Old growth forest holds rarities

The British Government recently hosted an overseas territories environmental workshop at the Marriott Grand Cayman.

The three day agenda focused on strategies for placing an economic value on environmental habitat and evaluations.

The speaker, Pieter van Beukering, spoke about things like the impact of healthy marine resources on house prices and how every kilometre you go away from the beach, at least in Guam, the prices fall by $17,000 on average.

Frankly the whole thing felt rather subjective, unscientific and irrelevant. A lot of the information called for labour intensive and time consuming data collection and cost benefit analysis.

There were catchy phrases tossed around like ‘stakeholder engagement, social cultural value and decision support tool’ but it didn’t seem urgent enough for the environmental problems facing Cayman.

Every day millions of gallons of semi treated sewage and grey water is pumped into the ground in Cayman; every time you blink another patch of land is cleared of all tree life.

Ms Gina Ebanks-Petrie made the workshop make some sense, and brought it back into focus, when she asked how the valuation tools might apply to a remnant patch of old growth forest in George Town.

She explained how this 10-acre area of woods, which is Crown land next to the University College, is the last chunk of old forest left in the capital. It is home to many culturally important endemic species including ironwood trees, a rare endemic ghost orchid and a type of bromeliad that occurs nowhere else, other than in this forest.

She explained how Government is planning to put a road through the area.

Ms Petrie-Ebanks is hoping they can at least put the road along the edge, rather than through the heart of the forest.

‘The proposal would extend the road a little, making it slightly more expensive and the trip would be approximately 18 seconds longer for road users.’

Ms Ebanks-Petrie wanted to know how to place an economic value on this rapidly dwindling resource, so the department can show that it is worth protecting.

There were discussions about how the area could be made accessible to the public with pathways so the public could enjoy it.

In many cities there are large parks where the people can go and enjoy nature.

‘So what would be the social cultural value of such a park and how do you make an ecological evaluation? How much economic value can be attached to native trees and butterflies and birds and shady walks through an ancient first growth forest,’ she asked.

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