By: Rory McDonough
The Chamber of Commerce is holding a neutral stance on the controversial cruise berthing facility debate, while encouraging government to do more homework in terms of the environmental and economic impact.
The Cayman Islands’ Chamber of Commerce has released its internal survey of member’s opnions and comments on the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) that was prepared by W.F. Baird & Associates Coastal Engineers Ltd in regard to the port development.
Considered in their discussions were factors such as the environmental damage and the knockon effect it would have on other local industries and cruise tourism numbers, the competetion from other islands in the region and the fact that Cayman is the only major cruise destination without a major berthing facility.
The Chamber recognised that the cruise ship industry and the cargo port are important economic drivers but many memebrs’ comments included in the release also expressed their concern, two separate online surveys in October 2014 (included in the EIA report) and June 2015 over the negative effects this proposed development would have on the country’s environment and economy.
“Grand Cayman’s nearshore marine resources, its beaches, coral reefs and clear waters are vital to its economy and the quality of life of its residents and visitors alike. This plan will destroy coral reefs and put more at risk. It is bad for the environment, Grand Cayman as well as the cruise industry,” said one such comment.
On the side of port development one member commented, “Cayman is the only sizable cruise port in the Caribbean without berthing facilities. Competition amongst ports is getting more significant and Cayman is complacent that the cruise lines will keep coming here. A number of external factors will change the nature of the cruise industry over the next 10 to 20 years and Cayman could be a big loser.“
The comments with concerns about the proposal were more prevalent in the release however. “I think that any dock proposal that I’ve seen so far will have too many deleterious side effects to the harbour’s reefs and long term clarity. My hope to revitalise our economy by restoring our reef fish population would have a big set-back from this. Stay-over visitors will be repelled as well as Caymanians” stated one such member. “We must strive for quality over quantity and not sell ourselves for a few dollars,” added another.
The Chamber Council stated that it believes that the development of the Environmental Statement and EIA are steps in the right direction and have instigated a national debate on the development of this industry sector. “We believe the debate should continue so that the Government can determine the course for the Cayman Islands tourism product and to develop a national tourism strategy for cruise and stayover visitors.”
Striking a balanced tone in its summation the Chamber Council recommendedthat “the area of live coral that will be affected is measured and confirmed so that a true cost for the mitigation can be properly assessed rather than estimated.” The statement went on to say “We believe that before deciding to invest millions of dollars in cruise berthing facilities and cargo dock improvements, the Government must be satisfied that the environmental risks are clearly understood and all efforts taken to mitigate the damages.”
The summary also reaffirmed the Chamber’s recognition of the importance of developing The cruise ship industry and the cargo port as “important economic drivers and contribute positively and substantially to economic development, attract millions of dollars in foreign exchange and provide necessary government revenue, jobs and private sector investment.
The Chamber Council supports the further development of the cruise sector and improvements to the cargo port as essential infrastructure initiatives.”