National Trust warns of threats to wildlife, diving
Plans for a $2.5 million marina and new tourist villas on the grounds of the Alexander Hotel on Cayman Brac will help deal with a millstone that has plagued the tourist venue since it was built, according to hotel management.
Timothy Dilbert, the hotel’s general manager, said the stench from Salt Water Pond is a problem, not just for his hotel but for the island as a whole. But the hotel’s solution, which involves cutting through the reef to create a boat channel and marina, is troubling environmentalists.
The pond, which was declassified as an animal sanctuary in 2012, is understood to have environmental significance as a natural habitat for the West Indian whistling duck. The Department of Environment has expressed concern over the marina project and is briefing Environment Minister Wayne Panton ahead of Cabinet’s decision on whether phase one of construction can go ahead.
The National Trust has also raised objections, pointing out that there are already limited wetlands on the Brac and warning that the loss of part of the pond would result in the loss of a variety of species. The Trust also expressed concern about the plan to cut through part of the reef, which is within a marine park, and warned the development could damage nearby dive sites.
Mr. Dilbert said the smell and sight of the pond, which is partly covered in a thick layer of sludge, is extremely off-putting to tourists.
“If you go on Trip Advisor, you will see that when we are getting bad reviews, it is generally around the pond.
“When we have an outside barbecue, people come down to park here, get out the car, get right back in and drive away. When you have a business, that is a hell of a thing to see – it hurts.
“This here is something that has needed to be fixed for quite some time. You can’t just smell it from the Alexander Hotel; if you go any further west, people will tell you the same.
“We might as well take an opportunity to turn this thing into something that can help the island and the economy.”
The Alexander solution involves cutting a channel through a section of reef and across the existing road to establish the Brac’s first “safe harbor,” Mr. Dilbert said.
As part of the plan, the hotel is also buying property on the other side of the road and wants to build four new Cayman-style villas which will back on to the new marina.
Mr. Dilbert believes the marina would help attract new tourists to the island, particularly weekend boaters from Grand Cayman.
He said the hotel was unlikely to make much money from the project and was simply trying to do something for the Brac economy and deal with the pond problem at the same time.
He acknowledged that the plan might face opposition from those with environmental concerns, but insisted, “We’re Brackers. We are stakeholders in all three environments – social, economic and natural. This is home for us; we are not going to do anything irresponsible. We are getting people that know this stuff to tell us what to do.”
He said he is confident that the Brac is a “great product” but not enough people know what it has to offer. He believes the tourism industry needs a boost that the marina could provide.
“Seaports are still the most popular point of entry into just about every Caribbean island. Domestic travel is what we are focusing on right now. People are so eager to get on their boat and do something. Right now, they go to Kaibo for the weekend. I’m sure those same people would love to come over to Cayman Brac,” he added.
A coastal works application for the first phase of the development – cutting the channel from the reef to the shoreline – was submitted in December and is currently being reviewed by the Department of Environment.
The National Trust has gone on record opposing the plan.
The Trust said in a statement: “The areas to be negatively impacted are environmentally significant in Cayman Brac, and include a Marine Park, a Replenishment Zone and one of the last remaining wetlands in Cayman Brac.
“It is for the above reasons that the Trust is not convinced that the proposed location on the southern side of Cayman Brac is the best place for a marina. Additionally, the Trust is of the opinion that any economic benefit that the developers hope to derive from the proposed marina will be far outweighed by the economic losses for the already declining Brac economy as a result of the imminent damage that will ensue for some of the best dive sites in Cayman Brac.”
The Dilberts issued a press statement Monday saying the National Trust’s comments were disappointing and “not based in fact”. They plan to make a full rebuttal to the Trust’s comments later in the week.