Time to save the land

The Chamber of Commerce, an organization committed to the economic health of our islands, is now focusing on ecological issues.

It recognises that what is best for the environment is also best for business.

It has published an Environmental Pledge and is sponsoring clean-ups and Earth Week activities throughout the islands.

I have signed their pledge to reduce waste and save energy, and will be part of a beach clean-up.

These may be important steps but they are not enough.

Unless the private sector and government step forward quickly with significant funding for land purchase for conservation, to be put in trust and legally protected for the future, there will be little left of the beauty that has been a part of life on these three islands for so long.

The clearing of the remaining native forests and wetlands may benefit individuals, but not the country as a whole. However, private property owners cannot be expected to bear the financial responsibility personally by not developing or selling valuable land. The community must find ways to purchase land at a fair price if it is to be saved. Reasonable compensation for land-owners is morally right, the best way forward and a political reality.

Land purchase takes serious funding – but serious conservation is in our own interest.

Angelyn Hernandez of the Chamber of Commerce has pointed out: “History has shown that communities and countries that neglect or fail to protect their environmental capital may in the short to medium term prosper, but in the long term struggle economically, as their natural resources become depleted and investors, visitors and even residents elect to go elsewhere. There are many examples of modern societies around the world that are now attempting to reverse years of harmful environmental practices and the depletion of their natural resources.”

Key words are Environmental Capital. The value of these last wild places to the economy and the well-being of this country far exceeds the short-term profits to be made from current development practices.

Funds are desperately needed if a meaningful amount of unspoiled land is to be saved. Who should provide these funds? Government? Business? Private individuals? A combination of the three seems the most reasonable. It is time for those with the financial ability to take action on behalf of the country.

Funds can be donated to Forests Forever administered by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands. Already, some businesses and individuals in the community have stepped forward, and with the help of government, some important natural treasures have been protected – but there is much more to be done.

There are a multitude of reasons to save wild places in their natural states. In addition to providing beautiful surroundings and enhancing the quality of life for us all, Cayman Islands’ local and migratory birds and other wildlife depend upon finding food in the ancient Ficus forests of Lower Valley, the eastern districts and the sister islands. Even George Town and West Bay still have patches of forest and wetlands. The animals and plants that live in these unspoiled areas are a part of the culture and traditions of the community and by eliminating them we eliminate our past and our future.

Forests, wetlands and native animals present an important economic benefit to tourism and real estate values. They also are part of a complex ecosystem that provides healthy reefs, good fishing, storm protection, fresh water table, rainfall and other seemingly unrelated, but intrinsically connected island features that we all depend upon.

The cost of protection now will be far less than the cost of repair later – and some things can never be replaced. Unless we, as a nation, find the will and the money very soon it will simply be too late.

Look around the islands. Do you see beautiful land still in its natural state? – How much longer will it stay that way if it is not purchased and protected?

The time is now – not in 10 years – or even five years. We all see the pace at which land is being cleared.

High ground is quarried to fill low ground, thus destroying both forests and wetlands. Forested house lots are cleared to a moonscape eliminating the potential for landscaping with native vegetation.

One day it’s there – the next day it’s gone. The responsibility rests with us today. We hold the power at this crucial juncture in time for the future of our islands.

The businesses, citizens and government of this country have the financial means to accomplish this – and indeed our future financial well-being may depend upon it.

Recycling is important, but it won’t save our forests and wetlands here.

Please think about what you can do – if you have the financial resources, please donate generously. If not, use your influence with potential donors and government to help raise the funds to do what must be done.

Lois Blumenthal

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