Conservation bill in limbo

| 09/01/2012

front.jpg(CNS): Although government finished its last round of public consultation on the long awaited national conservation bill more than one year ago, it has not yet decided how to move forward with the critical legislation. The minister responsible stated that the law was a priority for his ministry when he was elected to office in May 2009 but more than two and a half years later the bill remains stalled. Jennifer Ahearn, the chief officer in the ministry, told CNS Thursday that despite collecting considerable public input no decision has yet been made about moving the bill forward. (Photo by Dennie Warren JR)

Ahearn said the ministry must now decide whether to change the bill based on the input received during the last consultation period, which took place in 2010, or to let the bill go forward as drafted. “Discussions on that have not yet happened,” the chief officer admitted. She added that although there had been no news, the bill “was not forgotten”.

The director of the Department of Environment (DoE) has persistently noted the pressing need for the critical legislation. For several years now Gina Ebanks-Petrie has repeatedly stated that the clock is ticking on the islands’ precarious environmental resources and the bill has to become law at the earliest opportunity if the Cayman Islands is to have any chance at all of preserving them. From the silver thatch palm and the banana orchid to Cayman’s unique bats and reptiles, few of the islands’ indigenous species currently have any kind of legislative protection.

The public consultation and debate on the law has raged for almost a decade and despite wide support across the community for the legislation, with media straw polls persistently showing around three quarters of the population in favour of passing the current draft law, the government has still not been persuaded of the urgency required regarding the legislation. The draft bill has been re-written several times but what appears to be a powerful if small lobby against the law has been able to delay its passage.

In November of this year, the country’s bill of rights which forms part of the 2009 constitution will come into force and the document refers to environmental rights. Unless the law is passed, the environment will not be protected in direct contravention of section 18, which states that government should adopt legislation to protect wildlife and local biodiversity.

The law has been much misunderstood, the department’s director said, as she emphasised that it would not facilitate the seizure of people’s private land by government. The only land that can be preserved for environmental purposes under the draft bill is that belonging to the crown. Ebanks-Petrie said it will not stop development but merely requires the country’s natural resources to factor equally alongside economic and social considerations regarding development decisions.

The law will also provide more powers to environmental officers to enforce the marine laws, as well as formalise the work of the DoE, enable compliance with international treaties and offer legal protection to the country's unique species and their habitats.
At present around less than 0.5% of Cayman’s land has any legal protection, which Ebanks-Petrie pointed out was only a fraction of that set aside by other countries in the region.  “It is not possible for us to talk about sustainable development when so little of our land is protected,” she added.

As the NCL continues to languish in political limbo, local experts point to the mounting crisis and the real danger to indigenous snakes, butterflies, bats, lizards, orchids, silver thatch palms and other trees, plants and flowers unique to these islands. Without protection for them and, critically, the habitats in which they live, some of the islands unique species could soon become extinct.

Mangroves are not only an important habitat when it comes to providing a nursery for reef fish and a home to a host of wildlife but important in their own right as a protection against storm surge in hurricanes, but remain dangerously exposed to destruction.  Although supposedly protected in the planning law, the removal of several hundred feet of mangrove buffer by the developer of the Ritz Carlton demonstrates that the planning designation is inadequate and more protection is required.

The developer was granted permission to rip up 378,000 square feet of mangrove buffer zone in May 2010 in preparation for the start of work at Dragon Bay, which has not begun. Despite promising to replenish the area, little work on that promised project has been implemented.

Although the recent framework agreement signed by the Cayman government with the UK now requires government to undertake environmental assessments regarding public development projects, there is nothing at all to compel private sector developers to make any consideration for the environment.

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Category: Science and Nature

Comments (29)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I'm going to say this as a young Caymanian. What is wrong with our 'natural beauty'. Forget the silver thatch for a moment, I find nothing prettier than the arched poinciana trees blooming over the road heading into Bodden Town. I'd take the wild overgrown bushes and trees over the cheap palm tree stuck in a patch of gravel any day. As a kid, I remember climbing orchid trees. I haven't lived been in Cayman consistently for years but I remember we used to go to where they had the big pine and sea grape trees on SMB. I wanted to show it to my little brother- but couldn't. It's only then I realized it's been cramped between developments. I remember driving down to East End every Sunday for garden brunch after church and the gorgeous view over the sea. I drove down that way by myself the other day and there was this out of place ugly wall. I've watched the changes, so do not think I'm naive and believe the island would never change, but I'm just wondering if I'm the only one that believes a giant house or condo does not look pretty wedged between the road and a 2 ft piece of beach? That sometimes, less is more. Is a paving of gravel prettier than bushes, hedges, trees, flowers? We live in the Caribbean, do we need to see a bloody palm tree in front of every shop and home to remind ourselves we live on an island. Do the toursits? They pay good money to get here, I'm pretty sure they're aware they're not in Idaho.

