Tucked away on the far north side of Little Cayman is a place where scientists and students gather for research projects on reef resiliency, coral diseases, coral recruitment, coral fluorescence, deep and shallow reef connectivity and monitoring invasive species such as the tasty yet venomous lionfish.
One would imagine a gathering of professors in lab coats and nerdy glasses. Not so at the Little Cayman Research Centre, where typical attire is a bathing suit and flippers. As for the eyewear…. most don dive masks.
The Central Caribbean Marine Institute is a non-profit organisation that is a US 501 c(3) charity and also a charity in the UK and Cayman Islands. They have offices in the US and Grand Cayman but the Little Cayman Research Centre is their main facility.
Staff at the centre run their own research and education programmes where researchers, schools or universities can visit and make use of their facilities and take advantage of Little Cayman’s uniqueness.
“Some of our goals would be to be a premier marine institute, offering facilities and programmes to the highest standard, and to raise funds to complete the construction of the Little Cayman Research Centre,” says Robert Hedges, director of operations at the facility.
“Also, to enhance our community-based outreach across the Cayman Islands and work with the government entities.”
Roberts’s background is in coastal marine biology and working with the dive industry. As the manager of the centre he’s everything from teacher to boat captain to maintenance man.
Recently the insidious lionfish has been the subject of much studying and research. The researchers at the centre have been looking into the effects of culling lionfish in Bloody Bay Marine Park, and the results should be out soon. Visiting scientists from University of Florida have been looking into the age and growth rates of lionfish and Oregon State University scientist have been looking at lionfish behaviour.
Last year over a hundred 11 year olds visited as part of their Ocean Literacy programme as well as 70 to 80 university students. Kids from Grand Cayman and the Brac also make up a portion of the visiting student body, especially in the summer ‘out of school’ months.
However, it is not all academics and intense studying at the centre. International students may get a day off per week to explore the island, chill out at Point of Sand, snorkel or kayak to Owen Island or take a bike ride round Little Cayman. All the groups will visit the National Trust and the Museum one day during their course. This includes the kids from Grand Cayman and the Brac. WH