By: Rory McDonough
The Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) warns government must find a better solution to protecting the coral reefs in the area for the planned cruise berthing facility. CCMI made its stance known when it released a statement regarding the controversial George Town pier development project.
The statement was initially released by award winning nature photographer Ellen Cuylaerts in a Facebook post on behalf of the CCMI board of trustees and staff. Since then, the post has been shared more than 40 times and has received a heavy response from locals and visitors alike. Referring to the proposed reef relocation mitigation plan noted in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), the group warned that their research had demonstrated that coral restoration is time consuming, expensive, and success can vary between species.
“As a board and as a group of (marine) scientists, we want the Cayman Islands government to find the best solution for the cruise industry that also carefully considers the good people of the Cayman Islands and our local businesses who rely on healthy coral reefs for their livelihood,” the group surmised. The post also stated, “Based on our research it is clear that:
- Survival of transplanted coral is highly variable for some species and unknown for others.
- All of the coral species on the most endangered species list occur in Cayman waters (7 endangered species are on the US list).
- Timing of removing corals is critical. Corals stress very easily, and any change in their environment makes them susceptible to disease and death.”
This announcement comes soon after the Cayman Islands Tourism Asssociation’s (CITA) announcement of disapproval of the proposed port expansion. With over 250 members, its membership’s representation derives from a plethora of different local industries that would be affected, from local dive operators, to the hotels and retailers on the waterfront, the majority of those within the organization chose not to back the proposed developments after analyzing the potential effects on the local biodiversity and environment listed in the port expansion’s EIA.
“There is a significant learning curve to making this work successful, and our team has had successes and failures,” said CCMI Board of Trustees Chairman Peter Hillenbrand. “One thing is certain, maintaining and transplanting rare corals is a much more daunting and difficult task than growing and transplanting terrestrial flora.”
“Based on this research, and the fact that coral reefs are one of the most dynamic, important, and endangered ecosystems on earth, it is the unanimous opinion of the board and CCMI officers that the Cayman Islands will need to find a solution that will better protect our endangered coral reefs.”
Whether or not this solution will involve the cancellation or continuation of the proposed port expansion and its environmental impact remains to be seen. Active campaigning from both sides with vested interests – one keen to see its execution and the other concerned about the environmental impact – will likely continue for the foreseeable future.