Cruise piers: 'death sentence' for reefs

Plans for new cruise piers in George Town harbor met with strong opposition Tuesday as consultants laid out the environmental cost to coral reefs and the potential economic damage to the dive industry.

Around 200 people turned out at the meeting at Mary Miller Hall, Red Bay, to hear a presentation from Baird Consulting, marine engineers, on the environmental impacts of the proposal.

The majority voiced opposition to the plans, which will involve the destruction of 15 acres of reef, the loss of the historic Balboa shipwreck, and sediment impact on a large section of adjacent reefs.

“What I am seeing is a death sentence for huge areas of reef on the west side of the island,” said Sunset House owner Adrien Briggs, one of several dive industry leaders to voice opposition to the proposal.

Underwater photographer Courtney Platt said the project would severely impact snorkeling and glass-bottom boat tours, particularly on Soto’s Reef, which he said was the best shallow water site on the island.

“There is no alternative site. If we lose that 10,000-year-old reef structure we have lost something truly special as a tourism product for the very cruise passengers we are talking about.

“To me that is not worth the potential, relatively small increase in economy. When you weigh all the negatives you have just shown us … it doesn’t add up to me.”

The consultants estimate that damage to marine resources would cost the country between $100 million and $165 million over 20 years, principally from direct tourist spending on recreation and water sports activities in the harbor. A separate report has estimated a potential wider economic benefit of around $250 million over the same period, assuming the new berthing facility results in a 1 percent annual increase in cruise tourism.

Dave Anglin, of Baird Consulting, said, “I am not here to promote this project by any stretch of the imagination – our task was to identify impact, positive and negative and mitigation measures; it is not my decision.”

He said it was a complex site with significant constraints and challenges and recommended an updated cost-benefit analysis be carried out, taking into account the findings about the economic value of the reefs lost.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said the report and the feedback from the meeting would be factored in to the final decision on whether or not to proceed with the cruise port.

The consultation period extends to July 3. If the project proceeds, further engineering studies would be required before tendering for the three-year, $150 million construction job can begin. The new port could open for the 2019/20 cruise season.

At Tuesday’s meeting, dive industry veterans also expressed skepticism about the viability of a coral relocation project, proposed by the consultants to help salvage some of the marine habitat that would be lost.

“I’m going to be very frank – what you are proposing about moving the reef is probably a total impossibility. I don’t think it will ever happen,” said Peter Milburn, of Dive Cayman Ltd.

Mr. Anglin said any coral relocation project would be complex, labor intensive and expensive, and would not compensate fully for the lost reef. He acknowledged that the mooted $13 million price tag was the most conservative estimate and that no budget had been earmarked within the project funds for any coral relocation.

“It is not perfect, but if the project goes ahead you have to do it, I don’t think you have a choice.”

He said sections of reef could be cut away and moved en-masse to a new location.


  1. As part of the presentation the tourism minister is quoted (I was not there) as saying that Belize is getting a pier, Haiti, the Dominican Republic. All of our competitors in this region are building piers or already have piers that the ships can go directly to.

    The Belize project is still in the planning stages and passengers are currently getting ashore by tender. In fact the proposals there involve two cruise lines using separate locations and seem to be fraught with unresolved issues.

    In Haiti Royal Caribbean have developed Labadee, a 260 acre private beach resort. That is a bit different from a pier. They are also developing Tortuga Island as an exclusive cruise destination.

    The DR project is Amber Cove, due to open in October. The partner here is Carnival Corp and again it is a lot more than a pier.

    Whether or not the Hon Minister has a valid point he left out the fact that all these developments involve substantial funding from the cruise lines, something that is missing here, and go way beyond just a docking facility.

    It’s the same if you start looking at most other cruise related projects, like Grand Turk which I saw built, they all involve a substantial investment by a major cruise line.

    The question I would have is why is this not happening here? This project has been kicking around for over a decade now and to date not one major cruise line has come on board to support it. Maybe they are sending us a message there?

