An international conservation organisation has given the Cayman Islands low marks in its assessment of environmental laws in all of the United Kingdom’s overseas territories.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds is urging the speedy introduction of local legislation to better protect Cayman’s environment.
In the first analysis of the 14 British overseas territories’ environmental laws, Cayman was ranked “weak” across all four categories the organisation examined.
The organisation published the report, titled “Environmental Governance in the UK’s Overseas Territories”, and presented it to the British government last month.
“Whilst some of the UK’s overseas territories such as Gibraltar have excellent environmental legislation, the gaps uncovered in this analysis are worrying and have the potential to allow damage to the environments and wildlife we are responsible for protecting,” said Tim Stowe, the director of international operations at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
“We hope this review will encourage the UK government to fulfil its ambitions ‘to set world standards’ in the overseas territories and begin a programme of work to strengthen the most pressing gaps in their environmental laws.”
The one million-membership organisation wrote the report in conjunction with the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development.
It assessed priority policy areas of biodiversity protection and development planning against widely accepted criteria of environmental governance. Gibraltar was ranked the highest, while the Cayman Islands and Pitcairn were lowest, determined to be “weak” in species protection, site protection, development control and accountability.
The assessment comes nine months after the UK government published its overseas territories white paper in which British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to “cherish the environments” and “help ensure their good government”. The overseas territories hold more than 90 per cent of the threatened wildlife for which the UK is responsible, including the Cayman Islands Blue Iguana and the Cayman Ghost Orchid.
“We are pleased to see that such a respected international organisation is urging better protection of Cayman’s biodiversity, which will hopefully enhance the level of protection offered by the National Trust, which is currently 5 per cent of the landmass of the Cayman Islands,” said Christina McTaggart, executive director of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.
Director of the Department of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie said she was not surprised by the findings. “These results come as no surprise to the DoE as we have been aware of these deficiencies for well over two decades and have been working tirelessly have them addressed, primarily through promoting the urgent need for the National Conservation Law which supports our national biodiversity species and habitat action plans, as well as provides a comprehensive framework for environmental assessment prior to development decisions and allows public engagement in all of these areas.
“Had the National Conservation Law been in place Cayman’s results would have been far more favourable.”
The report highlighted the lack of legislation requiring environmental impact assessments for major developments in environmentally sensitive habitats, pointing out that the long awaited National Conservation Bill would “remedy many of the most significant gaps in Cayman’s environmental governance, but remains stalled in the political process”.
The report offers seven recommendations including urgent action on stalled legislation. A follow-up report is planned for 2015 to measure progress.
The report’s brochure uses the Cayman Islands as a case study, outlining a number of major gaps in environmental protection. It points out that Cayman has the last large tracts of old-growth forest left in any of the UK’s overseas territories, and the largest contiguous mangrove wetland remaining in the Caribbean.
“The Cayman Islands are, however, still missing many of the basic elements of good environmental governance. The Cayman Department of the Environment is not recognised in any law and is not a legal entity. The department therefore has to rely on using pieces of other legislation and making non-binding recommendations,” the report states.
“Since there is no comprehensive conservation legislation to enable the establishment of protected areas, almost 85 per cent of the Central Mangrove Wetland remains without any protection at all,” the report continues.
It mentioned that five sites in the Cayman Islands had previously been designated as animal sanctuaries by the Cayman Islands government, but two have had their protection revoked, “setting a worrying precedent”. Two sites in Cayman Brac, which had been designated as animal sanctuaries, have been de-designated, including the Westerly Ponds and Salt Water Pond, also known as Dennis Point Pond.