Can we at least save Little Cayman?

Jared, my young son, points frantically at a sea turtle casually passing us by. He then points even more excitedly at a huge barracuda slicing through the water above us like a slow-motion torpedo. I can see Jared’s mask fogging up, probably the result of stimulation overload. I smile and then point out the gorgeous eagle ray soaring just ten yards ahead of us. It’s a magical moment and we’ve only been in the water no more than ten minutes!

Yes, I enjoy seeing the marine life and swimming free in warm, clear waters, but it’s the shared experience with my son that matters most. I believe it’s a simple yet profoundly important act as a parent by showing this to my child and enlightening him about the other Cayman, the one that exists just offshore. If we had seen so many beautiful and interesting creatures at one time anyplace else it would have to be considered astonishingly rare luck. But not here. In Little Cayman’s waters, seeing so much life at a single glance is the norm. The specific place we explored that day was “Bloody Bay”, one of the world’s top-ranked dive sites. There is great beauty to be found throughout much of the Cayman Islands, of course, but this one specific place seems to bring it all together for a singular and concentrated spectacular presentation. Too bad it’s doomed.

The sad truth is that Little Cayman’s offshore treasures will soon be in the crosshairs, sure to decline and degrade to mucky mediocrity as “progress” comes ashore. Some of the threats to places like “Bloody Bay” are global and beyond our immediate control. We can’t do much about climate change and ocean acidification, for example. Other problems, however, originate with us and demand introspection. In my opinion, Grand Cayman is the real-world experiment that has played out far enough at this time for us to come to the conclusion that we lack the will and/or intelligence to live in a sustainable manner. We are squandering in mere decades an irreplaceable marine environment that took millions of years to evolve. It’s a head-scratcher for sure as to why we can’t learn from the examples laid out before us. So many other societies have mindlessly raped and pillaged their natural environments as if they were infinite and tomorrow would never come, only to discover the hard way that air, water, animals, plants and land actually do matter to the quality of human life.

The public may not have been consulted, but it seems clear to me that Grand Cayman has already been sacrificed to the twin gods of capitalism and growth. The degradation of Grand Cayman’s marine environment over the last 30 to 40 years is heartbreaking. It is a crime as unforgivable as it was unnecessary. The myopic and twisted mentality that guides “development” on the country’s largest island is strange indeed because it pursues at once the conflicting goals of environmental destruction and environmental tourism. We spoil the marine environment by allowing buildings to cast shadows over the best beaches, pouring toxic waste into our waters, and ripping up mangroves while simultaneously working to attract more tourists to come here and enjoy our marine environment. I would call this behaviour idiotic but that seems far too kind.

I propose that we make Little Cayman a national park—the entire island and all surrounding waters. It makes sense because Little Cayman is the least “developed” and has the smallest population. In short, there is still a chance for this island. The wise thing to do would be to pass laws designed to prevent the inevitable destruction and fouling of the natural environment and to freeze, if not reduce, the population. Little Cayman could be officially declared a precious natural resource, an untouchable “eternal wilderness” that we can never pave over and pollute. Why not? Would it be so bad if only two islands can have all the usual fast-food establishments and gas stations? Does Little Cayman really have to follow Grand Cayman in every way, so that one day it too can have numerous gift shops that sell authentic handcrafted souvenirs made in Central America? Those who love “Hey Mon” t-shirts and traffic jams already have Grand Cayman. They don’t need Little Cayman too.

It is certain that Little Cayman will go the way of Grand Cayman sooner or later without bold and intelligent action by somebody. And once lost, it will be gone forever. Yes, I know, there already are some meaningful conservation measures in place on Little Cayman. It’s not enough. If we can’t learn from the mistakes of other countries, can’t we at least learn from our own? It’s obvious that wise planning back in the 1960s and 1970s could have made Grand Cayman much cleaner, safer and attractive than it is today. So why not get it right this time? Why not keep one of our islands mostly natural and mostly protected from human excess? Just one. That would still leave Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, two large nests for us to foul—sorry, “develop”—to our heart’s content.

Wouldn’t it be nice if many years from now a parent and child could visit a healthy and alive Little Cayman to escape the relentless urban madness of future Grand Cayman and future Cayman Brac? They could walk the quiet roads, swim the still-clear waters and maybe even see some spectacular marine life. But for this to happen, the Caymanians of the present have to decide not to trade one of the world’s most beautiful natural environments for a few quick bucks.

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