Fourteen students and a visiting professor attended the 5th annual Sister Islands Agricultural Fair on Little Cayman this weekend. The event marked the end of their visit to Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s Little Cayman Research Centre where the students completed their “Coral reefs and Coastal Systems” class.
The students from Kean University were accompanied by CCMI’s assistant director of research, Dr. Kristi Foster, CCMI founder Dr. Carrie Manfrino, and Kean University professor and botanist, Dr. Daniela Shebitz.
During their visit, the studied the lagoons around Little Cayman to measure the possible relationship between lionfish culling and coral reef health, noting that areas with low culling activity would result in decreased parrotfish populations.
Dr. Shebitz was impressed by the progress the students made during their short stay and was pleased with their stay in Little Cayman. “It was not until I visited that I truly understood the remarkable research and education opportunities that CCMI and the Little Cayman provides to the local and global communities. The terrific staff and its location within the marine conservation area make CCMI the ideal place to conduct research.”
One of the students, Angelica Blanco, remarked that she felt “inspired seeing the incredible wildlife and the effort taken to preserve it.” The students also had the chance to speak with the Deputy Premier, the Hon. Moses Kirkconnell who commended the work of the students and CCMI.
Whilst at the LCRC, the students also studied the native flora growing along the Islands’ coast and their medicinal properties- an area of particular expertise for Dr. Shebitz. A botanist who has studied plants that have been long used by Native Americans for their medicinal properties and their cultural importance, Dr. Shebitz has extended her studies to Costa Rica and, more recently, the Cayman Islands.
Dr. Manfrino noted the need to consider the effects of rising global sea levels and increased coastal development on terrestrial vegetation, particularly in the Cayman Islands where certain species are prized not only for their contributions to the Island’s biodiversity, but also cultural and natural heritage.
The group’s recent trip sought to identify those species of cultural significance that are most under threat and use the species to develop a demonstration site at the LCRC. They hope that the project will help to raise awareness of the importance of these plants and better understand the current health of the Island’s coastal vegetation.
“I was thrilled to find that the local community on the island was willing to share their knowledge of plant medicines with us and we found a great number of plants that we hope will show signs of medicinal efficacy through further testing,” Dr. Shebitz said. “I have no doubt that this is just the first step and that there are countless directions that our research and educational opportunities can take. I look forward to many future visits!”
The team with Deputy Premier the Hon. Moses Kirkconnell