Reefs could be relocated to make way for cruise pier

A large area of coral reef that will be destroyed to make way for new cruise piers in George Town should be “relocated,” an Environmental Impact Assessment on the multimillion-dollar port construction project recommends. 

The report calls for coral to be moved to mitigate the economic and environmental damage caused to reefs in and around the harbor. It cautions that this would mean significant effort and cost – in excess of $13 million – without any guarantee of success. 

The Balboa shipwreck will be lost and neighboring reefs, including the spectacular Devil’s Grotto caverns off Eden Rock, a magnet for divers and underwater photographers, and the wreck of the Cali, will be impacted by “lethal and sub-lethal sedimentation levels” caused by dredging the harbor.  

The total damage to marine resources would cost the country between $100 million and $165 million over 20 years, principally from tourist spending on recreation and watersport activities in the harbor, the report estimates. 

It says this would be offset partially by diversion of tourists to other attractions and the larger economic benefit of the project. An earlier report estimated the piers would bring nearly 1,000 jobs and inject $250 million into the Cayman Islands economy over 20 years through increased cruise tourism. 

Coral relocation projects have been attempted in other areas, including Jamaica’s cruise port at Falmouth. The impacted area in Grand Cayman spans 15 acres, with the same size area impacted by sedimentation from dredging. 

The report, prepared by consultants Baird and Associates based on a year of research, dismisses concerns that Seven Mile Beach could be affected by sedimentation and suggests increased wave impact in George Town would be minimal. 

The proposed project includes two piers providing berths for four cruise ships, including two Oasis class ships. The project will not eliminate the need for some ships to tender, on days when there are more than four vessels in port. The report estimates a construction period of around three years. 

Some of the dredged material will be used to create a 7.7-acre piece of reclaimed land for shoreside facilities, potentially including shops, restaurants and administrative buildings. 

The rest of the dredged material would either be dumped at sea or processed on land to be sold as fill for construction projects, though the report notes that this would be a complex process. 

The report suggests that the port will bring a net increase in cruise passengers but no overall improvement in disembarkation rates, compared with the current tendering process. 

“The estimated peak disembarkation rate with four cruise ships at berth is 5,500 – 6,500 passengers per hour; this is similar to the capacity of the existing tender operation,” it notes. 

The principal environmental and economic concern highlighted by the report is the loss of reef in the harbor. 

“The development of the proposed project will have significant negative impacts on the marine ecology within George Town Harbour, in particular the coral reefs and associated habitat surrounding the project site.  

“In general, these impacts are directly related to the areal extent of the project and the volume of dredging, and the operation of large cruise ships in the nearshore area. 

“Key ecological impacts would include coral destruction, habitat fragmentation and reduced biodiversity development of the proposed project that would result in socioeconomic impacts associated with the loss of marine ecosystem goods and services.” 

The feasibility and cost of relocating coral reefs and the Balboa wreck would need to be investigated in detail by environment officials and government, the report states. 

“If the project proceeds, it is recommended that a significant coral relocation program be designed and implemented. The overall objective of the coral relocation program would be to mitigate/compensate for habitat destruction caused by the project.” 

But it warns, “A coral relocation program will not achieve ‘no net loss,’ and success is not guaranteed.” 

A public meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mary Miller Hall in Red Bay to officially present the report, which can be viewed now at 


Illustration of proposed cruise berthing facility in George Town.

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  1. The EIA confirms my opinion that the cruise ship berthing facility is a bad idea for the Cayman Islands.
    The cruise ship industry trend toward mega cruise ship construction has not become a reality. The few 250,000dwt ships remain the exception and not the future for the industry. The 110,000dwt ships we currently see continue to be the bulk of the vessels in the cruise ship industry.
    The risk to our environment is not worth the needless construction costs and risks. Using the money to sort out the dump would be much better for the country.

  2. This is what you call the height of economic nonsense, what is going to happen with all the business, that these underwater attractions that help draws people to their areas of business, what kind of guarantee that the Cayman Islands Government will get from the cruise lines after the cruise ship dock is built, and all underwater attractions are gone and destroy .

  3. This is the single biggest mistake I’ve ever heard of. Coral relocation? I wish I could really express my views on this idea. If this wont change the disembarkation rate. Whats the sense? When a bad storm comes the ships wont be able to stay anyway. So why destroy any more of our ecosystem just to please the cruise lines. Look at the damage they are already causing. I would love my children and grandchildren to enjoy diving as much as I do but at the rate we are going it soon wont make sense to even get wet.

  4. As another piece of Driftwood, well at least in the current CIG Terms.

    Even I can see that this is not at all worth the money, when it seems like it will only bring in around 12.5 Million Dollars a year and cause major destruction to so much of the marine environment as well as the loss dive sites. Why not just invest into making tendering a better more streamlined experience for cruise ship passengers in addition to beautifying and greening up the GT area when they spend most of their time. Cruise goers during the day and more after work activities in the evening along with rezoning the area so people can actually live in the area. Drop your pride and take a lesson from Camana Bay or even the Ironwood design. It shouldn’t take hundreds of millions of dollars to make that area work as a mixed use downtown.

