Covering three-quarters of the planet’s surface, our oceans represent 99 per cent of the living space on Earth. Through a number of community initiatives and its Minds Inspired education programme, Dart has been supporting life below water.
In one initiative sponsored by Dart Minds Inspired in partnership with Aureum Re, Caribbean Utilities Company, Digicel and Health City Cayman Islands, the Cayman Islands National Robotics team tackled the theme of “Ocean Opportunities” at the 2019 FIRST Global Challenge in Dubai last month.
The team’s hand-built robot worked alongside robots from other nations to clear the playing field — the “sea” — of pollutants represented by large and small balls. National Team member and Cayman International School student Caylem Hill says his experience as a certified scuba diver contributed to his personal connection with this year’s theme.
“For me, the FIRST Global Challenge theme is important because often in my free time I go diving, sailing and to the beach, and I see plastic bottles, bags and containers,” he says. “The FIRST Global Challenge brings awareness to this issue and sets young and creative minds to try and find solutions for issues that face the world today.”
As part of the students’ pre-tournament curriculum, the National Team visited the Department of Environment to learn more about the threats facing marine environmental health and then participated in a beach clean-up hosted by Plastic Free Cayman.
The upcoming Minds Inspired SeaPerch Underwater Robotics Challenge, which will take place in March 2020, is also focused on the marine environment: The mission course element of the challenge is themed “Waterway Cleanup” and students will be tasked with simulating disarming underwater mines, removing floating trash and disposing of submerged waste.
Each year between May and November, Dart Senior Design Manager Carmen Damaso-Doucette organises a team of Dart volunteers to support the Department of Environment’s annual turtle nest monitoring programme.
“Sea turtles are more than just majestic sea creatures, they are a prominent and beloved symbol in Cayman culture,” she says. “Going for a walk on the beach in the morning is all I need to feel good for the rest of the day. Finding turtle tracks to a nest on the sand and knowing that because of my efforts there is a greater possibility of those hatchlings making it to adulthood is an added bonus. Knowing that I may see one of them out there while diving or paddle boarding one day is priceless.”
One of this year’s most dedicated volunteers is Dart Senior Manager Active Investments Oliver Close. Though this is his first season volunteering with the turtle monitoring programme, he can be found almost every Tuesday morning making the trek along Seven Mile Beach in search of tracks or a nest.
“I think the most stunning part of Cayman is under the water," he says. "I scuba dive almost every weekend. The marine environment is so important to Cayman and it’s great to help with the effort to ensure turtles keep returning to our waters."
Though he has yet to find a nest, he did assist in a turtle rescue.
“We did find one turtle stuck on the road up in West Bay one evening," he says. "We called the Turtle Hotline and the Department of Environment were there within 10 minutes and guided her back to the beach, where she went on to attempt to nest for the next four hours.”
Headquartered in Little Cayman, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute received a 2019 Dart Grant in support of its “Next Generation of Resilient Coral Restoration” project. Through experimentation with transplanting methods, growing more robust corals and identifying corals that are resistant to bleaching, Institute Director of Advancement Kate Holden says the non-profit organisation seeks to improve coral restoration success and halve the mortality rates of transplanted corals.
“CCMI has a vision of healthy oceans and vibrant reefs," she says. "We believe we can save coral reefs for the future, if we act now."
Holden says local support such as the CI$25,000 Dart Grant is essential to funding this extremely localised research.
“Coral restoration is very site specific," she says. "Seven years into this project, we are still understanding what the recipe is for the best out-planting strategy. International organisations rarely support this kind of localised effort and the project requires a multidimensional approach to be effective."
Dart is also a sponsor of this year’s Festival of the Seas event, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute's largest annual fundraiser, which will be held on 16 November at Grand Old House.