A visiting scientist from the United Kingdom has been evaluating the value of the Mastic Trail in Grand Cayman to determine exactly how much it means to the Cayman Islands.
Research scientist Michael MacDonald from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds spent three weeks in Grand Cayman in December assisting the National Trust for the Cayman Islands examine the Mastic Trail and its surrounding forest to see how valuable it is in terms of its carbon storage, water lens and tourism.
“The idea behind what we are trying to do is look at conservation sites, for example, the Mastic Forest, to try to look at other things they provide in addition to conserving biodiversity – birds and plants,” Mr. MacDonald said. “The idea is to demonstrate the other things it provides, which we call ecosystem services.”
He added: “We try to put some kind of value on some of those things, though they’re not necessarily very easily valued – things like clean water, tourist income, harvested wild goods, like firewood, which they’re not collecting at Mastic Forest, but it’s things like that which are often not taken into account.”
Conservation sites that face threats are assessed in these kinds of studies to determine all the associated elements that would be lost if the sites were changed or destroyed.
“The reasons for doing this is because some of these sites are potentially under threat. The Mastic Forest has a gazetted road running past the edge of it that would increase access to some of that land,” Mr. MacDonald said.
The National Trust owns part of the Mastic Trail Reserve.
A 2005 development plan shows the proposed East–West Arterial road extension cutting across the southern portions of the Mastic Trail Reserve and the Salina Reserve – into which blue iguanas are released – on its way to the Colliers area of East End.
The Mastic Trail is a historic footpath that runs from North Side to the southern end of Frank Sound Road. It is one of the few accessible places left in Grand Cayman where the residents and visitors can explore the interior of the island. The National Trust manages 834 acres of the 1,300 acres of the Mastic Forest.
Mr. MacDonald’s studies examine what would be lost or impacted in the face of encroaching development from housing and roads and also considers what the site would look like if the National Trust had not purchased the forest and it was developed privately instead.
He plans to finalise his report during the first half of next year.
“It’s a really valuable resource for Cayman,” Mr. MacDonald said of the Mastic Trail.
Using a fast-assessment system called a Toolkit for Ecosystem Service Site Assessment, or TESSA, developed by the Cambridge Conservation Initiative, Mr. MacDonald is also assessing the economic value of the Mastic Trail, in terms of the carbon storage capabilities of the forest, the tourist dollars it brings into Cayman and the water lens in the area.
The exact economic value of the Mastic Trail has never been determined, but in the past other tourist attractions have been evaluated. For example, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association has estimated that the gross revenues from Stingray City and Stingray Sandbar tours by operators exceeds US$30 million a year.
“We’re looking at the things that the Mastic Forest might provide. The three main things are, one, tourist value, we’re asking people how much they’ve paid to go on a tour and whether they’d still go if the land was changed and if they’d still walk the trail and a handful of people said they’d still do it; and two, carbon storage, we’ve been out measuring trees and looking at the net benefits, looking at if, for example, this was turned into a fruit plantation then there would have some kind of carbon storage value but it would be smaller,” Mr. MacDonald said.
“The third thing is the water lens that runs under the Mastic Forest. Some people on the northern part of the island get water directly from a well, some of it at least. We are considering how the Mastic Forest might contribute to the maintenance of that water lens and the benefits that it provides to local residents,” he added.