman Islands National Trust, called Cayman Sea Sense has created a logo for restaurants that feature responsible seafood choices on their menu. The brochure says, “This is your guarantee that a seafood dish has been certified ocean friendly by the Cayman Sea.” Of course, Guy Harvey’s Island Grill is on the list along with only ten others such as Cobalt Coast Resort, Lighthouse Restaurant, and Pirates Den. However, the program is expanding to other restaurants.
A list of Sea Sense seafood options can be found at http://www.nationaltrust.org.ky/seasense.html
If you haven’t seen the Seafood Watch guide that is published both by Guy Harvey and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, then we’ve got a copy here for you. The color-coded, red-yellow-green lists are as simple as a stop light and just as easy to run through. You’ll find two favorites – grouper and lobster – on the red “avoid” list. However, if you dig deeper, you’ll see that Maine lobster and U.S. lobsters are fine.
The list is generally frowns on most imported species and leans toward eating farmed fish. But fish farming has its own set of issues such as using antibiotics to stave off illnesses and parasites. One rule of thumb the guide doesn’t mention is size of fish. If you’re catching your own dinner, it’s always better to keep the younger, smaller fish that haven’t lived long enough to bioaccumulate lead, mercury, and other bad boogie. Not to mention, large fish are breeders (see Marlin Masters article in this issue). So for your own health as well as the propagation of the species, go small.
The guide is not perfect but it’s the best source available for the responsible consumption of seafood.
Speaking of controversial farms, the Cayman Turtle Farm meets all the qualifications. Turtles are part of Cayman’s history all the way back to the 1600s when seafarers would pit stop there for the abundant green turtles. Turtle meat was a favorite because the turtles would stay alive on board for long periods of time and provide the crew with fresh meat while they were at sea. After a few hundred years of rampant turtle harvesting, the population dwindled and by the early 1900s, the turtle business was all but over. In 1968 some entrepreneurs started a turtle farm on the northwest shore of Grand Cayman. It changed ownership a few times until the Cayman government took over in 1983.
Today the controversy is simple. The locals still eat turtles in Cayman. It’s actually quite tasty. Some folks would naturally rather see all the turtles released into the wild than sold to locals for meat. While the meat is not sold to restaurants or exported, it is a part of the indigenous Cayman culture. Officials at the farm point out that since the its inception they have released more than 28,000 turtles into the clear Caymanian waters. In 2001, 80 percent of the brood stock was washed out to see when Hurricane Michelle slammed into the island. Prior to that, the farm was releasing 800-900 turtles into local waters annually. That number dropped dramatically but the goal is to get back to restocking the wild population as soon as possible.
The turtles that are released are marked with a “living tag” that involves auto grafting of a small, white dot of belly shell onto the turtle’s dark back. This is done when the turtle is only a few days old so as the animal grows, the dot grows with it. This is the only tagging method that allows a tiny sea turtle to be identified when it grows into a 300-pound adult more than 15 years later. This tagging may allow scientists to discover whether or not sea turtles actually return to the beach from which they hatch to nest, a hypothesis which has never been proven.
In addition to the living tag, some young turtles are tagged with a titanium tag on their fore-flipper which identifies an individual animal. Information from these tagged turtles can help in “head-starting”, a widely used conservation technique of releasing older turtles in the hopes of better insuring their survival in the wild. The majority of tag returns come from Cuba, with returns also from Honduras, Venezuela, the United States, Panama, Belize, Nicaragua, and Mexico.
Lighthouse Point Resort
With Cayman’s progressive attitude toward conservation, it’s fitting that one of the world’s first zero-carbon-footprint resorts has just opened there. And, we’re not just talking about a thatch hut with a hammock between a couple of palm trees. The Lighthouse Point Resort is a brand new condo resort that runs entirely on solar and wind power and is located on the northwest point of Grand Cayman.
Owners Nancy and Jay Easterbrook built the building with every conservation aspect in mind. No hardwood was used and the interior pine paneling comes from sustainable forests. The exterior concrete is recycled. The railings and balustrades are made of recycled plastic bottles and recycled composite material. And all materials were sourced as close to Cayman as possible to reduce the distance traveled.
Solar panels on the roof and a wind turbine on the pier generate the power to super high-efficient appliances and lighting, such as LED and compact florescent lights. Skylights deliver natural light. Batteries store four days of power for cloudy and windless periods.
Gray water from showers and sinks is filtered and recycled for flushing the toilets (which use less than a gallon per flush). That same water is purified again and used for landscape watering. A 6,000 gallon cistern stores rainwater for use in washing machines, outdoor hoses, outdoor showers, and rinse tanks for scuba and snorkeling gear.
