NCL Old George’s last chance

| 08/07/2010

(CNS): The National Conservation Law presents a last chance for a number of critically endangered endemic and indigenous species that could be extinct very soon without some kind of legal protection The pygmy blue butterfly, the white shouldered bat, the traditional herb tea-banker, inkberry, the pisonia margaretea tree and the bromeliad known as Old George (left) are six local species of flora and fauna on Grand Cayman that are critically endangered as their habitat has all but disappeared. The passage of the NCL could give these unique plantsand creatures a hope of survival but without it they will likely be consigned to the history books in a matter of a few years.

Despite the Cayman Islands limited size, its evolutionary natural history has given rise to a significant number of indigenous and endemic species of flora and fauna — sometimes found only on one of the three islands and then only in one place. Old George, for example, is found only in a forest close to George Town, so it is not just endemic to the Cayman Islands but specifically to George Town.
“There are clearly a unique set of ecological circumstances that occur just in that location which has given rise to the evolution of this specific species of bromeliad,” Gina Ebanks-Petrie, the director of the Department of the Environment, said, pointing out how important it was for the country to begin conserving at least some of the country’s natural resources.
With less than 0.5% of the Cayman Islands set aside as conservation areas, the country is in danger of losing a significant number its unique species because of the loss of the critical habitat.
If the National Conservation Law is passed, the DoE will have the opportunity to try and protect a little bit of this crucial habitat and Ebanks-Petrie has said that there are six endemic species which are confined to very, very limited areas on Grand Cayman that will be the department’s first priority. Although there are no guarantees that the DoE will be able to save them from extinction, with legislative power there is at least a chance.
The pygmy blue butterfly (left) is one of the tiniest butterflies in the world and the subspecies found on Grand Cayman is close to extinction. Both the butterfly and its habitat are now critically endangered. It was first discovered by scientists in 1938 and was not documented again until 1985, when two colonies were located on the north and west coasts. In 2002 a colony was also found at Midland Acres. The butterfly is found only in salt–marsh areas where its larval food plant, Glasswort, Salicornia perennis, is found. The DoE hopes to be able to protect in law the tiny areas on Grand Cayman where the pygmy is believed to be surviving.
The white shouldered bat is one of nine species of bat found in the Cayman Islands, none of which have any legal protection. It eats fruit and lives only in Cuba, Hispaniola, Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac. This species is extremely rare and elusive and was not seen alive in Grand Cayman for many years until it was rediscovered by wildlife biologist, Anne Louise Band, in a small remnant patch of forest in Lower Valley in April of 2000.
The critically endangered inkberry or bay balsam (right) is threatened by competition from invasive landscaping plants, such scaevoala sericea, and the plant is currently confined to one small area on the northern shore line of East End. Tea banker, a local type of mint, is currently part of an emergency conservation action programme. Also threatened by scaevoala sericea, tea banker, which once flourished on the coast, is now confined to one area in the district of North Side.
The pisonia margaretea, a small shrubby tree that forms suckers and thickets, is found only in Spotts and nowhere else in the world. It was discovered in 1993 and named by Dr George Proctor in 1995. The Botanic Park has been attempting to save the tree from extinction and it is now growing in locations within the park similar to its natural habitat in Spotts, which the DoE would hope to protect with the help of the NCL.
Finally, Old George, a unique bromeliad which lives solely in the Ironwood Forest in George Town, a tiny piece of green left on the edge of the country’s capital, which is also home to the country’s rare and beautiful ghost orchid, is fighting for survival.
Currently there is no legal requirement for anyone to take any of these critically endangered species and their habitats into account when developing. Ebanks-Petrie explained that the NCL seeks to provide government with the tools to protect, conserve and manage natural assets such as these in the face of future development.
“On land masses as small and fragile as our islands and without any form of protection whatsoever we are effectively relegating these species to eventual extinction,” she said, emphasizing yet again the desperate and pressing need for Cayman to enact the National Conservation Law. She pointed out that because so much of Cayman’s native flora is slow growing and has limited habitat nearly half – 46 percent — of it is threatened with extinction.
Both the country’s national flower, the banana orchid and the national tree, the silver thatch are endangered, with many more species on the critically endangered list. The DoE director pointed out bluntly that, when it comes to danger lists for flora and fauna, after “critically endangered” there is only extinction left.
The next DoE public meeting about the law is this evening Thursday 8 July at Elmslie Memorial Church Hall, George Town. The team will be in Little Cayman on Saturday 10 July at National Trust House and then on Monday 12 July at John A. Cumber Hall, West Bay, before heading to East End Community Centre on Tuesday 13 July with the final meeting on Thursday 15 July at the Aston Rutty Centre, Cayman Brac.
The Chamber of Commerce will also be hosting the DoE at a special ‘Be Informed’ session at The Westin Casuarina on Wednesday, 14 July 3-5 pm in the Galleon Ballroom. To register please go online at
Anyone can show their support for the NCL by emailing the Department of Environment at and offer your support or log on to the comment form at on the DoE website
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  1. Ray says:

    This has been talked about, reviewed and revised for over 10 years. It may not be perfect. No law really is, such that everyone is pleased. It is a simply a law to allow protection to be considered where needed. It compels the decision makers to take the environment into account. If in a few years it is found that some particular section or word(s) need to be amended, it can be. It is not written in stone. But if we wait longer until "everyone" agrees with every clause, there will be nothing left to protect. Then what will we tell and show our descendants?

