The long awaited National Conservation Law, providing protection for Cayman’s endemic and endangered species, including sharks, and elevating the importance of environmental considerations in future development, may be passed by the end of the year, Premier Alden McLaughlin said.
It’s a promise that those who have been pushing the bill for more than a decade have heard from legislators before. The bill, a framework for protecting the Cayman Islands’ natural resources, was first drafted in 2002 and has gone through several revisions without making it into law.
Dive industry leaders and environmental watchdogs this week welcomed the announcement from Mr. McLaughlin that it would be debated in the Legislative Assembly before the end of the year, saying they were confident it would be passed now that the “political will” was there.
Steve Broadbelt, owner of Ocean Frontiers dive shop in the East End, said, “I am delighted to hear the law will finally go to the House and hopefully come into law. Most people in the dive industry wholeheartedly support the proposed law and feel it is about time that Cayman takes a sustainable and long-term approach to protecting our natural resources.
“Without our natural habitats on land and under the sea, our tourism product is nothing. Our reefs can compete on the highest levels throughout the region, but if our resources are not protected and managed, we will end up like every other destination in the region, relying on only blue skies and sunshine to attract tourists, not exactly a rare commodity in the Caribbean.”
He said the efforts of the Department of Environment and some politicians in drafting and implementing the bill, despite its unpopularity in some sectors, were appreciated.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the DoE, said the department was “extremely encouraged” at the level of commitment shown by the current government to bring the draft bill into law.
“This will provide much-need protections for our endemic species and critical habitats and will be an important step in ensuring that the environment is given appropriate consideration in national decision-making processes.”
The Cayman Islands has a wide range of endemic species, from rare varieties of snakes and iguanas to plants like the critically endangered ghost orchid, currently not protected by law. There is also nothing in current legislation to protect large swathes of environmentally important land, including mangroves.
The law has stoked controversy over the years with opponents warning it will take away property owners’ rights and reduce development potential.
Outlining his government’s priorities before the Legislative Assembly on Monday, Mr. McLaughlin said he expected the law, essentially the 2009 draft prepared by the previous People’s Progressive Movement-led administration, to pass without hitch.
“The long-awaited National Conservation Bill will be brought to this honourable House before the end of this year,” he said. “This important legislation has the support of my caucus, and we have ensured that the Department of Environment will be in a position to support this legislation once it is passed.”
He added: “We do not anticipate significant amendments, and we look forward to unanimous support for this seminal legislation.”
Mr. McLaughlin said the government would also expand consultation on proposals to enhance the current system of marine parks.
“The future for our marine resources is bleak without decisive and timely corrective action,” he said. “An appropriately configured and enhanced system of marine parks is the best tool available for actively managing our marine resources in order to achieve fisheries’ sustainability, biodiversity conservation, and ecosystem resilience, in the face of the existing and emerging threats.”