Tourism industry backs conservation bill

Cayman’s tourism industry leaders have thrown their weight behind the National Conservation Bill, saying protecting the island’s natural environment is critical to the long-term sustainability of the industry.

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association endorsed the proposed law, which will go to the Legislative Assembly this week. Nearly 90 percent of tourism operators surveyed by CITA, including hoteliers, tour operators and SCUBA clubs, backed the bill.

The association, which represents the interests of private tourism businesses, identified ‘protecting the environment’ as one of its key priorities for 2013, to ensure visitors keep coming to these shores.

“The Cayman Islands tourism product has benefited for decades from our leaders’ recognition and protection of our ocean environment and the establishment of marine parks more than 25 years ago,” said a spokeswoman for the association. “CITA advocates the government’s full enforcement of those laws currently in place and supports the National Conservation Law’s intent to provide the same level protection for the terrestrial eco-system and vigilant enforcement of laws affecting both the land and marine environments.”

CITA held a General Membership Meeting on Dec. 2, where Department of Environment officials gave a presentation on the National Conservation Law with a question-and-answer section.

The Department of Environment has been meeting with private interest groups, including the Cayman Contractors Association, as well as holding public meetings on the bill in districts throughout Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac.

After reportedly encountering apathy in West Bay and anger in Bodden Town and North Side, Minister Wayne Panton and DoE officials faced a far more sympathetic audience in George Town on Thursday.

The officials accepted that the bill had been “watered down” to the point where it was much weaker than similar legislation in other jurisdictions.

“We all accept that in the knowledge that hopefully as we operate the law and people see that it isn’t as draconian as the detractors are making out, that we can amend the law when we need to, to make stronger positions – long after I’m gone,” said director of the DoE Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

Environment Minister Wayne Panton said one of the most significant changes from the 2004 draft of the bill was to move power “upstream” from council to Cabinet, which has ultimate authority on most points in the Bill.

He said the government had to work with what they had in terms of the current draft.

“It would be difficult having gone through the process of the last ten years and the public consultations and conceded the various points that we have to now go back towards the 2004 draft which would have given the council a lot more power.”

But he admitted that other territories had stronger legislation.

“I have spoken to a number of my peers around the overseas territories on the issue of what sort of environmental conservation regimes they have in place and it is quite embarrassing that they actually have legislation whereas we don’t for terrestrial conservation. They have quite strong legislation.”