The Department of Environment has warned supporters of the proposed changes to marine parks in the Cayman Islands that the expansion of the parks is not a done deal.
The proposed changes to the boundaries and protections offered by the parks, which were first established 25 years ago, are intended to safeguard Cayman’s reefs and fisheries. But according to Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, there has been a deafening silence on the part of the supporters of the changes.
“I think the majority of the people do support what we are trying to do, but the problem that we face, not just on this issue but on a lot of issues that we are trying to promote, is that the people that support us appear to think that it will happen and that is not true. If the people who support what we’re doing don’t speak up, I can tell you this will not happen,” she said.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie was speaking during a presentation to the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Friday, 2 November.
She said that the proposed changes ran the risk of being weakened or written off completely due to what she described as a “vocal minority” creating the impression that their view is the view held by the majority of people in the Cayman Islands.
“One of the reasons we are making such an effort to get this information out to the public is because we really need public buy-in because we think that by having the public understand the reasoning behind what we are trying to do, hopefully they can then be more accepting of what we are trying to do, and then hopefully that will mean that they will become eyes and ears for us as well and there will be a certain amount of self policing going on,” said Ms Ebanks-Petrie.
Although the public consultation meetings concluded on Tuesday 6 November, people may provide feedback on the proposed changes through forms available from the Department of Environment. The forms allow people to support or reject the changes, or make their support conditional on certain suggestions for modification of the existing proposals.
The public consultation period is scheduled to conclude on 23 November, after which the department will look to take on board the suggestions received.
“Once we get the feedback we will take the feedback we get from the community and incorporate it where we can into these proposals so that the final proposals take account of the really difficult issues for people, but hopefully still meet the goals that we are trying to meet in terms of our amount of shelf under protection, etc.,” Ms Ebanks-Petrie said.
She said that the department was aiming to present Cabinet with the final proposals by late January to early February.
“It really is a Cabinet approval; it doesn’t have to go to the Legislative Assembly as it is a regulation change. It is feasible that this could be done by March. Then we will have a new system of parks that will hopefully protect our resources and our way of life for another 25 years,” she said.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said that one of the biggest challenges they faced during the community meetings was that some people view the expanded protections the new parks will offer as more being taken away from them.
“What we’re trying to do is put areas under protection so that in the future there will be something left to take, because if we don’t, there will not be anything left,” she said. “We can continue to monitor the decline, we can come back next year and tell you how much worse it is, but at some point we will have to stop being in denial.”