Eco Warrior

In this time of environmental
latecomers, when everyone is keen to boast of their green credentials, Lois
Blumenthal is a breath of fresh air.

Lois has been championing
environmental causes since long before the word ‘green’ entered the public
vernacular, yet she is noticeably unassuming about her beliefs. For Lois,
taking care of the environment is a way of life, not a passing trend.

“I don’t like to label myself an
environmentalist or a vegetarian because people expect you to be perfect. They
say, ‘You can’t be an environmentalist because you’re wearing leather shoes’ or
whatever. [But] you can’t do everything,” Lois explains, as the morning breeze drifts
through the kitchen of her Bodden Town home. “For me, environmentalism is not
all or nothing.”

Lois’ environmental work in the
public realm has garnered considerable attention. A long-time Cayman resident,
she spearheaded the National Trust Bat Conservation Program more than 17 years
ago after she saw a need on the island. The volunteer-run program, which
survives purely on donations, has gone from strength to strength over the
years, with the installation of bat houses and a successful education component.

“I’m not a trained biologist, but
I just wanted to help,” Lois says of her involvement in the program. “I never
in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be building bat habitats, but I just
followed my nose to where I was needed. I’ve lived here for 21 years and been
involved with the bats for 17 years, so I’ve become the expert.

“I deal with a lot of exclusions,
removing bats from peoples’ roofs, and then installing bat houses. We’ve worked
very closely with CUC [Caribbean Utility Company], which donates power poles
and installs the houses for us. It’s an innovative step – no-one else does what
we do. [With CUC’s help] we’ve been able to install more than 80 bat houses and
put them where we want to.”

As director of the program, Lois’
workload is extensive – and completely voluntary. She can often be found poking
around in the roofs of homes in an attempt to extract a trapped bat or
addressing schoolchildren on the importance of bats to Cayman’s eco-system.
Lois also works closely with the Wildlife Rescue Program, which rescues sick,
injured and orphaned native animals. Her motivation, she says, lies in her
lifelong love of animals and wildlife.

“I grew up hiking and rambling in
the woods with my brothers,” Lois says. “I’m at my happiest when I’m walking
through the forest, surrounded by other people who appreciate the same things
as me.”

While Lois is a staunch advocate
for the environment in the public sphere, she also maintains an eco-friendly
lifestyle at home. Her open-plan house hugs the turquoise waters of Cayman’s
south coast and faces the ocean breeze, negating the need for excessive
air-conditioning. Lois and her husband also planted shade trees on the western
side of the house to reduce the impact of the Caribbean sun and have a largely
native garden. The couple, who have two adult children, pay close attention to
their water use and try to minimise consumption. Lois believes it is about
maintaining the natural balance of the earth.

“I love the reef,” the avid scuba
diver says, gesturing to the breathtaking view from her balcony, “We don’t use
any pesticides, fertilisers or crab bait. I want to protect the reef and all
those chemicals are washed into the water.

“I’ve planted as many native
trees as I could find and also left a lot of what are known as ‘weedy plants’,
because they attract the butterflies. The little pecking doves love the grass
seeds. We allow the weeds to grow and more birds and butterfly come.

“Native plants are great for
water usage as they’re very drought resistant. We don’t water the garden. We
plant our plants according to the seasons and just wait for the rains.”

Lois believes she has instilled a
love for the environment in her children, as well as the many students she
speaks to as part of her work with the National Trust.

However, Lois says the future of
the environment cannot depend on either the younger generations or the older;
it must be a mutual effort across all levels of society.

“I think children are teaching
their parents now about the environment. I often get calls from parents who
say, ‘My son loves bats now’, or they call me about a bat they’ve found,” Lois
says.

“But we can’t leave it to the
younger generations. We know now that we have to start living differently.”

So, what advice would Lois offer
a budding environmentalist?

 “If you look at anything that has been
accomplished in life, there has always been one person behind it. One person
can make a difference,” Lois says, as she sips a cup of tea grown in her
garden.

And although she hates labels, there
is one environmental tag Lois is happy to embrace – eco-warrior.

“I believe in never quitting
until every step has been taken. And that, to me, is a true eco-warrior.”

For more information on Lois’
program visit caymanwildlife.org.

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Stephen Clarke