Archive for January 6th, 2012

CI shark species count low

| 06/01/2012 | 49 Comments

Photograph%20of%20a%20hammerhead%20shark (263x300).jpg(CNS): International marine scientists working in the Cayman Islands over the last few years studying local populations of mega marine fauna, in particular sharks and rays, have found far fewer species of sharks in local waters than they would have expected. Dr Mauvis Gore revealed that although researchers have counted sixteen different types of sharks and rays the scientists had expected to see more than a dozen other species in Cayman. Speaking at a special presentation hosted by the department of the environment, summarising their work the scientists said there was a strong case for Cayman to introduce protection for sharks in local waters.

Dr Gore explained that shark populations are under tremendous pressure all over the world as a result of fishing driven by the fin and other shark product trades as well as for the flesh. Up to 73 million sharks are caught every year which is why “populations are collapsing” and at least 20 of the 360 species worldwide face extinction in the next five years. She explained that the loss of sharks threaten ocean eco-systems as these top predators help maintain healthy reefs.

With no protection against shark fishing in Cayman it is not known how many are killed in local waters each year. “We just don’t have that information,” she added.

CI Shark species (500x375).jpgPointing to a history of shark fishing and export from 1935 the doctor said this had an impact on the local populations. “Sharks mature late and have very few young so they are vulnerable to fishing,” Dr Gore added as she pointed to the modest numbers of sharks and species in Cayman waters. (See list of those found right in white while scientists also expected to see the species listed in yellow)

Over the last three years the experts have notonly been counting sharks but have also tagged some to track the movements of the various species and they found that larger species such as tiger sharks or oceanic white tips are covering considerable ground. This means that any fishing ban or sanctuary that Cayman establishes to try and save its sharks will require the co-operation of other countries in the region. Around the Caribbean so far Mexico, Honduras, the Bahamas and Florida have introduced bans on all or some species of shark fishing.

Although the tracking has helped the scientists learn more about the sharks their failure to even find key species in the area to tag such as hammerheads has limited the research but so far the scientists are able to conclude that Cayman has only a modest number of sharks and a lower than expected variety of species. She also warned that because the sharks do not remain in the country’s marine parks. Dr Gore said the scarcity of hammerheads was a concern given that in the 1970s it was possible to sea schools of this type of shark in local waters. “People think I’m mad when I say this,” she said, given the current scarcity of the species here.

Professor Rupert Ormond explained the studies that have been undertaken to demonstrate the economic value of sharks in the ocean versus being fished. He said that the consumptive value of sharks was around $1.6million a year while the tourism value when they are protected was as much as $60million.

Researchers found around half of the fishermen in Cayman said they rarely or never fish sharks and few admitted to actually deliberately fishing them as most said they caught sharks by accident. Dr Ormond noted however with the lower than expected count there was a strong case for the Cayman Islands to introduce some form of sanctuary or protection and to try and work with neighbouring countries to introduce wider regional protections. He pointed out that mega marine fauna can bring in significant tourist dollars as there is enormous interest among visitors for swimming and diving among local shark species.

Given the important of economics when it comes to persuading people to act to save species he said the case for the tourism dollar that could be generated from people willing to pay to see and swim with sharks and other mega marine fauna was persuasive. But Ormond also noted that a strong population of sharks denotes a healthy reefs and general marine and beach environments that are important to all visitors and residents alike.

Mark Scotland the environment minister referred to the revelations by the scientists as “eye opening” when he spoke part way through the presentations stating that he was looking forward to hearing the recommendations of the scientists.

The shark research is a major collaborative research project coordinated by the DoE between the Save Our Seas Foundation, Marine Conservation International and part funded by the UK’s Overseas Territory Environment Programme (OTEP) it has also been supported by local artist Guy Harvey and his foundation. More recently local beer makers, Caybrew, stepped in to offer financial help from the sales of their award winning beer named for the oceanic white tip. The brewery handed over a check for over $3300 to the DoE, at the event, after collecting 5cents on every can of White Tip sold since the new beer was launched in the summer. 


