Time running out for Cayman’s environment

| 31/03/2009

(CNS): While admitting to her disappointment that the National Conservation Bill failed to make it to the Legislative Assembly during this administration, Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Department of Environment Director, said what is more important is the vulnerability of Cayman’s natural resources and the fact that the limited opportunity to embrace sustainable development will soon be lost. Without a legal framework to protect Cayman’s environment her department is struggling to address the myriad environmental issues the islands face, she said .

Despite a push by government in the last days of the LA’s final session and following numerous commitments by the Minister responsible for the Environment, Charles Clifford, that the bill would come before the house, the National Conservation Bill was nowhere to be seen. As a result Cayman’s environment, along with all its endemic, unique and endangered species remain completely unprotected.

“People don’t realise that nothing, even our most endangered species, is protected by law,” Ebanks-Petrie said. “From mangroves to bats — our only endemic mammals — none of them have any protection at all.”

She explained that on a daily basis her department receives calls from concerned people reporting environmental damage, expecting the department to be able to curtail a development or put a stop to someone pulling up mangroves. However, they are unable to act, she said. “Without a comprehensive legal platform from which to address the growing range of environmental issues, there is nothing we can do to address these concerns,” Ebanks-Petrie lamented.

Even the legislation that is in place can in fact cause further problems since the Animal Law protects all iguanas, which means that the invasive green iguana is threatening the incredible work undertaken by the Blue Iguana Programme to bring Cayman’s own unique species back from the brink of extinction. “The problem is that the Animal Law is so old there were no green iguanas here then, so because the law says ‘all iguanas’ we now have a real problem which is undermining our ability to protect our own endangered species.”

She said that without any legislation it is impossible to establish protected areas for sensitive habitat. For example, Ebanks-Petrie explained that without protection for beaches, the few remaining turtle nesting sites are all at risk. Currently, the only land that has any protection is that owned by the National Trust, which is only a tiny fraction of the sensitive environments.

The DoE director noted that there has been considerable talk in recent times about sustainable development and there are aspirational rights within the new constitution regarding environmental protection. “Without legislation, however, neither of these goals can be achieved,” she said. “Sustainable development means giving equal weight to environmental issues as well as thesocial and economic issues that are considered before developments are undertaken.”

 She explained that the NCB made provision for Environmental Impact Assessments which would give meaning to the concept of sustainable development and ensure that the DoE would have to be consulted and inform the decision making process about the impact to the environment. If sustainable development was to be more than catch phrase, she said Cayman needs the law to enable the EIA to become part of the legal process.

“If we are not going to close off this opportunity to make a commitment to sustainability we need this law. We really are close to the edge and time is running out to defer the management of our environment,” Petrie added.

The bill has received some opposition but Petrie says judging from the feedback her department has received since the bill was first drafted, not to mention the daily ongoing concerns that pour into the office, there is far more support. “People are linking the loss of natural resources to Cayman identity,” she said. “There is an incredible amount of support for this bill as people see their natural environment disappear. However, those supporting the bill have not been as vocal as those who oppose it.”

Lamenting the opposition to the bill, Petrie said it was on a paradigm that is outdated seeing the bill as environment versus development. “What we need, however, is sensitivity to the environment. Opponents see this as the death knoll for development and it is not. It is about a more realistic and managed approach to how we continue to develop. People need natural spaces to experience a quality of life as well as development.”

She said fears that vast tracts of land will be parcelled off from ever being developed were groundless. “Only land owned by the Crown can be designated as a protected area, so it will have to be negotiated and paid for. What will happen is that all development will be subject to an EIA so the impact on the environment can be weighed alongside all other considerations equally when a planning application is made.”

Ebanks-Petrie also stated that therewill not be a swath of new bureaucracy as the DoE already works with planning and offers its recommendations on most developments. The issue at present is that there is no legal obligation for environmental issues to be considered.  The bill would also have given the DoE enforcement officers proper recognition under the law and enable them to directly intervene to protect endangered species.

She added that the NCB is a comprehensive and very workable way of moving Cayman forward while recognising the importance of our rapidly dwindling natural resources that is long overdue.

“It is almost a quarter century since Cayman has done anything to protect is natural resources,” she said, referring to the amendments to the Marine Conservation Law. “Cayman is lagging seriously behind in the Caribbean region when it comes to dealing with environmental issues and we really are running out of time.”

Speaking at the press briefing last week, Clifford said he was disappointed that the bill which has been in the drafting process for so many years did not make it to the House. He said there were still concerns and from a government point of view it made sense to consider the justification of these and bring the bill after the new government is sworn in on 27 May.

 “We are pleased we have been able to guage where support is and where it isn’t,” he said. “One thing is clear that the youth fully supports this bill.” He also denied that the legislation would stop people from developing their land. Despite the years of consultation, the minister said further dialogue was needed to make sure all concerns are addressed.

“Some years ago when marine parks were first introduced there was huge controversy, but the people who objected then would be the main supporters today.” Admitting the government had not done as good a job as it could with education regarding the bill, he hoped the government would be returned to get it passed. 

