Lawmakers have voted to remove the protected designation of the only animal sanctuary on the Sister Islands.
Members of the Legislative Assembly on Monday voted to amend the Animals Law, degazetting the Salt Water Pond on Cayman Brac, which is also known as Dennis Point Pond, as an animal sanctuary. The pond is home to several bird species, including the endangered West Indian whistling ducks.
Deputy Premier Juliana O’Connor-Connolly told lawmakers the protected designation needed to be removed because the “stench” from the pond was offensive to residents in the area and to guests staying at the nearby Alexander Hotel, which was built beside the pond in 2009.
Ms O’Connor-Connolly said that removing the sanctuary designation meant that the pond could be cleaned of garbage and debris and sea water could be pumped into it without contravening the Animals Law.
All the legislators present at the meeting of the LA on Monday voted in favour of the amendments.
Environmental organisation reacted with disappointment to the news that the pond and its wildlife would no longer be protected under the law.
The National Trust’s General Manager Christina McTaggart said Tuesday: “Given that Salt Water Pond was the only designated animal sanctuary and one of the precious few wetlands on Cayman Brac, this is a huge loss. These wetlands are extremely important for a wide variety of local and migratory water birds – up to 500 snowy egrets and 250 tricoloured herons have been observed there during the spring migration season.
“Such areas are vital to the overall health of the Brac’s unique natural environment. We feel another appropriate site of equal area should immediately 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.
Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie said it was unfortunate that the hotel had been constructed on the edge of the pond.
She said the Department of Environment had advised the government that if the pond’s protected designation were removed, an area of equal size should be made available elsewhere for the protection of wildlife.
The amended law does not include a provision for any new specific sites to be designated as animal sanctuaries.
Members of the Legislative Assembly who spoke in support of removing the designation described the problems that local residents and business people had with the odours emitting from it.
“It has a horrible, horrible stench with the decomposition of organic matter, which affects not only the neighbouring residential properties but also the Alexander in particular,” said Ms O’Connor-Connolly.
The deputy premier said the amendment was needed “so that we in the government would be able to go and clean it up as has been done for many years and would not be confronted with the situation that obtained the last time when the District Commissioner was threatened to be incarcerated by another agency of the government and we trust we will see safe passage of this law to remedy that situation, which is quite annoying on the Brac”.
Previous efforts to pump sea water into the pond to clean it out were challenged by the Department of Environment officers who pointed out that such activities were not permissible within an animal sanctuary.
Moses Kirkconnell, the People’s Progressive Movement MLA on the Sister Islands, told fellow legislators at Monday’s meeting that private and public enterprises needed to work together to “encourage ongoing development in that area”, in particular the Alexander Hotel, which “has suffered because of not being able to have the smell and the pond itself cleaned out”.
He said there had been discussions about making another area available for animal protection elsewhere.
Premier McKeeva Bush also backed the amendment, saying Cayman’s tourism product “is one of the most important things to us in terms of our economy and Cayman Brac, being small as it is and difficult to keep the economy going, we have to do everything possible to make sure that from our tourism perspective the various properties… have all the support that we can give”.
Mr. Bush added that people in Cayman had to accept that they had “to give something to get something”.
“So, as much as birds or whatever it is they want to protect there, the place needs to be cleaned out,” said the premier, who described it as “a pity” that an earlier proposed development of the area had not gone ahead.
In 2009, Mr. Bush told 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.
At Monday’s meeting, he said removing the animal sanctuary designation would mean that the odour from the pond would no longer be carried on the prevailing wind to the Alexander Hotel, which is owned by local businessman Cleveland Dilbert.
“We talk about how we help or we don’t help Caymanians. Well, here’s an opportunity to really help one who has gone out and put their best foot forward, invested all their hard earned money in a property… We as a government, any government needs to do that, to be able to help a local entrepreneur when they are investing as Mr. Dilbert has invested.”
Ms O’Connor-Connolly said the removal of the sanctuary designation would bring relief to 55 residential homes, five apartments, one hotel and one commercial centre in the area.
“There have been expression of discontent for some time and we’ve tried to work that out with different agencies but because of the designation that it had, it caused a lot of friction whenever we tried to pump in saline solution or just try to clear debris that had congregated at the western end of the pond and this will now allow the Public Works Department to work as far as bringing in water from the sea during the dry season when it’s dried out and it’s a very, very untenable situation.”
She said her ministry had been looking for areas in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman that could be designated as a sanctuary to “balance development and environment.”
A report on Cayman Brac’s 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 on Cayman Brac worthy of conservation. Westerly Ponds and an area of swamp between the ponds had previously been designated as animal sanctuaries under the Animals Law, but their protected status was removed in 1988 by amended land registration.