  2. The major prime mover for the stay over tourism product is the dive industry. Here we have an Environmental Impact Assessment saying a large portion of the existing coral reef will suffer massive damage in the building of a cruise ship berthing facility.
    Incredibly enough the EIA suggest to simply move the reef.
    We currently welcome about 2 million cruise ship tourists annually so what’s the problem?
    Is it worth the risk to the most valuable beach and reef sitting as the crown jewels of the country’s tourism?
    There will always be those with a vested interests to push this risky project forward but we need to hear from 7 mile beach property owners and the dive and CITA industries who seem amazingly silent.

  3. ”death sentence” for reefs and Seven Mile Beach, The ”No. 1” in the world! Certain ideas just leave you speechless.
    While world’s youth is trying to save the oceans, look at what Boyan Slat, 20yo dutch kid has managed to achieve, world’s seniors are continue to destroy it. This goes not just for the oceans.
    Watch these two videos and be ashamed.
    The Cayman Islands need its own Severn Cullis-Suzuki, Boyan Slat and Rachel Parent.

  4. I am passionate about saving the environment. The oceans in particular. The Cayman Islands youth, can learn a lot from Boyan Slat and even join the mega expedition (check the links below). If just ONE kid, with zero money in the beginning, has managed to complete a feasibility study and move forward a project of mind blowing magnitude, just imagine what can be done if more like minded people join him. The #2 trash vortex is at your door steps. The project needs boat owners and skippers for helping gather data, the cost is covered for joining the mega expedition (see links below).
    Why am I addressing it to the youth? They have no future if they don’t act now. The Cayman Islands need leaders with fresh mind set to have future. They can only come from generations Y and Z.

    Below is from theoceancleanup site. Open the link and WOW is guaranteed.

    The largest clean up in history, WORLD’S FIRST OCEAN CLEANING SYSTEM TO BE DEPLOYED IN 2016. The Ocean Cleanup has developed the world’s first feasible method to clean up half of the so-called Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 10 years’ time.

  5. Time to publicly announce that the Cayman Islands puts the environment first and there will be no destructive cruise pier.

    The cruise industry has turned George Town into a ghost town after 4pm. And for what? To sell a few T shirts and the occasional gold watch?

    I have suggested many times that what we really need are custom designed tenders that can load and unload quickly.

    Like the Star Ferry in Hong Kong.
    Walk up to the pier in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island and you are faced with a barrier and perhaps 100 people waiting. The barrier lifts and you walk down towards the ferry, just as the incoming passengers are walking off. You walk onto the ferry 3 or 4 abreast and walk to your seat. About a 2 minute wait, 2 minutes to board and then off you go.

    Now add a more comfortable, shaded waiting area.

    No need to spend hundreds of millions on a pier.

  6. @ David Miller, I am on your side with this. All the talk about new piers, millions spent on studies and EIA’s yet still no one has any idea who or even how it’s going to be paid for. I think the current government is satisfied with just tossing ideas around and doing expensive studies knowing the nothing will actually get started. I am quite sure that the election campaign will be full of promises to start these projects that they have commissioned so many studies on or hired consultants to further increase the appearance of forward movement. As for the Cruise lines, I am quite sure they are fed up with dealing with all the red tape and the changing of governments direction because every time the administration changes the new ones do almost everything they can do to undo what the last government did saying they had to correct their mistakes. This most likely why so many project have been in stand still state.

    If the tenders didn’t work for the Cruise Lines they would be coming here now. There will still be a huge market for smaller cruise ships, maybe just focus on giving these folks an experience that will leave them wanting to return to stay over. This is something Georgetown does not currently do, it is rather forgettable unlike places like Camana Bay. And the fact is that quite a bit of them stay in the GT area while they are on shore.

    Cayman is supposed to be exclusive isn’t it ?

  7. Howzit,
    I may have a solution. My design concept would be as follows:It could be possible to float a gangway and pier out to deeper water. Cables strategically embedded on the sea bottom for stability which will ensure the least disruption to the reef. Passenger shuttle service from dock side to port. Obviously further studies are required pertaining to weather, environmental issues, cruise line requirements, etc. But another idea to through in the mix. Thank you

  8. The gun being held to the CIG’s head by the 2 cruise company isn’t loaded, and isn’t even a gun! Cruise lines are driven by the wishes of customers and those who scratch Cayman from the itinerary will find they will lose out! (and they know it)

    This is gamesmanship, they really want a portside enclave where they can gouge the last nickel and dime from their passengers, Caribbean Cookie Cutter Commerce free from the inconvenience of less profitable Cayman Culture. They want to ensure that there is no risk of those passengers buying (or even seeing) the 45 dollar Stingray City offerings which they sell for 120 (and only pay the operator 20).