    Has the Marine Parks not shown us all the benfits of some environmental protection?

    An earlier comment asking for local plants to be used in gardens is something that we should all be considering. Not only because it keeps the species going, but also because we would likely find that ongoing care is a lot less expensive (time & money) than using fancy imported plants which the harsh climate is likely to kill off anyway.

  2. Anonymous says:

    cant we buy cuttings of these plants and try and grow them in our gardens? 

  3. david Miller says:

    It seems that all we need to stop the extinction of a couple of plants, bushes or trees is get people who are interested in the environment to replant them in their property. We have somewhere in the region of 700 plants and trees  500  are not from here. Should we cut them down? Is that the real reason we are losing endangered plants.                                                    The world has forgotten that man has been changing the environment for 1000’s of years. From the first time he started exploring he brought back something different from somewhere else to plant it in his yard. Whether it was different coconuts,bananas,australian pine tree from australia or the royal poinciana from madagascar.                                                          A lot of people on this island , don’t know including caymanians, that are coconut trees was going extinct in 1834 due to a grub eating the root of the tree and other diseases. So where did the coconut trees come from that we got now? Southeast asia. How about those sumptuous mangoes? india.                                                                                                                    Stop blaming development for the environment . Get nurseries to create a program to sell the plants or bushes in their stores. Show interesting things about the plant ,like this plant brings this particular butterfly to your yard and its from here. Make it a conversational piece with people who are into the same interest.                                                                              Stop making more laws that kills the goose that lays the golden eggs," Development"

    • Anonymous says:

      Finally someone other than those who can’t see the forest for the trees. Good job David.

      With so many countries trying to attract investment in order to bring their people out of poverty, the extremist green mafia hear want to drive away development and drive our people in to poverty. They either don’t realise how much development contributes to our local economy directly or indirectly or the don’t care about "those" hard working people that are not working for off shore finance.

      They are using scare tactics to frighten Caymanians in to believing the country is running out of green space when in fact we are mostly undeveloped. The fact is we have been respectful of our land, now they want us to give them the authority to tell us what to do with it because they know best.

      If you want to control development on a piece of property, buy it. The Caymanian people are quite capable of deciding how best to utilise their property. If you don’t believe in that principal move to Venezuela, Cuba or China.

  4. whodatis says:

    The UK (and many other European countries as well) now has literally hundreds of square miles of protected and untouchable coastline.

    Why is conservation such a difficult issue in the Cayman Islands.

    Our stakes are higher, our natural beauty and its preservation is the foundation of our economy, and it is in far less supply than most other destinations.

    Why is this rocket science to our leaders?

    People, our ability to resist the temptation to build and develop at every given opportunity will prove to be our STRONGEST selling point in the coming years.

    Lastly, kindly leave the eastern districts as is.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yes!!! Let’s get this law passed now!  This will stop all of the rampant development, if we had this in place a few years ago, we wouldn’t have Camana Bay, the Ritz, or Westin!

  6. Anonymous says:

    I would strongly encourage everyone to read the actual proposed law before offering any comment on whether it is good or bad. Read it and form your own opinion. It should only take about 20 minutes of your time.

    The folks at the DOE who have written the proposed law have put a lot of work into it and would like to see it become law. I certainly do not think that the draft legislation in its current form is all good, there are a few serious problems with some administrative sections of it in my view, but these can easily be fixed and should not delay the legislation. 

    That is my view but please everyone, don’t accept anyone else’s views on whether this proposed legislation is good for Cayman. Don’t listen to the scare stories coming from either of the extremes. Read the proposed legislation,  and then decide for yourself whether there are any changes that you would like to be made. If you would like changes let the DOE and your MLAknow. That is what public consultation in a democracy is supposed to be all about. There is still plenty of time between now and when the Bill goes to final reading in the LA to make the Conservation Law the best legislation that it can be.

  7. George says:

    Until the shetty hospital and the port are under way, this will never happen. Sadly… they just rape the land and don’t see the consequences of there actions.

    • Green Mango says:

      Well, not with an attitude like that. If you think the rules should change, the pillaging stop, then write in and say so. Otherwise all you’ll hear is "not enough people supported the law so we didn’t pass it". Even if you think they’re out to torpedo the law don’t give them the ammunition. I mean, really, how hard is it to fill out an online form? Work the system, man, don’t be worked over by it.