Quarry threatens rare bat

| 25/08/2008

(CNS): While the residents of Mahogany Estates wait to hear whether they will be given a reprieve or are to spend the foreseeable future living in a quarry, CNS has learned that on the land the developer wishes to level in the Beaach Bay area there are literally dozens of endangered species, including a critically endangered bat on the verge of extinction.

If the application by Whiterock Investments and owner Lorenzo Berry to level some 44 acres of oceanfront wooded bluff is successful, Berry will be able to completely level the area from the current 30 feet to five feet above sea level, which will destroy the natural habitat for countless endemic and native species. From the beautiful Pepper Cinnamon and the Headache Bush to wild calabash (left) and the Broadleaf Tree (below) there are many plants with Red List Status, the International Union for Conservation of Nature international classification system that highlights species at risk.

Moreover, according to research conducted by the Department of Environment, the White-shouldered Bat (Phyllops falcatus) has been recorded in this vicinity. These bats roost primarily in large fig trees on Grand Cayman but the species was thought to have become extinct in the Cayman Islands until it was rediscovered in 2001. This bat has always been rare on Grand Cayman and, according to experts, if still present has likely suffered increased pressure due to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and to human destruction of its preferred mature karst woodlands. The DoE said that no Phyllops were captured during surveys in 2006, suggesting numbers have been drastically reduced or the species was extirpated.

Even though this area of Beach Bay could be home to this rare and critically endangered species, at present there is no legislative provision to influence any aspect of the planning application from a nature conservation perspective. Berry is not obligated to conduct an Environmental Impact Assessment, which would allow the economic benefits of to be judged against not only the “environmental impacts” but also the “social impacts” for residents in this neighbourhood.

Director of Planning Kenneth Ebanks recently represented the Cayman Islands at a conference on climate change and biodiversity loss in Reunion Island in July, and said it was a great opportunity for Cayman to discuss strategies.

“We are all susceptible to the forces of nature. However, their natural resources within SIDS are under threat due to developmental pressures from more developed countries; their cultures are under strain; they deal with environmental problems that were created primarily by the developed world, and their socio-economic costs entailed in being environmentally friendly often outweigh the direct benefits,” he said at thetime, adding that Cayman hardly ranked high as being environmentally conscious, especially in terms of specific legislation and the size of designated protected areas. The vast majority of the overseas territories have more advanced legislation protecting their marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Most are striving to protect a minimum of 20-30% of their land area of different environmental qualities.”

Speaking at their recent press conference to alert the widen Cayman community to their plight and the risk to the environment, Jean Ebanks one of the residents of Mahogany Estates noted that the area which Berry wishes to level is a naturally wooded landscape.

“It is home to silver thatch, banana orchids, rare bromeliads, iron wood trees as well as Cayman Parrots, woodpeckers, agoutis, crabs and snakes,” she said. “The rest of the world is currently very concernedwith environmental issues. We need to consider that if this type of industrial development is allowed in a residential area, how would the EU look at any request for environmental funding for the Cayman Islands.”

The National Conservation Law has still not been tabled in the Legislative Assembly, even though Minister of Tourism Charles Clifford had said it would be presented in the last session, which would have required this commercial quarrying operation to conduct an EIA. Because there is no environmental protection law in place, the excavation project could easily receive permission, allowing the legal destruction of yet more of Cayman’s disappearing natural habitat, placing the islands biodiversity at risk.

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