Cayman's coral reefs are under threat. - PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association is backing the proposed expansion of Cayman’s marine parks.
A public consultation on proposals by the Department of Environment to increase the sizes of protected marine areas ended on Friday, 23 November.
In a statement released by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, which represents hotels, condos, water sports operations, restaurants, attractions and other tourism-related businesses, the organisation said the Cayman Islands reefs and fish stocks are threatened today as never before and protecting only conch, lobster and grouper, which are protected under the existing Marine Conservation Law, is no longer enough.
“The importance of reef fish, stingrays, sharks, transient mammals, pelagics and coral reef health has been lacking under the current Marine Parks regulations and without new measures we will inevitably follow the same fate that Jamaica and Haiti now face, beyond the point of no return,” the CITA statement read.
The association pointed out that a healthy environment and coral reef systems are Cayman’s biggest asset and why “hundreds of thousands of tourists, residents and businesses live in or visit our islands each year”.
“Protecting the environment is not only good for the environment, but very good for all business and tourism in the Cayman Islands,” the statement read.
It continued: “CITA believes that most Caymanians are in favour of protecting their future and heritage, but not as many are prepared to take the actions needed today to ensure that there is a tomorrow. Minor adjustments and further consultation need to happen, and the most important thing is that the marine parks do not stay the same as that would in fact be a step backward.
“The concept that the Marine Parks is ‘taking away’ is incorrect; the marine parks are giving back and the expansions proposed will do just that – give back more healthy reefs, more fishing stock and more opportunities to make a livelihood from the seas.”
The association acknowledged that not everyone agrees on the details of the proposals to expand the marine parks, but that most people do not want them removed.
During its several public meetings at which it presented the advantages of expanding the marine parks and protecting more of Cayman’s threatened reefs, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment showed that the existing protections and reserves in place have had a positive impact, but that over the years, the health of the local reefs and fish stocks were slowly declining.
“We are facing new threats that did not exist 25 years ago, including continuing development, invasive lionfish, coral bleaching, climate change and more,” the CITA statement read. “CITA members are concerned about what our reefs will look like in the year 2037, 25 years from now.
“We all know that time will come, but won’t know until then if we protected enough, too much or too little – two of these outcomes we will be thanked for, the other held to blame.
“More marine park reserves, means more fish for divers, for snorkellers, for fishermen, for the health of the reefs. This has been proven by the Department of Environment studies over the last 25 years,” the statement read. The tourism association also pointed out that drawing boundaries outlining expanded marine parks were not enough, that there must also be resources assigned “to enforce and protect what is at risk”.
“Expansion of the marine parks, must include the enforcement provisions to safeguard our environment from poachers and violators,” the association said.
Feedback received during the consultation period for the draft proposals for expanding protection for marine life in Cayman will be incorporated into the proposals. Although there has been support from many quarters in Cayman for the proposals, there has also been some vocal opposition from fishermen who say the proposed restrictions will reduce their catches.
Protected marine parks were first established in Cayman 25 years ago, with the intention of safeguarding local coral reefs and fisheries.