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Scientists to gather first samples from localsea vents

| 06/01/2012 | 30 Comments

ocean-deepest-black-smoker-vent_18667_600x450.jpg(CNS): A group of scientists heading to the region this month are embarking on a marine expedition to the Cayman Trench to gather the first ever species samples from the hydrothermal vents found there in 2009. Marine experts aboard the research vessel Atlantis with the use of a deep-diving robot are expecting to find dozens of new species in one of the most extreme and least explored places on the planet. The Mid Cayman ridge, a rift in the seafloor some 70 miles long and more than 9 miles deep is home to two seafloor chimneys  – the Von Damm and the Piccard which emit scalding chemically altered seawater that could offer clues to how life first evolved on earth.

Until now logistics have prevented scientists from getting direct data from the two vents but the scientists hope that they will now be able to catalogue the mysterious creatures that are living in the dark ocean depths.  In oceans around the world a variety of marine life has been found to survive in the superheated waters around similar type of vents. This summer scientists were able to film tube worms at the Von Damm site but they say they need to collect specimens to really know what’s down there.

At 7,500 feet the rock at the site is couple of billion years old and is one of the few accessible places on the planet where seawater can interact with heated primordial rocks, producing the warm, hydrogen-rich soup scientists suspect gave rise to the world's first organisms.

"The hydrothermal reactions there are probably our closest modern-day analogue for geology in the first half of Earth's existence," Chris German, chief scientist on the expedition and a geochemist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts told the online science website OurAmazingPlanet.

That means the Von Damm site could provide a glimpse of the mechanisms that, over the ages, transformed lifeless molecules to living, complex beings.

"If you track [life] down to the lowest denominator — the common ancestor— it speaks to a single-celled organism that thrived in high temperatures and low oxygen environments," German said.

NASA scientists are also taking part in the expedition in the hope of finding clues to what geological conditions could set the stage for life on other worlds.

The Piccard vent is a 3,000 feet deep and as deeper often means hotter in the hydrothermal vent world scientists believe this vent could be even hotter than the highest so far recorded of 465 F.

Researchers aren't entirely sure what they'll find at Piccard but comparing the deeper vent with Von Damm is part of the mission. The vents are about 14 miles apart, but Piccard is 2,300 m deeper than Von Damm and depth the scientists say could be more important than the distancewhen it comes to differences in the species. It could be that species living at vents thousands of miles apart have more in common with one another than those closer together, but at different depths, where the immense pressure could affect what animals can survive there.

The scientists have a code of conduct where they only take as many samples as they need in order not to disturb the eco-systems but they expect to collect two or three tube worms, a few dozens of shrimp, and mostly samples of the tiniest animals they find at the vents.

See more on the expedition here


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Jamaica’s new PM promises government transparency

| 06/01/2012 | 15 Comments

simpson miller.jpg(CNS): Portia Simpson-Miller promised transparent and prudent government in her inaugural address at the swearing in ceremony in Jamaica Thursday. The PNP leader said she would implement short-term measures to tackle unemployment, and attract investment to address the country’s indebtedness and economic stagnation. "I know that we face an awesome task. There is greater debt, increased poverty levels, tighter fiscal space," she said, adding that her administration would not "engage in a blame-game but would "right the wrongs and insist on accountability."

With many pressing challenges the new prime minister said the mandate which Jamaicans gave the PNP was a call to action and a signal that the government must earn the trust of the people.

Among the many issues she said the new government would tackle Simpson-miller said she intended to to establish a Caribbean Court of Justice as a final appellate jurisdiction and end what she called judicial surveillance from London. The 66 year-old leader and one of the country's longest serving legislators said there was a need to “complete the circle of independence" going forward.

"As we continue our journey, this is the Jubilee Year of Jamaican Independence. This 50th anniversary year will be a time for reflection on the lessons of the past; and, as we celebrate our achievements as an independent nation, we now need to complete the circle of independence. In this regard, we will, therefore, initiate the process for our detachment from the Monarchy to become a Republic with our own indigenous President, as Head of State," she added.

Reflecting on the election loss in 2007 Simpson Miller said, "In our political history, it is a rare opportunity to be given a second chance to lead. It is also a sobering experience," as she added that she was a stronger and better person for the journey.

