More information needed on dredging

More information regarding proposed channel into the North Sound has been called for from environmental and industry stakeholders.

These include the Save Cayman group, led by spokesman Captain Bryan Ebanks. Having formed around the Facebook site, the collective of seafarers and residents is seeking scientific proof that cutting into the reef could threaten 
Stingray City.

Mr. Ebanks noted that Professor Harry H. Roberts, a marine biologist of Louisiana State University, said there could be implications were the reef to be opened up.

“Dr. Roberts has made a report and he said if you open up any of the reef in the North Sound it will shift the sand and if you open up enough of it your national symbol [Stingray City] may disappear.

“This is a major part of our economy; it’s not just little boats going out for the cruise ships who are benefitting. Imagine all the buses that you see on the road have no North Sound to go to. What do they do with the buses? What do the families do? That money they make at Stingray City is spent in the supermarkets and grocery stores, they buy fuel and it trickles down.”

The group indicated in an email that it will meet with the Department of Environment to acquire an understanding of what would happen if a dredging took place and to obtain any relevant studies.

These include a 1975 document titled The Wickstead Report and a subsequent study that was done by the University of Tennessee. The group said it intended to solicit petition signatures at Cayman’s major shopping areas over the weekend.

Premier McKeeva Bush told the Compass that no work on the proposed project would proceed before a satisfactory environmental impact assessment had been carried out.

“We have reached a time and place where we have to utilise our national assets responsibly. We have to make sure to mitigate any damage and that all environmental aspects are properly covered.”

Sedimentologist

Professor Roberts works at the Coastal Studies Institute, Louisiana State University and has been researching Caribbean reefs, lagoons of Grand Cayman and geology worldwide since the late 1960s.

He is considered to be an internationally recognised expert on marine geology,   deltaic/carbonate sedimentology and reef processes.

Mr. Roberts told the Compass that he had studied the systems of Cayman during the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. “We were looking at the geology and sedimentology of North Sound and around the Island, the reefs and oceanography around the reefs. The reef is a barrier so every time you breach that barrier you allow more energy into the system. A channel could allow waves that are not shoaling and haven’t been degraded by the reef to enter the sounds and impact the shoreline.“Any time you open up a channel like that you affect the circulation in the sound. I would have to know the geometries of the channel, depth, width and direction and someone would need to numerically model the effects of that. It has the potential of making some changes but if those are significant or not is not for me to say at this point,” he said.

Sailing expert Stephen Pavlidis is a sailing expert and author of several sailing, cruising and nautical books and guides to the Caribbean.

He said that the primary reason Cayman does not attract more Mega Yacht traffic is because of the geographical location, which negates island-hopping as occurs in other territories.

“A dredged channel into North Sound would certainly open up your marinas to more boat traffic, especially mega-yacht traffic (and the dollars they will bring with them).“Eco-experts will give you a better idea of the problems of keeping the channel open, especially after a hurricane or fierce frontal passage during the winter,” said Mr. Pavlidis.

Neville Scott of Barcadere Marina noted that he is also awaiting further information and that environmental concerns are paramount to any project. That aside, he noted there are practical elements.

“The depth of the channel in North Sound largely limits the demographic of vessel owners who can come to Cayman, simply because not everyone wants to be tied off on a buoy, Quite the opposite, they want to be in a protected harbour where they can plug in, get water and have amenities they can use.”

The Compass contacted a number of other local stakeholders in the marine industry who declined to comment until further project specifications are forthcoming.These include channel width and depth, the construction of two new islands in the Sound and the length of the channel.

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