Probably the best part is that the solar panels and wind generator will pay for themselves in four years at today’s energy prices. If the cost of electricity goes up, the payoff on the panels and windmill will be even quicker.
“We wanted to have as little an impact as possible,” Nancy said. “Cayman doesn’t have a lot of natural resources but we have unlimited sun and wind so that works in our favor. Plus, we use all water at least twice because fresh water is precious on the island.”
Lighthouse Point is also home to DiveTech, Nancy and Jay’s scuba center. The sea water that laps up on the iron shore is so clear and blue; it’s like a swimming pool. Guest snorkel and scuba dive right off the dock. The Easterbrooks have made sure that recycling bins for batteries, cans, glass, and paper are readily available. They also give each guest a sports bottle when they arrive to reuse instead of buying bottled water from the store. Nancy estimates that this saves more than 9,000 plastic bottles per year.
Oh, and one final note – the condos are gorgeous. Recycled glass counter tops, high-efficiency appliances, flat screen TVs, and surround sound systems appoint these luxury units. Form and function, zero carbon, Grand Cayman…what more do you need?
To learn more contact Nancy at email@example.com or go to www.lighthouse-point-cayman.com
Seven Fathoms Rum
Making rum may not help to save the planet but it sure makes the effort a lot more fun. Seven Fathoms rum is the only rum actually distilled in the Cayman Islands and uses only locally grown and pressed sugar cane in all of their products.
If that’s not unique enough, they call it Seven Fathoms because it’s distilled 42 feet underwater (one fathom equals six feet, right?). Why do they do that? Are they tipsy or do they love to scuba dive that much?
It has something to do with constant temperatures and the continuous push and pull of the waves that mimics the caring touch distiller’s use when rotating their barrels in a cellar. This rotation ensures good diffusion of the molecules through the barrel. At least, that’s what they claim. Whatever the reason, Seven Fathoms is very smooth (our editors can attest to this) and has won several awards to prove it.
As a longtime diver, I always laugh when I see a magazine article covering a Caribbean destination with photos of a Pacific reef fish to illustrate the piece. It’s quickly clear that the editors don’t know their fish species. Unfortunately, I’m not laughing anymore. The red lionfish, which is native to the Indian and Pacific Ocean has invaded the Bahamas and Caribbean and is wreaking havoc on the native fish populations. Seeing a lionfish on a Cayman reef is a strange as Lisa Marie Presley marrying Michael Jackson. It happened but it’s still hard to get your head around.
Lionfish have no natural predators in the Caribbean and Atlantic but they are voracious predators themselves. The theory is that some lionfish were washed from Miami aquariums during Hurricane Andrew. They quickly multiplied and now their eggs are being carried by currents to places near and far.
The invasive fish were first reported in the Bahamas where they are now abundant. They’ve also gotten a foothold in the Cayman Islands as well as around the Caribbean. Bahamian divers are allowed to spear them but in Cayman spearfishing is against the law. However, divers are encouraged to use nets to capture the slow moving fish.
The only good news is that lionfish tastes good. According to Guy Harvey, “it’s a lot like Alaskan crab and with the amount of diving in the Caymans it seems the invasion of lionfish could be contained.”
There’s finally a fish we need to eat into extinction, at least in the Caribbean and Atlantic.
When Guy Harvey first moved to Grand Cayman in 2000, Stingray City was already wildly famous. However, no one had done any studies on the rays to determine how many stingrays lived there, if the population was growing or dwindling, what the sex ratio was, if they were being overfed, where they went at night, or if they’d been domesticated by so much human feeding. Basically, they new nothing and with some 5,000 people interacting with the rays every day it was critical to find some answers.
In 2002 Guy launched a two-year study with the assistance of the Department of Environment. The study was funded by the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) and carried out by GHRI scientists. The rays were tagged with Passive Integrative Transponders (PIT) tags at the base of the tail and recaptured monthly to be weighed and measured.
One of the most significant issues learned was that the stingrays continue to feed on their own and do not rely on the hand feeding from tourists for sustenance. This was good news for tour operators because it meant that the human interaction didn’t seem to have a detrimental effect on the animals.
Other important findings were that there are six times more females than males, females are twice the size of males and mate with multiple males, and males move much greater distances that females, possibly to feed where they’ve been displaced by the stronger, more dominant females.
“Nobody knew the first thing about the stingrays’ biology and natural history,” Harvey said. “The key was to find out whether the rays were affected detrimentally by this interaction.”
In July of 2008, 99 rays were captured to see what changes had occurred since the earlier study. There were 18 new females and eight new males but the overall population change was not significant. The population seems to be stable and healthy and that’s good for everyone.