See full speech here

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Shetty aims for summer start

| 06/01/2012 | 75 Comments

shettyjan12.JPG(CNS): The much anticipated first phase of Dr Devi Shetty’s health care city will break ground in August, officials on the proposed project said Friday. The internationally acclaimed heart surgeon and representatives from the Indian based Narayana group were in the Cayman Islands this week for a short visit with local partners and government to move forward with the 140-bed hospital, which should take around 12 months to complete. Before returning to India the doctor revealed that he plans to open a medical school in Cayman this coming September offering training to 100 students by partnering with an undisclosed local institution in Cayman.

Speaking at a press conference Friday morning, Shetty explained that while the medical university building itself will not start for another two years the school could be established at any existing institution. He said his team had already been in discussions with institutions that could offer the facilities to begin training local nurses, medical technicians and doctors in preparation for the opening of the first phase of the health city itself.

“There are some 700 students leaving school in Cayman every year and only one or two of them opt for medical training,” he said. “Many of them, however, pursue financial services because that is all they see. But given the opportunity, if they can see the possibility of a career in medicine, they would opt for it.”

The medical profession is recession-proof, Shetty said, and with as many as 4 million jobs worldwide, those who train in health care will always work. The students will be able to begin their medical degrees at the institution here in Cayman and immediately move on to their hospital based training when the first phase is complete the following summer and then move on to take up full time posts in the health care facility, which is expected to take its first patients in August 2013.

Despite previously emphasising the importance of Cayman’s proximity to the North American market, Shetty indicated Friday that the low-cost specialist care facility was not primarily targeting the US market, but that it would serve the local, regional and South American markets. He added that he hoped the hospital would become a centre of excellence for the region.

Although he said he expected American patients to come, the project could not depend on that market alone. The doctor pointed to the fact that currently everyone in the Caribbean sought specialist health care in the US but his goal was to provide affordable health care for them here in Cayman. Shetty said it was import that Cayman had its own facility where its own people could be treated by its own home grown and trained medical staff.

Addressing stories in the Indian press this year that he was still struggling to find financial backers for the project, Dr Shetty said it was not just a matter of finding investors but finding the right strategic partners who understood the health care industry and were not just waiting for an immediate return and would be prepared to help the project grow. He said it was premature at this point to say more about the financing of the whole project.

Gene Thompson, one of Shetty’s local partners, added that the sale of the land at High Rock in East End where the health city will eventually be built has now been finalised. He explained that the entire project would gradual be built across the 200 acre site in several phases, starting with the 140-bed facility. The 200 acres sit in a 600 acre development site owned by Joseph Imparato, who will be involved in the development of the supporting infrastructure, Thompson added.

The local partner said that surveying and preparations for the sub-division of the land and its re-zoning application are now underway and if all went to plan the applications would be submitted in April or May, allowing the construction work to begin on schedule in August.

He further revealed that a general contractor for the 140-bed hospital had not yet been identified but the team was committed to ensuring that the construction work would go to local firms and workers.

Two major legislative changes have already been passed by government, including the limits on medical compensation awards and the health practitioner’s law, to facilitate Shetty’s medical city, leaving only the introduction of a law to facilitate transplants and organ donation, which is now expected to reach parliament in the first quarter of this year.

With the land bought, the regulatory requirements addressed, two laws passed and the planning applications taking shape, Thompson said the group was “very comfortable with moving forward” and that 2012 would be an exciting year for the project and for the Cayman Islands.

Although it is now over two years since the proposed project was first revealed to the Cayman public, Shetty said he did not think things had moved too slowly and he said compared to other governments around the world the Cayman government had worked very fast and it “was a pleasure to work” in Cayman.

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Former prosecutor to take up magistrate post in April

| 06/01/2012 | 4 Comments

court house3.jpg(CNS): Following the recommendation of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, Governor Duncan Taylor has appointed Kirsty-Ann Gunn as a Magistrate to Cayman’s Summary Court. Although the lower courts are currently pushed to the limit with only two magistrates currently on the bench Gunn will not take up the post until April. Gunn is currently working as a Crown Counsel (Specialist) with the Bermudan government a post she took up in September after leaving Cayman’s prosecution service in 2010. Officials said she was appointed as a local magistrate after an open recruitment process in November when a panel of the Judicial and Legal Services Commission interviewed five persons for the post.

