The National Trust’s Governor’s Conservation Awards were announced this Summer, recognising those leading the way in environmental conservation and historic preservation. The award for Conservationist of the Year was presented to Dwayne Frederick, a licenced volunteer with the Department of Environment who regularly patrols Cayman’s beaches to protect sea turtle nests and help prevent poaching. He and his wife live in Cayman Brac and are both heavily involved in local conservation efforts.
Frederick is also a founding member of the Cayman Brac Wildlife Rescue and is involved in research initiatives on the critically endangered rock iguana. Here, Frederick talks turtle walks, preserving heritage and each individual’s role in caring for the Earth.
For turtle conservation, what does a standard beach patrol look like?
A typical morning would involve walking it to look for crawls. Once the eggs are found, the nest is triangulated so it can be found again closer to hatching and then disguised to protect it from poachers. A typical evening might involve sitting with a hatching nest. It is a rare privilege to witness 70 or 80 hatchlings suddenly erupt out of the sand and rush off down the beach, and I never get tired of it! We also release hatchlings at night, and there are usually quite a few tourists and locals who want to see that. Education is an important part of what we do, and I am always pleased to talk to people about what we are trying to achieve.
Are there any special moments that are dear to your heart?
A couple of years ago we had an unknown nest hatch next to a bar on the south side. At about 10 p.m. on a Friday night I got a call from a cousin who was at the bar saying
that there were baby turtles running all over it. It wasn’t far from my house, so I went down and managed to collect about 90 hatchlings from the bar and car park. They had come out of the nest and headed towards the brightest area, which should be the sea but in this case was the bar. I released them on a quieter beach, and when we went back the following morning to excavate the nest, about 100 had hatched, meaning almost all of them had been saved and made it into the water.
This year our first turtle nest of the season was in the process of starting to be poached when I arrived on the beach, and so the poacher ran off. We moved the nest so he couldn’t find the eggs if he came back, and 50 days later I was able to sit down next to it when the hatchlings emerged and watch them go safely to sea. That was a great feeling!
What do you wish the public understood more about the Cayman Islands’ biodiversity?
That it’s disappearing and will do so even faster without people caring enough to support it. I think they understand that, but it’s like it doesn’t connect with them even so. This is our heritage, and without it I’m not sure what we have left.
Congratulations on being honoured as Conservationist of the Year! What was that moment like for you?
Very unexpected. I was pretty overwhelmed and surprised because I honestly thought someone else was going to win. The nominees were really impressive — people who had headed up big conservation projects. I was just some local guy from the Brac who helps with turtles and other wildlife! But because of that I was, and am, really honoured that I was recognised. And I hope other Caymanians realise that this is something that we should all be doing.
What would your encouragement be to aspiring conservationists?
I think that the most important thing that anyone has to realise is that “it has to start with me.” Everyone can make a difference. Get involved with a volunteer group, refuse single-use plastics, do a beach cleanup — but do something. Don’t leave it to someone else, because everyone should be a conservationist every single day.
As the National Flag Carrier of the Cayman Islands, Cayman Airways proudly adopted our native turtle species as our official mascot. Sir Turtle represents our Islands around the world whilst sporting an aviator’s scarf blowing in the wind.
CAL Travel Tips
Visit the Sister Islands with daily flights via Cayman Airways Express. To book your visit, contact us at 1-800-422-9626 (toll-free in the U.S.) or 345-949-2311, or go to caymanairways.com.
Author: Jessie Gilmartin