by James (Jim) Hansen
For many years, the motto of the Cayman Islands has been “He hath founded it upon the seas.” It reflects a proud heritage of seafaring, boatbuilding, harvesting the catch from surrounding waters, promoting and supporting the exploration of the undersea world, and caring stewardship of the marine environment. How much longer will this original motto adequately describe Grand Cayman should a huge cruise dock be installed in George Town’s bay?
Developments in 2015
In June, the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) released an environmental impact statement that stated that the dredging process will destroy 15 acres of coral reef and likely harm another 20 acres. This area is home to two critically endangered coral species and four threatened ones. The area to be especially affected lies in the west, just off George Town, between Treasure Island to the north and Don Foster’s (formerly Parrot’s Landing) to the south. About 20 dive sites on the south side of Seven Mile Beach look to be in peril, as do 10 in and around Whitehall Bay and Hog Sty Bay. Eden Rock and Devil’s Grotto are in the cross-hairs.
In August, the Cayman Compass newspaper reported that a public consultation on the project revealed an overwhelming rejection of the proposal. The CIG Department of the Environment received 473 responses. Of that number, 347 objected and 111 supported the plan. This amounted to 73 percent and 23 percent of all responses, a ratio of more than three to one.
In September, the Cayman News Service reported that the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands (PACI) could become the main entity to manage the proposed dock development and collection of taxes to cover the costly project. The PAGI has a history of financial problems.
In October, the Cayman News Service revealed the cost estimate for the project to be between $150 and $300 million. As such, the CIG will need “serious commitment” (meaning serious money) from the cruise lines. The CIG plans for the project to begin before the general election in May 2017, and could take up to three years to complete. Premier Alden McLaughlin admitted serious hurdles to progress on the proposed cruise dock. Earlier in October, it was revealed that Cayman is broke after building a new high school and a government headquarters complex in George Town.
In October, the monthly diving publication Undercurrent reported this development in a short article called “Paving Paradise in Grand Cayman.” Throughout 2015 American diving and travel publications (with one other exception) have avoided this topic.
Comment from a Concerned Caymanian
In July, Mr. Bo Miller wrote in the Cayman Compass an eloquent argument against the proposed project. Some of his main points:
- Grand Cayman cannot handle any more development until adequate infrastructure is put in place.
- Are we prepared to sacrifice the very marine attractions which bring our visitors here in the first place?
- The risk and possible destruction of our marine environment far outweigh the purported and unsupported benefits.
- Protection of our marine environment must be enforced and expanded, and the seaport must be redeveloped in an environmentally sound manner.
- The environment is what will feed the next generation, not hedge funds. Our God-given natural attractions are far superior to the man-made ones.
- How are we going to pay for this? Cayman has total debts in the region of $1.7 billion and cannot borrow, according to the UK Government. (The FCO — Foreign and Commonwealth Office — in London oversees Caymanian matters.) Whoever funds the infrastructure needs of Cayman “will own our future.”
Observations of a Veteran Traveler and Friend of Cayman
I first set feet and fins in Grand Cayman waters in early 1970, when a total of 403 people visited the three Cayman Islands over the entire year. (A cocktail lounge on any mega-ship can take that many people in one night.) I remember well the traditional Caymanian character that featured self-reliance and care for the marine environment. My wife and I took our first underwater breaths here. As such, I have emotional ties to this place.
As I learned more about plans for this project during my last visit of September 2015, this struck me as a towering crime, marked by towering hypocrisy. Insatiable greed underlies this project. How much more money do you need? This project will destroy not only the golden eggs but the golden goose itself. It is a mortal sin — not just against Mother Nature but against the Creator Himself.
There are many implications for non-divers as well. What about the vehicle traffic in George Town? Would you Caymanians like to put up with that for several years it may take to build this, as well as thicker traffic in subsequent years? And for non-drivers…what about the noise, dust, and confusion of non-stop construction all around you?
The “pirates” that you see each November during Pirates Week Festival are harmless, but the real pirates are located in the Government Administration Building. Could it be that some of them have already accepted their payoffs and must now deliver on promises they made? If so, they have made Joe and Jane Diver walk the plank.
As close-up observers of the marine environment, divers have some responsibility to comment to others what is going on in the water. Don’t count on anyone else doing it for us. We are duty-bound and honor-bound to speak out. It is not enough to just say, “Well, I won’t go back.” Do whatever you can to stop this monstrous travesty, before the crystal waters turn dredge-brown.
While it’s late in the game, voice your opposition to these Cayman officials:
Hon. Alden M. McLaughlin, Jr., MBE, JP, MLA
Premier of the Cayman Islands
Hon. Moses I. Kirkconnell, JP, MLA
Minister of District Administration, Tourism & Transport
Hon. Wayne Panton, MLA
Minister of Financial Services, Commerce & Environment
Mrs. Helen Kilpatrick, CB
Governor (appointed by the Crown)