Cayman’s real treasure

| 29/01/2012

It is quite evident that our politicians have failed to notice that the counter to the “bad publicity” the Cayman Islands gets in the international press is almost always about our natural environment. Whether it’s the beautiful diving, Stingray City or the blue iguanas, it is Cayman’s natural unique resources, not the financial ones, that promote the destination in a positive light. But while we have a smorgasbord of legislation associated with protecting the financial services sector, we can count on one hand the laws that protect our natural environment.

In an article published in the UK broad sheet The Independent  this Saturday Cathy Winston points out what is obvious to many people in Cayman but what seems to have failed to strike a chord with our politicians: that the real treasures here are “natural ones, rather than those stashed in bank accounts.”

With no sign of the national conservation law, the beauty of our islands, the myriad unique indigenous species and the precious natural resources remain under constant threat. Although the blue iguanas that Winston writes about may be protected, the habitat in which they live is not. Nor are any of the other unique, indigenous and native reptiles, bats, butterflies, flowers, orchids, trees or shrubs, many of which are on the brink of disappearing.

While these three islands are home to more unique fauna and flora than the world famous Galapagos Islands, most of the species that occupy the land have no protection at all.

As development continues and government appears obsessed by the idea that development is the only way out of our current economic difficulties, the conservation law has once again been put on hold.

Despite theclaims on the campaign trail that this government would implement a conservation law, following the failure of the previous administration to do so, at well over halfway through their term in office, after months and months of consulting and more consulting, the national conservation bill continues to gather dust on a ministry shelf somewhere.

From the mangroves which were unnecessarily ripped out from the North Sound coast more than 18 months ago on the site of the proposed Dragon Bay development to the impending threat to the central wetlands with the planned relocation of the landfill, nature continues to be grossly undervalued by the government.

The many conservationists here in Cayman that go about their business quietly doing what they can to try and protect the dwindling resources are often derided and dismissed as lentil eating tree huggers. The connection between environments and eco systems is misunderstood and the danger of reaching a tipping point from which the existing natural diversity is pushed over the edge, never to be recovered, is being ignored, despite the clear and unequivocal warnings issued by the country’s experts.

The ignorance displayed by many people, not least the politicians, when it comes to understanding the environmental connectivity and the impact development ‘over here' has on nature 'over there’ continues to be a major threat to the future of the islands as a tourism destination.

People do not come on vacation to Cayman to look at concrete buildings.

If we do not stop clearing land and continuing to develop without an overall plan that includes a real commitment to preserving the habitat as well as the creatures and plants living and growing in it, the beauty that we are clinging on to could be lost forever. Cayman cannot live on cash alone and we will not recover our economic fortunes by selling out our environment.

While people are planning to march against the movement of the dump and the fight to preserve the West Bay Road, they must also begin to focus far more heavily on the bigger picture, which is the environment as a whole.

The NCL has struggled to make it to the floor of the Legislative Assembly because the conservation movement is as yet still in its infancy and there has not been a single non-governmental voice lobbying for it.

There are no independent organisations in Cayman that are vocal when it comes to protecting the natural world. While self interest groups will come together from time to time to fight a common battle (such as over the proposed East End Sea Port) there are no coordinate efforts to protect the whole of our environment.

The Department of Environment remains a staunch advocate but as a government department there are limits to what the staff can do other than spell out the growing dangers of what we are doing to the land on which we live. The National Trust works tirelessly but far too quietly because, again, it is heavily dependent on funding from the government to survive and cannot risk a high profile opposition to government’s neglect of the environment.

It is evident now that this government is very unlikely to pass the original NCL through the legislative process. Even if it does get to the bill before the next election in the hope of picking up a few votes, it is likely to be a watered down version of the original law.

With no formal environmental plan, no laws and no independent green advocacy for our environment, it may not be long before our true national treasure is plundered.

Go to The Independent article

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Category: Viewpoint

Comments (22)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I own mangrove in that area and not once in 45 years has anyone ever offered me money to look at the birds or to walk through the mangroves. If you really want to know the truth and not your perceived Galagapos Island theory. Go and ask the tourists who have a walking trail in the Botanical gardens in the mangrove and buttonwood side. They will tell you very very little amount of birds are ever seen there. The part of the botanical park that draws the most of accolades to what they have seen is the other side. Guess what? no mangroves the tours through botanical park is made of plants and trees that are not from here. So no 99% ofthe tourists dont want to see mangroves that they have to walk through.

    So knowing that for over 45 years and not wanting to be some johnny come lately the gov't change the laws so that the 200 feet from the sea side or the sound side was protected so you could snorkel in that area and see some birds and fish. From 1849 a letter was written and given to the national musuem that a crocodile had walked into the village of bodden town . The lady who wrote the letter said her husband had shot the crocodile with a musket ball from a rifle. She found it surprising that he would walk out of the swamp where there was so much food. But there were many times in our past that we had very dry periods and even today. We have iguanas and the (extinct bird that scientist claim) west indian duck get all there food from  people. Go get your car inspected and watch out for the ducks and they stopped feeding them years ago . They have tried to moved them and they still come back and stay .  

