There is an element of sensationalism creeping into the public debate on the cruise berthing facility. But this initiative is too important to debate on pure emotions. The Association for the Advancement of Cruise Tourism (ACT) believes that there are a number of salient facts that everyone in the community should bear in mind when considering this project, given its magnitude and importance to Cayman (regardless of your views on its implications).
One of the first myths that must be disbanded is that cruise berthing facilities are in the interest of solely a few George Town retailers. This could not be further from the truth. Indeed, the duty-free retailers being referred to typically have store locations far beyond downtown George Town. Their businesses also operate in Seven Mile Beach, the airport, even Cayman Brac, for example. The group of persons and small businesses to benefit from the proposed improvement to our port infrastructure includes taxi drivers, water-sports operators, tours operators, restaurants, land and water-based attractions, and countless small businesses who depend on the weekly influx of cruise passengers to earn their keep, or maintain their jobs.
The other myth that has grown considerably in its exposure since the launch of the draft EIA report, is the idea that there is 15 acres of live coral being damaged in the process. But many who know our waters well can confidently say this is visibly less than 15 acres of live coral and that a large portion of the area being described by opponents of the project as 15 acres of live coral is what is known as “hard pan.” Until a full underwater survey is completed, we cannot say with any accuracy how much live coral is within this area.
There is also a misconception among some, though thankfully we don’t believe many, that those who benefit from our cruise industry would wish to see a new port created at the expense of material harm to our environment. This could also not be further from the truth. The ACT recognizes that indeed our natural environment is one of the Cayman Islands strengths and it would be economic suicide to destroy that advantage by causing material damage to our natural environment.
Instead we believe a credible approach is to establish mitigation measures that cause the least harm to our environment while putting in place a berthing facility to enhance our cruise tourism product. It is clear the EIA report did not have a terms of reference to thoroughly examine mitigation measures, so naturally it focused primarily on the risks that the project poses. We accept that there may be risks associated with this project. And we believe it is our duty to now thoroughly examine how those risks can be avoided, mitigated and offset so that we can move forward with a plan that benefits our economy while preserving what is important to us all, our natural environment.
The Cayman Islands, while developing from just over 12,000 in population to a workforce that is now at around 30,000, has been striking this very same balance on land for years. In recent years, the government has started to put a more effective formal regime to protect our environment and this is very welcomed.
Finally, it must be noted that enhancing our cruise tourism product does not go hand in hand with damaging our air arrivals tourism business. In fact, in many jurisdictions a percentage of air arrival passengers first discovered the destination via a cruise before taking the decision to become air arrival tourist. We certainly have evidence that this is also the case in the Cayman Islands.
Determining the way forward should not be a simple case of rejecting the project because risks were identified. The purpose of identifying the risks is presumably so we can now examine if they can be avoided, mitigated or offset and if so what needs to be done so that we can achieve our economic and environmental objectives. Pitting one against the other, we believe, is the wrong approach.