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  1. Anonymous says:

    The last comment is interesting. I have read now several times of all the things Mr. Ebanks apparently accomplished at the Turtle Farm in such a short time. What are these things? Could you provide a list?

  2. Anonymous says:

    HON Joey Ebanks, Minister of Environment, etc. (and not including Development, Tourism, Infrastructure, Investment, Planning, Commerce, Agriculture), I see it already.

    Mr. Joey Ebanks of North Side is the political candidate in this election which has a past record of working to protect our natural environment.

    If I could move to North Side to give Mr. Joey my vote then he would definitely have it!

    The future of the tourist industry in the Cayman Islands requires a healthy natural environment.

    Look at the past environmental political record of all political candidates in Election 2009, and specifically those who have previously been an MLA and you see a pattern of environmental failure.

    After all of the years dumping raw turtle sewage into our sea and all governments ignoring / denying that there was any problem at all.  Mr. Joey changed that, as soon as he went to manage the Cayman Turtle Farm, he recognized the pollution problems and immediately started to clean up the turtle poop.

    Congratulations to Mr. Joey on how much you did in such a short time at Cayman Turtle Farm.  All other politicians have had so long a time to do something and did NOTHING to protect the environment.  

    All other politicians assisted by their big $$$$ environment damaging development buddies and the Planning Department only made damaging the natural environment worse.  

    Hon. Joey Ebanks, yes that sounds good, you’re the only one that has proved your concern for our natural environment, all others be quiet it is too late for you to open your mouth. 

    Unna other new candidates, with the exception of Mr. Bo Miller who works to clean up human poop, please keep quiet on the environment for the rest of this political campaign, your words along with the previous MLA’s will be seen for exactly what they are – words just words. 

    Your past actions are shouting so loud we cannot hear you.

    North Siders for the protection of your future and the future of the Cayman Islands elect the Hon. Joey Ebanks.


  3. Anonymous says:

    This problem started years ago When certain people’s  relatives were politicians and sold our heritage and our environment to the highest bidder so they could live very very comfortable and there children could carry on their legacy of wealth. Where I applaud their attempts now to preserve our environment for future generations and that we have to do something about the situation. It is kind of hypocritical for some folks now to be wanting to have the power to control the rules governing our Environment and it should make some caymanians very suspicious of these folks.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Everyone knows that Planning and Development trump Environment every time and will continue to do so until these politicians get their little pointy heads around the concept that Cayman is the environment.

    If the grouper were not fished out the lionfish here would have a local predator but almost all the grouper spawning grounds have been fished out.

    For the bible thumpers out there…you will reap that which you sow.


  5. Anonymous says:

    In response to the "no brainer". If you are truly suspicious of someone using an example of an current environmental issue such as the "green iguanas", in their argument in support of new environmental legislation… perhaps you would like to suggest a less topical and therefore more acceptable alternative?

    Dealing with environmental issues one at a time makes about as much sense as dealing with raindrops one at a time – probably best to put up your umbrella (before you get wet).

  6. Anonymous says:

    No laws can be passed nor changed now, as the Legislative Assembly has disolved. We just have a Cabinet until the new elections. More waiting, nothing done. Hope the new Gov’t deals with the Environment more proactively. Don’t think Ms. Gina is trying to make the green’s the important issue, it’s just an example. hmmmmm

  7. Anonymous says:

    The whole issue is an nightmare. Wasn’t the current minister responsible to look into recycling programs and using the land fill for energy production? What has happened? NOTHING! Why are supermarkets still allowed to hand out plastic bags like they are going out of style? Why are there still no exhaust level checks at the licensing place? Why are restaurants and bars still allowed to use throw-away containers/cups inside their facilities? There is a lot that could have been done by simply passing respective legislation, giving people time to implement it over a year period, but every politician is afraid to step on somebody’s toes ore rock the boat. That’s why we need somebody who is not worried to offend a few people. People will always moan when changes are coming but they will get used to it, they have no choice. Other countries and cities can do it. Why not Cayman? Mexico City just recently banned the used of plastic bags and gave one year to all stores to implement this law, after that, offender will have to charge a hefty fine. Come on someone is charge, make a step forward and don’t be afraid to shake up things! Don’t just do it now during your election campaign.

  8. Anonymous says:

    it’s more than the green iguana’s causing the delay on the Conservation Bill going through. 

    It’s the mostly foreign developers looking to make a buck off of Cayman by clearing land without care for our land, our environment to put up these unnecessary, tall condos and resorts. 

    CIREBA has voiced concerns with some of the conservation/protection side of things, why? Because they can’t sell something that’s not there!  They’re just looking for more development, without a care for SUSTAINABLE development, necessary development.  We DON’T want to become any more of a concrete jungle than we already are.  We DON’T want to become a South Beach.  Leave some green!!!!!!!   Try finding it on SMB now…. rare spot to go to the beach there now!!

    Let’s leave Cayman as we are for a while.  With so much development in the past 25 years, maybe a little slow down will do us some good!!!! 