    No one will knowingly come to stay at a hotel which is being rebuilt, and divers are also equally diligent about checking the condition of dive sites – even if only 10 – 20% are affected by the construction they will not come to cayman to dive the remaining 80 or 90, They will head elsewhere and take their family and tourist dollars with them for at least the 3 years of construction. If the sites are destroyed, a possibility that was mooted, then Cayman will have killed its golden egg laying goose.

    I dive Eden Rock regularly and it is a World Class Site, worthy of statutory protection; a recent gem was a small sea horse less than 2 inches long. This is like playing russian roulette – the risks are too high.

    The proposal also highlighted that the benefits of the proposed plan neither contribute a significant increase in capacity or throughput, nor does it speed up the unloading. All it does offer is that IF two ships arrive at the same time they can unload simultaneously, but a later question on adverse effects of 2 ships maneuvering at the same time elicited a response that for safety and navigation they are not allowed to arrive in the same time slot, so… no benefit there.

  9. Another point was well made at the meeting as to what sort of tourism we want.

    Anyone who watches the late night shopping channel will have seen various products punted out as exclusive ”limited editions” – Some of those limited editions are limited to a mere MILLION items (and when those sell there will be another limited edition but in red vs. yellow).

    Is Cayman aiming for a similar reputation for fake exclusivity?
    "Enjoy a coffee or cocktail on Caymans waterfront beneath the shade of a palm tree… " in the company of 10,000 other tourists with the beautiful panaramic view spoiled only by acres of concrete and ships so large and so close that they block 20% of it!

  10. Is there a feasibility study on Cruise piers?

    Turtle-shaped ice rink planned to help revitalize George Town
    Posted by Chris johnson on 5/8/2015 9:24:14 PM

    As an old time bookkeeper I was accustomed to feasibility studies on new projects.In my experience in Cayman these do not exist as demonstrated by the Turtle Farm expansion promulgated by the last Minister of Finance. And we all know who that was!
    It seems that the ice rink concept shares a common feature with the Turtle Farm, that of a Turtle Shell. May I suggest to those looking at this project, that they seek a professional feasibility study to ensure that this project is not a shell game. Alternatively the Government should seek an opinion from our dedicated and well respected Auditor General.

  11. Instead of moving the reef, why not move the pier? Look at the pier in Progreso, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Their pier is 5 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico. Building the pier out into the ocean, protects the reefs much better, and less dredging because it would be in deeper water. As to why cruise passengers don’t want to do the tender route, let me point out that the cruise ship and the tender are rocking on the waves, making the transition often difficult and somewhat dangerous. Often, the ships cannot stop at Grand Cayman because of rough seas. The tender process is often slow; meaning passengers cannot spend as many hours on the island as they want, thereby reducing the dollars they could be spending money in Grand Cayman. Limiting cruise passengers, limits the dollars your local cab drivers, tour operators and restaurant workers make which hurts the overall economy. Been cruising since 2004, love Cayman, but hate that tendering.

  12. As I have said before, this is a stupid idea. There will be no time taken off of the debark process as pointed out by the report. There will only be damage to the reefs around and possibly extending a lot further from the harbor than the report says. And coral relocation? This is absurd. Anyone who knows about coral knows how delicate it is and how long it takes to regrow. So yea you move them then you end up with a pile of dead rock. Tell me how many people are going to want to dive on that? I know I wont be. I have been diving these waters for 21 years and snorkeling them for a lot longer and I have seen the damage done to Eden Rock and the other surrounding reefs without having this port completely wipe them out. Look most recently at the Carnival Magic Reef damage. That piece of wall was completely wiped out in 4 hours by just an anchor and chain dropping on it. Imagine the damage from all the dredging proposed. I am completely against this project going down. The government needs to look into upgrading the existing facilities to bring them up to par and possibly adding some more space to allow for better tendering but this huge project that is proposed is completely insane.

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