This is the second magistrate appointed by the governor following advice from the Judicial and Legal Services Commission, established in the new Constitution introduced in November 2009.

Gunn served as crown counsel in Cayman for four and a half years before moving to Bermuda. She played an active role in the local Drug Rehabilitation Court as the Crown’s Senior Drug Rehabilitation Court Prosecutor. Called to the bar in England and Wales in 1998, Gunn previously worked as a Higher Court Advocate/Senior Crown Prosecutor in the United Kingdom for four years, and as an independent Barrister.

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Watches seized in drug case auctioned by DR officials

| 06/01/2012 | 0 Comments

(AP): Authorities in the Dominican Republic on Thursday auctioned off 27 luxury watches that once belonged to an alleged drug boss known as the "Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean." Each watch was sold for less than half its market value for a total of roughly $600,000, said Julio Cesar Suffront, financial investigations director for the National Drug Control Agency. The watches were taken to experts in Miami and valued at between $5,000 and $85,000 each, he said. They were the first items seized from Jose David Figueroa Agosto to be auctioned. The accused druglord also owned 20 properties and 10 luxury cars, including a special edition Camaro that runs on jet fuel and cost more than $75,000.

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$58m investment in East End to expand resorts

| 06/01/2012 | 0 Comments

image001 (1).jpg(CNS Business): The developers of Morritt’s Tortuga Club and Morritt’s Grand Resort have announced a major expansion of the East End timeshare and resort with an anticipated investment of some CI $58 million over the next 5 to 10 years, with construction starting on the first phase no later than June of this year. Morritt Properties said in a release yesterday that the two existing resorts have consistent levels of high occupancy, often over 80% year round, and over 12,000 owners worldwide. With the new developments, the goal is to double their timeshare ownership in the next 10 years to 30,000+ club members. Read more on CNS Business

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Audit office faces busy year

| 06/01/2012 | 7 Comments

(CNS): The office of the auditor general has a heavy workload ahead this year and the first two reports of 2012 are expected this month. The office said that it hopes the performance audit of government’s overseas medical expenses and a report on major capital projects, including the public schools and the new government office accommodation building, will both be in the public domain before the end of January. Among the major issues that Alastair Swarbrick and his team will be examining this year is an overview of the management of government in its entirety as well as a close-up on government’s expenditure on human capital. The office will also be taking a look at how government collects, as well as spends, public cash.

Early in 2012 Swarbrick has plans to undertake a close scrutiny of the governance arrangements across the public sector, considering how government sets out its purpose and the outcomes it expects for users of its services and the public at large. It will examine how government is organized, how it makes decisions and manages risk and whether it does so transparently.

The team will also be looking at the accountability on executive transactions and transfer payments to organizations and individuals. Each year the government gives millions of dollars to various groups and private individuals for a variety of reasons, from supporting national athletes to charitable causes, most of which is given without the need to account. However, many thousands are given to organisations for specific services to government and the audit office will be looking to see if government is getting value for money for the cash it gives out.

As well as looking at human capital in line with the requirements of the Public Service Management Law, the auditor will be tackling standards of behaviour and the arrangements across the public sector to promote ethical leadership and values. The office will be scrutinizing the investment of public money in information technology and whether due consideration is given to achieving value for money.

Later in the year Swarbrick plans to look at the other side of the ledger and instead of examining how public money is spent the team will take a closure look at government revenues, including fees, customs and duties. The office plans to examine the arrangements in place to determine, manage and collect government earnings transparently, efficiently, effectively and economically, the office said.

All of this will be against a backdrop of reviewing and monitoring previous reports as well as assisting government to get its own accounts in order and produce its first annual report since 2003.

"I am looking forward to 2012 and the work my office has planned that I believe will promote greater transparency and accountability in government operations,” Alastair Swarbrick said Thursday. “In particular I am looking forward to supporting the Government as it makes progress in bringing its accounts up to date and delivering the programme of performance audits, which I believe will provide opportunities to help government manage more efficiently and effectively.

Swarbrick said that he was looking forward to working with the government to strengthen the independence and capacity of the audit office to deliver on its mandate as it moves into its 30th year.

See 2012 Audit schedule below.

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