    Sadly, too many people here simply have stars in their eyes and everything that glitters must be gold to them. 'Polished', 'commercial', 'modern'.


  2. Pink Parrot says:

    It is not in limbo.  It has been killed off by "Friends of Mac".

  3. The Spin Cycle says:

    They looked at this closely and – snakes, butterflies, bats, lizards, orchids, expats, silver thatch palms, trees, plants and flowers –  don't vote.  It was also noted no one has ever received a deal on a condo from a snake. Wait. Ok.  But the rest of them don't vote.

  4. Green Hornet says:

    It it time that the UK started to look seriously at its OTs (in particular this one) which are in flagrant contravention of the international environmental treaties signed by the UK (and that includes its OTs) during the past 20 odd years. Of course, they won't do anything unless a good lawyer (one that isn't simply interested in lining his or her own pockets) takes them to the international court in the Hague and forces them to live up to their treaty commitments.  In the meantime the real estate moguls, including our present so-called "leader", will simply continue to line their pockets and those of their real estate buddies while we watch in frustration as Cayman goes down the tubes.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Folks, the politicians only talk about this around election time and say what you want to hear. When they get in power, it is a different thing, they forget the promises.  You must remember the enormous revenues to be derived if this Government keeps putting this bill on a backburner to allow the greedy developers to have their way without care or regard for environmental impact studies or protection. You need to hold them to those promises they made during election campaigns, demand nothing less – and fire them if they do not fulfil those promises.  It is as simple as that, if you really care about Cayman.  

  6. Anonymous says:

    Good headline, that's about as far as it's gonna get too until the next election.

  7. Peter Milburn says:

    Lip service Lip service.You would think that they would have chapped lips by now with all the talking(no do)that goes on especially with this critical piece of Legislation.Here are a few things that I think need changing in our Assembly. and be in effect right after the next election.(1)Members MUST meet in the House MONTHLY.This way we get two things accomplished.They REALLY earn their money and laws will(should)get passed quickly and efficiently.(2)Anything said about a member of the public that can be called slander etc.will NOT be able to hide behind Parlimentary Privalege any longer and can be sued by the offended person(s).Too much of this goes on in this House and is a national disgrace.(3)When you are a part of a standing comittee you MUST attend or your salary will be docked accordingly.Again too much time wasting and nothing gets done.(4)All members MUST comply with the disclosure aspect of the House as in full accounting of money generated on the street.(Private ventures in other words)

           I guess this will be wishful thinking but we must start somewhere and rid ourselves of the selfish attitudes of some House this has been going on for far too long.

    • Anonymous says:

      Peter Milburn for the next Premier.  I would certainlyvote for you.  We need people like you.   To allow monthly meetings to happen, certain elected officials must stop travelling so much and spend some time home solving the problems.   Parliamentary privilege should not give anyone immunity from slander lawsuits.   Backdoor dealings must stop.   But for this to happen, we need unselfish persons in Government.  Time for change.

  8. Yo Mama says:

    If Caymanian voters cared about the Caymanian environment then they would not have elected the politicians we have had for the last 30 years. You get the government you vote for. A vote for the UDP (or PPM) was a vote for bulldozers over nature. Only an idiot would be surprised by this.

  9. Anonymous says:

    They cannot pass the bill with all the outstanding projects still needing to be completed and "paid" for if you know what I mean, nudge nudge wink wink, say NO more! Can you imagine how long it would take to get a dock if there was a real obligation to account for environmental impact. I am sure Ryan and Dart still need to pull out some more mangrove, can't have that delayed by the red tape that a conservation bill would bring! I bet Burns and his buddies still need a bit more real estate on the sea side of the property in South Sound so will need to fill even more than they have already, just waiting for the dust to settle and using a diversionary tactic with the dredging of a harbour to take attention off the initial project for now!  And the dump….. imagine what the conservation law would do to that? Too much at stake for a few folks, so the island gets shafted while a few fat cats fill their pockets with absolutely no concern for the future generations of the island!

  10. anonymous says:

    Protect the silver thatch??…surely you jest.

    We were exporting 2 million fathoms of thatch rope per year from Cayman in the mid 1960s. That was our indeginous industry. Are you saying now that we need to protect the silver thatch so we cannot even do our indeginous handiwork anymore? When is this nonsense going to stop? We are soon going to be like the Indians in America- relegated to the reservations! 