    • local says:

      Dah… no birds are seen there because it is BOTANICAL park!  If you want to see birds go to the wetlands where most of our birds stop for the water, feeding, and nesting. That is where you will see birds. Botanical forestry is kind of dry forestry. Also, all plants in the Botanical garden grow in the Caribbean. Some may not be grown locally in Cayman, but for sure, you wouldn't have them in the gardens if they were not tropical!

      Furthermore, I don't where you get your stats about 99% tourist… I have personally see tourist not from the tropics pull out their camaras just to take a photo of a walking chicken crossing the road in George Town with her chicks. That's the God honest truth!  I have seen that over and over again. They are use to seeing them cook, but not wild and alive walking about the place. I have even seen them chase down our iguanas with their camaras. So I really believe your so-called 99% is figment of your imagination…. sorry, you have tourist who love what's on land just like you have tourists who love what's in the water. And you have those who just want to have fun. Please dont assume and categorize them by your pie chart!!!

      • Anonymous says:

        So your saying birds are not seen at the park? Why? Noone feeds them like they do at Ladner and Donny's place in south sound. What part of the swamp are you waliking on (emphasis on walking) the man made road? Here you all want something natural untouched.                       Well if you walking on a road that would be forbidden.  Your new law ,  would restrict you like in the country of Costa Rica without a licensed guide.  Remember Costa Rica and Galapagos have alot of rules that don't allow free flow of people to just feel like going for a walk like they do now.

        The first phase of our Botanical park is dry in the dry season and wet in the rainy season. Which is why there are more mosquitoes during the summer .  So are you really a local?

        Why are we growing tropical plants that are not from here? Because if we didn't people wouldn't go to see the swamp at the Botanical Park.

        You feel my pie chart is wrong . But your observation proves i'm right. Where did you see the tourists taking a picture of a  U.S. chicken? an Central American iguana? Was it in the swamp? or was it Georgetown?

        Stop trying to change the Cayman Islands. People come here for what it is. Not what you perceive. 

        If there were more people who wanted to walk through the swamp to look at birds we would have more tours doing that tour. But right now we need them to go to the Botanical Park. We have tours going there now.

        • Anonymous says:

          You really need to give the Mastic Trail a try. It's a great walk and there are plenty of birds. There ought to be trails like this on all the reserves. There's swamp and mangrove but also some really big trees and wild royal palms.

    • Anonymous says:

      I like the walk through the brush. If you want moreb irds there needs to be more fresh water where they can get to i.

    • Anonymous says:

      I am a tourist and love to walk each morning thru the golf course at Safe Haven as it is peaceful and I get to see the chickens, roosters, iquanas and many different birds. I walk each night at sunset down 7MB to watch the sunset and listen to the waves crash on the shore. I never get to see or hear any of those things at home and look forward to my trips to GC to hear and see the natural beauty. Oh, and yes, I am one of those crazy tourists who take pictures of the chickens crossing the street. LOL

  2. Anonymous says:

    The cockroach thread after 1 day already has twice the contributions that this viewpoint has received.

    Really think people care about conservation?

  3. Green Hornet says:

    Once again I ask the question: are we or are we not in compliance with the international environmental treaties that the UK has signed? The answer is, obviously "no" – as it is in all of the OTs. In which case the UK needs to live up to its international obligations. Again,I ask, where is a lawyer not solely interested in lining his or her own pockets who is prepared to take the matter to the international courts? Only the law will force our politicians to act in an environmentally responsible manner, and if we don't have our own laws, thenwe must use those by which the "mother country" is supposed to abide.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great article!

    Shut off your EGO-system, and take a look at our eco-system!

  5. Independent says:

    "It is evident now that this government is very unlikely to pass the original NCL through the legislative process. Even if it does get to the bill before the next election in the hope of picking up a few votes, it is likely to be a watered down version of the original law."

    Don't be surprise that if PPM gets another 4 years, they will do the same thing. It is the way political parties operate in order to get re-elected. My advise to all those who love Cayman, pull together all those who are oppose to a party system, have a coalition of independents who will pledge to (1) only represent their constituency or district; (2) stand up and see the importance of our wildlife and environement; and (3) for God sake, aim to providing more checks and balances in our constitution like recalling MLAs from office before the ending of their term.

    Speak to the Governor. Get an order in council. Do something for your people and Cayman's wildlife, our greatest tourism product!

    • Anonymous says:

      The Independent member is against the current Conversation Law and is desirous of watering it down as well.  As long as the current voting public prefer cash to conservation nothing will change.

  6. Anonymous says:

    What is ironic is that politicians who are part of government after government give lip service about conservation but do nothing of substance to protect the environment.

    Conservation shows itself in the form of action such as recycling on such a limited land mass where recycling is a no brainer.

    I predict that this thread will receive little to no response because most people generally do not care.