    Cruise ship passengers like the shopping but they also love to sample local cuisine see things like like entertainment in a park and just sitting around enjoying the environment and relax. Right now GT doesn’t accommodate that type of experience.

  5. Wow , well looks like the best ideas would be to make a first class tendering service and allow other people to offer tendering service. Maybe tenders that protected people from the rain and sea spray. More tenders for sure and more tender piers . You wouldn’t have to move coral . Maybe a second tender pier area?
    Ships don’t have to get bigger for the problem to still be there. We sometimes have more then six ships in port. Why not ? We are still growing and cruise lines coming in may charge more when they offer more. Its the future.
    There are people who come in their super yacht and have no facility. Why not piers for yachts? Start with two maybe Camana Bay should be allowed to do it first. If the port authority would maintain channels properly ( dig them to proper depth) then super yachts could FIND and SEE them in day or night. Then maybe Cayman could have something that looks like a Monaco setting.

  6. One crucial thing missing here and that is input from the cruise lines.

    Ever since this debate started the cruise lines have been curiously silent. I wonder why that is?

    If, as seems dangerously likely, this goes ahead on the flawed premise that building the facility will automatically guarantee future cruise arrivals you could be seriously disappointed.

    Don’t believe me? Check out their 2015/16 schedules.

  7. Should we spend a ton of money to build something that will not significantly improve the disembarkation process but will definitely destroy our fragile ecosystem? IS THIS A RHETORICAL QUESTION?? Even a primary school child could answer this!

  8. Divers worldwide would see this as such an offensive crime against nature that they would head somewhere with a better ecological conscience!

    Build it in deeper water and spend the money on a fast Spotts/Georgetown monorail

  9. Wait…."diversion of tourists to other attractions"… What other attractions? A turtle -shaped ice rink? Captive dolphins? Destroy reefs? Destroy the marine ecology? You may as well be diverting tourists to other attractions…like Disney. This is a bad, bad idea.

  10. So cruise ship passengers are to be given preference to coral reefs? The area at Eden Rock is to become a concrete jungle and the sea life to be relocated. Am I reading this right? Surely the people of the Cayman Islands will NOT allow this to happen?

  11. It is very sad to see such short sighted thinking. As an avid diver, I make my assessment of dive destinations based on the environmental stewardship of the countries I visit and the quality of the dive sites. The whole concept of "relocating" a reef is ludicrous and a poorly veiled ploy to garner support for this ill-fated project.
    Your natural reefs and this dive site in particular, are treasures of tourism and there is no value to destroying them.
    Go ahead and destroy your reef, there are lots of other places in the world where marine life is appreciated and protected that I can visit.

  12. I think that these politicians need to be taken diving and done what they did in Mexico when the politicians wanted to destroy a live reef, and the people were against it , one dive company took the politicians down to show them that the is alive , each politician got a piece of fire coral put in their swimsuit then they all came back and yes the reef is alive, and the plan to destroy the reef was aborted.

  13. It’s not about being an eco wako, it’s about what that amount of money could really be spent on, and how you could improve the island for all tourists. The loss of reef is only one impact, as an oceanographer myself I know that scientists only truly know the impact of such a large project once it is built, and the knock on impact on other areas can’t be measured. By then it will be too late. Money needs to be spent on dragging George town into this millennium, it’s like Blackpool meets the Docklands without any of the fairground. Hopefully someone with sense will stop this stupid project. You can’t relocate reef on that scale. Go on the Atlantis glass bottom boat, look at what you are destroying, and for what? A sweaty walk instead of a sweaty boat ride… NOT WORTH IT. We have no right to tear apart the world like that.

  14. Reefs could be relocated ? – excuse me – April Fools Day was nearly two and a half months ago. On the basis of the Baird report, any contemplation of proceeding with they cruise dock as proposed would be verging on criminal stupidity. Anyone else tried to visualize the "footprint" of 15 acres of coral reef. If square, it would be 270 X 270 YARDS – you could fit the Truman Bodden Sports Centre on it with a lot of space around the edges.

  15. I wonder how many of the politicians pushing for the pier and saying it’s worth the destruction of these sites to bring in less than it costs to keep the Turtle Farm above water every year have ever actually been down to see these sites.

    Cayman is going to take a lot of heat over this from the local and international community. I expect to see petitions and protests soon especially since the silly season begins next year. But I am curious to see which of the politicians who love Cayman so much will be willing to rally the people against their own administration in order to support a save the George Town Reef initiative since its a majority PPM government and they are the ones pushing for pier as justifying the destruction of the reef.

    I’ve seen so many rallies and protest but they always seem to be started by a politician and for the most part when it’s politically warranted. Meaning it will get them votes..

    On the other hand is is equally possible that they never really had plans to actually build the pier after all we know Cayman has no way to pay for it themselves. This could all just be a ploy to gather more supporters by saying they do not support the Pier after the EIA.