  9. Anonymous says:

    My symapathy to Gina and her dedicated satff who have been battling every govermnent in power over the last 10 years or more. One of the most important pieces of legislation that has been written and rewritten time and time again just to be ignored and pushed to the back burner by every sitting government. The only time the Conservation Law is touted as important is when it is Election time – hence Mr. Clifford’s belated attempts at concern. When are we going to elect politicians prepared to make some hard decisions that are not necessarily popular with the verbose minority but critical to the well being of the country. For years the logic expounded not to pass the Law has been driven by personal political opinion of those who are in power or because they think it may be a little unpopular and cost them votes. For goodness sake, show some courage and conviction and set an example that allows the country to do the right thing from everything that relates to protection of our natural resources for tourism through recycling and beyond.

  10. Anonymous says:

    what is the problem with just getting a law into effect right now to deal with the green iguanas.  seems like a no brainer.  pass this law now and we can deal with the Conservation bill separately. 


    There is no excuse why this cannot be done – it seems someone is trying to use the green iguana issue as a tool to push through the Conservation Bill.



  11. Anonymous says:

    Shame on the Ministry of Environment (and Tourism, Investment and Commerce) for not dealing with this important legislation prior to a week before the end of the LA after 4 1/2 years in office. They should be ashamed of themsleves.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It was offensive to me to listen to the Minister responsible for the environment and the politician who should get this legislation enacted into law say that he regretted the fact the law has not been passed in 6 years.

    He did a politician spin about how good it was that young people showed an interest and the law can be reexamined in light of recent events.

    Who does he expect to believe him on this?

    Now they want to have environmental tourism, give me a break.

    • Anonymous says:

       WAY TO DO YOUR JOB! Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Department of Environment Director clearly this was this a top priority as after 6 years nothing has been done. DISGRACEFUL.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hey!  Take it easy on Mrs Petrie.  She has worked tirelessly for YEARS on this legislation, not in isolation mind you but with the LA and the public.  What is DISGRACEFUL is the lack of final support for such important  legislation.

  13. Anonymous says:

    “People are linking the loss of natural resources to Cayman identity,”

    “There is an incredible amount of support for this bill as people see their natural environment disappear. However, those supporting the bill have not been as vocal as those who oppose it.”

    “It is almost a quarter century since Cayman has done anything to protect is natural resources,” “Cayman is lagging seriously behind in the Caribbean region when it comes to dealing with environmental issues and we really are running out of time.”

    HERE, HERE!!!   I am a Caymanian and I 2nd, 3rd, and 4th these comments.  Cayman, our environment is going down the tube.  Wake up!  reduce, reuse, recycle.   We have three beautiful islands but we ALL (Caymanians, visitors, residents alike) have a responsibility to respect them, not abuse them in our selfish ways, and ultimately destroying them.  Let’s keep Cayman clean, reduce further damage, make smart decisions that aren’t all about how much money one can make but about keeping our treasure a treasure.  

    We need protection of our animals, our plants, our seas, our environment.  We need everyone to have respect for our animals, our plants, our seas, our environment.  This does not mean you have to be an animal lover, or a tree hugger, but simply all we ask is that you don’t abuse, don’t destroy, don’t discard or ignore what’s precious, unique, and beautiful.

    We can’t turn back time to get back what we’ve already lost.  Let’s just try to not lose anymore.  The time to act is today, the right decision to make is yours. 

    Start by simply using a fabric bag for your groceries (they’re better than the plastic ones anyway!). 

    Or don’t use small water bottles and then throw them away.  Use water coolers instead.  Buy the reusable bottles and refill them instead of grabbing a whole new one that then takes hundreds of years to break down and harms the environment.

    Don’t litter. 

    Plant a tree. 

    Conserve energy at home. 

    We can do it Cayman!   For us, and for our future generations.  If we don’t….. WHO WILL???

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why is it that some people see our environment as an optional extra? Could it be that we think that the environment only affects rare wildlife and pieces of greenery? Here are some “environmental” predictions for the next few years. 1. A continued decrease in beach access and green space, resulting in fewer places for recreation for children (and their parents), encouraging an increase in obesity and a decrease in quality of life for both. 2. An increase in urban sprawl and street corners for these same kids to hang out on. 3. An increase in pollution (chemical, dust, noise and light) along with increasing obesity will lead to greater strains on our health care services. 4. A fall in tourism as the natural features which attract visitors to our shores deteriorate, while other destinations, which protect their natural resources, become comparatively attractive by effectively doing little else. 5. An increase in unemployment as tourism dries up, resulting in fewer opportunities for a disaffected youth to get off the street corners, resulting in an increase in gang culture. 6. An increase in unemployment, drug culture, crime, and the creation of an unemployable youth class. 7. The development of gangs into organized gangs. 8. Caymanians will start to leave. Sure, this is a worse-case senerio, but it is not a fantsay. Last week a young Caymanian woman told me she was looking to leave: “Cayman is where I was born and where I live… but it is no longer my home”.