1986 plan was a good start, except for Cayman Brac
Fishermen in East End will have yet another chance to speak with Department of Environment staff about proposed changes to the Cayman Islands’ marine parks system.
At the scheduled district meeting on Wednesday night, DoE director Gina Ebanks-Petrie was asked for “a round the table discussion” with fishermen in addition to that night’s public meeting format of presentation- questions-answers.
Her immediate answer was “Yes … we definitely want to meet with the fishermen and hear what absolutely would not work for them and why.”
Marine parks are not just for the benefit of the tourism industry, she pointed out. “In fact, we’re trying to ensure that, going forward, fishermen will have something to catch.”
Several men suggested 3pm on a Saturday and Delmira Bodden, community officer, promised to make the arrangements.
Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie offered to meet people individually or in groups. She also invited them to the DoE headquarters to give their input.
She reminded her audience that a series of district meetings was held in September 2011 to ask opinions about changes to improve marine park regulation. “We genuinely want to know your thoughts,” she said. Later, noting the limited number of conservation officers, she observed, “Without the support of the public we’re not going to be able to impose the rules.”
Wednesday’s meeting in the United Church Hall began with attendees inspecting maps on display and discussing them with DoE officers. A slide presentation followed, with Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie reviewing the marine park system put in place by law in 1986. Since then, Cayman’s population has doubled, tourism arrivals have quadrupled and the marine environment has been threatened by climate change and invasive species, such as the lionfish.
The impact of some things, such as global warming, cannot be controlled, she said: “We need to focus on impact we can manage.”
Some of the impact of divers, for example, is managed through a series of almost 365 moorings for dive boats to tie up to around the three Islands rather than drop anchor, the director pointed out.
Fishing is another impact that can be managed with the public’s support, she indicated. There is concern for both the kinds of fish being taken and the size. Larger fish are valuable because they produce more young, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie said. Certain kinds, notably parrot fish, eat algae. If they and other herbivorous fish are removed, there will be more algae and, as a result, less space for coral to establish, and then less habitat for fish and then fewer fish to catch.
Having monitored the marine environment for the past 25 years, the DoE now know what has worked well and where. The marine parks in Cayman Brac don’t work, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie acknowledged, because they are too few, too small, and put in the wrong areas. “We hope to redress the situation, provided we can get people to be into it.”
Later, commenting on districts other than East End, she said, “The Brac has some serious problems and we’d like to avoid that here.”
She said that Grand Cayman has a narrow shelf area – the distance from the shore to the drop-off. In that area are the mangrove, sea grass and coral reefs that serve as habitats for fish during their different life cycles. The best practice, as recommended after scientific research over the past 25 years, is to protect at least 40 to 50 per cent of that habitat.
A key proposal now is to have 18 marine reserves in which there would be no taking of marine life from the shore to a depth of 200 feet. Four such reserves would be in Little Cayman, five in Cayman Brac and nine in Grand Cayman. The present no-take area is to a depth of 80 feet.
There were complaints about people from other cultures taking ice chests full of sprats to eat while East Enders only took what was needed to fish, people on work permits for construction fishing five or six days per week.
One man declared, “I will support [the proposal] if it’s put in that no one coming here to work be allowed to catch anything from the shore line.”
A separate but related issue was turtle grass. Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie pointed out that Cabinet is the body that approves the removal of turtle grass. She said she had met with East End Member of the Legislative Assembly Arden McLean and they discussed the need for a swimming hole. As far as she knew the proposal was moving forward. But Mr. McLean, who was present, revealed that he had received a letter from the deputy premier – the minister responsible – “refusing to do anything about it.”
When the topic came up again, Mrs. Ebanks-Petrie told the gathering, “It’s now in the hands of your politicians.”
Marine Park public meetings continue Monday, 29 October, at the Aston Rutty Centre in Cayman Brac; Tuesday, 30 October, at Little Cayman Beach Resort; Monday, 5 November, West Bay at the Turtle Farm; Tuesday, 6 November, Bodden Town Centre. All are set for 7pm.