    Protect the mosquitoes will be next cry. Help us.

    • Anonymous says:

      What a nincompoop.  Protecting silver thatch means protecting the land where it grows and not allowing a developer to buy it and tear down the trees to make way for development.  Protecting the land and the area in which the trees grow means allowing the tree to grow so you can reap in order to make the rope without killing the tree.  It means preserving the area in which the tree grows.   Do you get it now? No one is suggesting that making thatch rope should stop.

    • my my says:

      Exporting the rope was a sustainable use. Taking the tops of the thatch palm doesn't kill the trees. To really protect indigenous handicrafts, we need to keep those trees from being clear-cut  – often just to "clear the lot". Young people and foreigners don't realize that Silver Thatch trees grow very slowly and what looks like a small tree could be 50 years old. Once it's bull-dozed, it's gone – and no nursery-purchased landscaping replacement will every be quite the same as preserving the native landscape while developing a site. There are so many good reasons to do this – and it does not have a downside. 

      "Conservation" is not a word to fear. It just means taking an intelligent look at our choices and doing what's best – not just blindly repeating past mistakes. For hundreds of years, there were plenty of trees – but now, as more and more big developments move into the islands – bringing the need for every more housing and even more clearing, why not pay a little attention to what we want to save instead of leaving it all up to the guy driving the bulldozer to decide for us. 


    • Anonymous says:

      Silver Thatch, Turtles. Thats the problem, people like you just don't know when to stop. Like a kid with a hand in the candy jar, you never notice them gone untill theres none left.

      Protect what you have now and every body can have a candy in the future.



    • Anonymous says:

      Keep in mind that we used to have slavery.  Just because we did something in the past does not make it rightor "a right". 

      Some times to prserve our heritage we need to make sacirfices.

  11. Anonymous says:

    One government after another forgets about the Conservation Bill as it will limit voters ability to cash in on the next development. The double talk politicians give this issue amazes me. They are all in favor of it "except" for the part that limits development. And the issue disappears again and finger pointing and blame continues.

    • anonymous says:

      No government is going to limit it's ONLY revenue source. Get smart folks. My guess is that this will resurface just before the elections (as it did in 2009) just to get votes. It will only resurface after the major developments bringing revenue to the government are approved.

  12. Anonymous says:

    What a surprise.  There's no revenue in it for the government, no back-handers for the MLAs for passing it and they've already done the press release to get some attention so there's nothing left that could make a Cayman MLA do any actual work.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly.  This would be good for the Cayman Islands but there's nothing for the MLAs to gain personally, so it sits.  When, oh when Jesus, will someone in a position of authority put the well being of these islands ahead of their own personal gain?  Will it ever happen?


  13. Anonymous says:


  14. Anonymous says:

    McKeeva's greatest concern is for the non-indigenous "developer".

  15. so Anonymous says:

    Caymanians can't seem to grasp the concept of hard work by trained, experianced people is the only way WORK gets done correctly.  You all keep asking(demanding) that it is done by lazy, incompetent people with no skill other than the skill of talking loudly and having the appearance of doing work that never gets done.  If you really want the work to be done you need to get a worker to do it.  But that in itself is work.  Hence the reason for the problem in the first place.

    • biker says:

      "….talking loudly and having the appearance of doing work that never gets done."

      Hm-m-m-m. Sounds like someone I know.


  16. Simon says:

    That's a shame the Minister can't live up to his campign pledge or maybe priorities have changed? Our country is to small to get intangled with predatory capitalist. Our leaders are so short sighted that they don't know they are in a trap until the door has shut.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Gina Ebanks-Petrie is right. There's going to be nothing left to conserve if this isn't sorted out PDQ.

    This needs to be sorted out before the Cayman islands beomes the next place on this planet to be merrily trashed by greedy developers and corrupt polticians who then miraculously turn into 'born again' conservationists once they've made their money and there's nothing left to exploit.


    • anonymous says:

      How could Gina be correct? Look on Google Earth…less that 12% of Grand Cayman has been developed. There is plenty of time to get this law correct instead of running headlong into a nightmare. XXXXX

      • Anonymous says:

        Next time you fly out of Owen Roberts Airport take a window seat on the righthand side. Take a long, hard look at what you see and then try telling us Grand Cayman isn't being trashed by developers.   

        Only 12% my a**e!

    • Anonymous says:

      BEFORE they trash Cayman? I think you mean "before they finish" trashing Cayman!