The Salt Water Pond on Cayman Brac could be stripped of its designation as the island’s only animal sanctuary.
A bill to amend the Animals Law, under which the pond is listed as an animal sanctuary, seeks to remove the protected area designation from the pond to enable “odour issues to be dealt with more effectively”.
Salt Water Pond, also known as Dennis Point Pond, is the only area of Cayman Brac to be classified as an animal sanctuary under the Animals Law. The pond is home to several bird species, including the endangered West Indian whistling ducks.
According to a memorandum of objects and reasons, which lays out the rationale behind the proposed amendment, “In recent times … an offensive odour has been emanating from the pond due to the decomposition of its organic material”.
The memorandum states that efforts have been made to eliminate the odour, but have produced “only temporary relief for surrounding residents”.
The bill, published in the Government Gazette on 23 April, will go before the Legislative Assembly for consideration.
The National Trust has called for a public consultation to be carried out before any action is taken to remove the pond’s protected status.
The Trust’s General Manager Christina McTaggart said: “The National Trust believes that before any decision is made, some public consultation should be undertaken, especially given that Salt Water Pond is the only designated animal sanctuary and one of the precious few wetlands on Cayman Brac. These wetlands are extremely important for a wide variety of local and migratory water birds and up to 500 snowy egrets and 250 tricoloured herons have been observed during the spring migration season.”
“In addition to its significant environmental value, the pond also contributes to Cayman Brac’s eco-tourism product. If the designation is removed from the pond, this would open up the possibility for development, which could in turn have negative effects on the bordering environmentally significant sites such as lagoons, Dennis Point and adjacent Marine Park and Replenishment Zone, of which the Brac has the smallest extent of the three islands.”
She added: “Given the obligations of the Cayman Islands government under various multi-lateral environmental agreements, to remove this designation without any public consultation or mitigation plan will set a dangerous precedent. If a decision is ultimately taken to remove the designation, another appropriate site of equal area should be simultaneously designated as an animal sanctuary or vested in the Trust for the purposes of protection.”
In November 2010, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment advised the ministry that the removal of protections of the “only remaining animal sanctuary on the Brac as extremely regressive from a national conservation perspective” and urged the government to consider its responsibilities under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Bonn Convention on Migratory Species and the Ramsar Convention on wetlands.
If a decision to remove the Salt Water Pond as an animal sanctuary goes ahead, the Department of Environment strongly recommended that “a wetland area of at least equivalent size and environmental value be acquired and designated as an animal sanctuary at the same time as Salt water Pond is de-gazetted”.
Although the department said it was willing to assist with the selection of such a site, Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of environment, said her department had not been consulted to date regarding the identification of an alternative site for protection.
A report on Cayman Brac sustainable development policies in 2003 named the Salt Water Pond, along with Haymond’s Pond, Red Shrimp Hole and nest areas for Brown Boobies, as environmental sites worthy of conservation. However, Salt Water Pond is the only area in Cayman Brac designated as an environmentally-protected area within the Animals Law. Westerly Ponds and an area of swamp between the ponds had previously been designated as animal sanctuaries under the legislation, but their protected status was removed in 1988 by amended land registration.
A change in the Salt Water Pond’s protected status appears to have been on the cards since August 2009, when Premier McKeeva Bush said at a public meeting on economic issues in Cayman Brac that his Cabinet, if requested, would approve the proposed construction of a marina and the dredging of Salt Water Pond to create a canal from the sea to the pond.
That development, even if given the go ahead by Cabinet, would also need to go before the Development Control Board of the Sister Islands. As of last week, the Development Control Board had not received any application to build a marina or dredge the pond, which is situated behind the Alexander Hotel on the west side of the island.