It is yet another in a series of small steps. But it has moved government closer to realising its goal of establishing Barkers National Park – Cayman’s first environmental sanctuary on land.
The most recent step toward this is government’s purchase of a half-acre of family land from Leonard Ebanks. This brings the amount of land acquired for the park to some 95.5 acres, said a GIS press release.
Barker’s National Park spans some 261 terrestrial acres, as well as 2,036 marine acres that are already protected under the Marine Parks Regulations. The West Bay land is proposed to be Cayman’s first national park.
Samuel Rose, Deputy Chief Officer in the Ministry of Environment, thanked Mr. Ebanks for selling the land to help preserve the environment.
‘The people of Cayman and West Bay are so deeply connected to this land,’ Mr. Rose observed.
‘Barkers National Park should be preserved as it is an ecologically sensitive and culturally significant unspoiled area of our country,’ he said, pointing out that the area protects the West Bay area from coastal flooding.
Government is committed to maintaining a balance between the environment and economic development, Mr. Rose further noted.
He emphasised that government’s efforts to acquire land for environmental conservation are being carried out through a process of negotiations, adding that meetings have been held with landowners to explain the purpose of creating a protected area, and to determine their willingness to sell.
‘The Barkers region of Grand Cayman represents a unique, diverse and environmentally valuable coastal eco-system in the Cayman Islands that despite considerable development pressure throughout the majority of the peninsula, has remained largely undisturbed,’ noted Director of the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie.
‘The proposed park contains a prime example of low elevation Caribbean beach ridge vegetation, a native and diverse coastal forest community of ironwood, silver thatch, wild cocoplum, broad leaf and other species,’ she observed, adding that ‘the beach ridge itself will provide burrowing ground for the planned re-introduction of the endangered endemic Grand Cayman Blue Iguana.’
Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie pointed out that ‘in addition, two ponds – sea pond (a brackish pond) and palmetto pond – together with an extensive mangrove wetland area, provide feeding, breeding and passage grounds for a variety of bird species.’
Pointing to the ecotourism value of Barkers National Park, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie observed that the ‘geographic location of Barkers affords the distinct advantage of being both isolated (surrounded on three sides by water) and within reasonable distance from the main hub of Seven Mile Beach.’
In explaining the decision to share his family’s legacy with all Caymanians, Mr. Ebanks said, ‘This property is just a small parcel, but it is of great sentimental value to my family.
‘It is very important that we balance the economy and the environment,’ he said, adding that ‘with the rapid economic development taking place in the Cayman Islands, it is critical that we have green areas to retreat to and, more importantly, we need to protect the plants and animals which exist in these areas.
The property, located on the tip of the West Bay peninsula, was passed down to Mr. Ebanks and his sister by their mother. Their mother, whose maiden name is Farrington, had inherited the land from her father.
‘I don’t know how long this land has been in my family, but I remember many picnics and fishing trips there. And today I still take my grandchildren there,’ he said.
His family had vowed never to sell the property, but instead to pass it to future generations, explained the retired banker, whose family’s roots run deep in the heart of the Cayman Islands, extending over 300 years,.
‘I was happy when the government declared this region a protected area as it meant that future generations of Caymanians, not just our family, can now benefit from this rich piece of our heritage,’ he said.