    The Department of Environment should be applauded for working under difficult circumstanced when their work is trumped by other departments.

    To see the truth of politicians beliefs watch their action not their lip service.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Given that less than 12 percent of the these islands have even been developed it is more important to get legislation correct rather than rush some document that has never existed anywhere in the world before through the process.

    We all want to protect the environment, many as much as the writer obviousy does, but we must ensure that we do not set in motion some dragonian document that does not actually solve our greater problem.

    On one point of correction, most people DO travel to see the built environment. Those going to NY, London, Paris, Disney,Tokyo,etc, etc do so to see the developed landscape and the buildings. It is likely that less than 10% actually travel to a completely natural and wild environment.

    What we need is RESPONSIBLE, sustainable development coupled logical environmental laws. I can guarantee that 90% of those supporting the original NCL have noteven read page one. When they do, the story will be different regarding the NCL.

    • Hey Dingdong! says:


      You are going to compare an island of 3 x 28 miles with NY, London, Paris, Disney,Tokyo!!?

      Not a good argument at all.

      Why don't we just comare apples and onions then

    • Anonymous says:

      So following your very lucid argument that 90% of travelers travel to see built up locations what should Cayman do?

      Plan "A", should we build up to draw tourists? Is that what we should do? Well many land owners could then cash in but likely it would not work.

      So plan "B" protect the environment for the 10% tourists that has sustained Cayman tourism for several decades. That means above and below water.

      Now on a small island is it smart to not recycle? To put plastic and batteries and other things in the ground known to be harmful to the environment? Is that a smart thing to do? Is that what a 1st world government would do? Is that what a country living on environmental tourism would do?

      I suspect you prefer plan "A"

    • Anonymous says:

      How long can you support sustainable develpment on an island of limited land space? The one statistic always missing in economic analyses is the amount of land that has been used up and the amount of land left for use, and the amount set aside as environmental preserves for perpetuity. Given the proper information, we can make decisions and say that at this rate of development, we can keep building for another twenty, fifty, 190 years??? Does anyone have that figure available?

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank you CNS for such a wonderful article.  The people here don't realize that the tourists just want to see our natural treasures such as the Iguanas, butterflies, the bluff on the Brac, parrots, bats, etc.  They would be surprised to know how the tourists will drive everywhere to try to find the parrots and other birds as well.  How frequently I have heard, "where are the best places to find the iguanas?"  I have a friend that lives in the US and she just want to live near the beach.  These things that we all take for granted.

    • Resident of B.T. says:

      Speaking about tourism, Cayman's wetlands can become a great tourist attraction. One early morning, I decided to take a drive to a side dirt road between the Meagre Bay Pond and Midland Acres. I drove to the back to the road to where I saw two man-made lakes that were used one time for quarrys. I parked my car and took a walk around them and as I was walking, within the wetlands forestry, I saw an unusual looking bird. Never have I seen anything like it in Cayman before. I went a ways into the bush and stoop down to take a closer look. If I just had my camara with me. It wasn't a whistle duck, its feathers were white and the bird had black circular spots all over its body. Had a mouth shape like a spoon. It bowed its head and appeared to be a very shy animal, but with a long neck majestic in appearance. It seemed to be eating something from the bark of a tree, taking its time, eating bit by bit of something on the tree. You would have thought the bird would eat fish with a mouth like that. I have never seen anything like it. I went home and told my wife about it. I took other walks behind Midland Acres, but never again have I seen the bird.

      Here we have right behind Midland Acres, small ponds scattered with a rich array of birds, a whole wild life sanctuary. You have to be ready to get wet and creep into the forestry to find these little ponds scattered all over the place. Cayman, wetlands over there can make Cayman alot of money. We can make a nature trail over there. There are so many beautiful species in these wetlands. I would hate to see we invest so much in the sea and diving industry, and not in our wetlands. That is more reasons why we should do whatever we can to protect them.

      Resident of B.T.

      • Anonymous says:

        We have a lot of birds that migrate here so it could be one of them but then again you never know it could be a bird that we don't even know of yet.  Newspecies is being discovered every day.  However, there is a bird book called "Birds of the Cayman Islands."  Check it and see if it is in there.

        • Anonymous says:

          Either he is seeing things or making this story up. There is no bird in that book that fits his description.

      • Anonymous says:

        hmmm… I can't think of the type of bird you saw. It is a very interesting description. I know if there are certain people in the world, uncivilized, and have never been discovered before like certain tribes in the Amazon, Brazil, then the same holds true for a variety of wildlife, animals, birds, plants, cures for deseases. That is why I can never be closed-minded.

        What is so sad, is that the beautiful wetlands you are talking about, will soon be encroached upon by a waste management facility that will eventually poison the wetlands. It appears our politicians are so close-minded about our environment that they intend to develop the country without a national conservation law. 

        I wish I was with you to see the bird spectacle, because after these politicians are done with our birds and our wildlife, I don't think we will ever have the chance to see what you saw. I feel sorry for our children, the next generation, and their grandchildren.