CITA opposes proposed cruise berthing facility plan


The Cayman Islands Tourism Association is opposing government’s current proposal to establish cruise berthing facilities in George Town Harbour. 

The largest tourism business representative organization in Cayman, which has heretofore been largely silent on the project, stated the reasons for its opposition in a press release issued Thursday afternoon: “This position has been reached after careful review of the documentation available, individual CITA sector meetings and a survey of our members where the majority of the respondents indicated that they did not support the current proposal. 

“It should be noted that the deliberation on this matter has not been an easy one because the topic is extremely polarizing based on individual member business’ focus.” 

CITA has said that any views on cruise berthing development in Cayman would be informed by environmental impact assessments and business cases associated with the project. 

An environmental impact assessment ordered by the Cayman Islands government predicted that several acres of coral reef could be destroyed if plans for new cruise piers in George Town move forward. 

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Following that assessment, the government has confirmed that another company was hired to perform an additional review of the seabed in the vicinity of a proposed cruise ship berthing facility in George Town Harbour. 

The company, Continental Shelf Associates, of Stuart, Florida, was paid US$27,000 for what was described as a habitat survey, government officials said Thursday. 

Gordon Stevens, a spokesperson with the CSA Group, which is Continental’s parent company, said Thursday that the work was “very minimal” and nothing close to the full-blown environmental assessment already completed on the site at cost of $2.5 million. 

Ministry of Tourism chief officer Stran Bodden said Thursday that US$27,000 was the total amount government had spent on the Continental Shelf Associates study and denied rumors that government had actually spent in the six figures on another environmental survey following the initial assessment. 

John MacKenzie with West Indian Marine, the local partner of Continental Shelf Associates, declined to respond to questions about the underwater survey. 

Underwater debate  

Some proponents of the cruise berthing project are now saying that predictions of damage have been exaggerated and that the portion of the reef that would be affected by the project is mostly dead anyway. In a reaction to such claims, a group of photographers and filmmakers have been working for the past two weeks to prove that the reefs in George Town Harbour are very much alive. 

“There’s a big gap of understanding about what is at stake between people who are experiencing the water and the rest who don’t get in the water,” Courtney Platt said. 

Mr. Platt is a photographer who has made more than 5,000 dives in the Cayman Islands since he began diving here in 1983. His favorite site is the Balboa Wreck in George Town Harbour. It lies within the area that will be dredged to make way for the new cruise pier. Even though he knew the Balboa would be affected, Mr. Platt was not initially opposed to the cruise pier plan, he said. But when the environmental impact assessment was presented to the public, he realized that more than one dive site was at stake. 

“I greatly respect all of the proponents that I know of who want to build this dock,” Mr. Platt said. “I think these guys are brilliant and wonderful people and have the best interest of Cayman at heart, but I do think that they are overestimating the ability to mitigate the damage done by dredging.” 

The plans, he said, will affect not just the reef systems that are in the dredge pit, but surrounding reefs that will be affected by silt and poor visibility. The wrecks of the Balboa and the nearby Cali are immediately affected by the berthing plans, as they lie within the dredge site, but many divers say the wrecks and other dive sites like Eden Rock, the Soto South Reef and Devil’s Grotto could also be negatively affected. 

“It’s very much like an atomic blast,” Mr. Platt said. “You have the epicenter where you have total destruction and then you have a gradient of death radiating from that.” 

He said the reefs that lie within the zone that would be affected by the cruise berthing plans are not only alive, but more vibrant than many of the other reefs on the island and act as nurseries for juvenile grunts, snappers and groupers, as well as many other organisms. 

On film  

With the help of nine filmmakers and photographers, Mr. Platt has launched a campaign aimed at educating the public about the life that exists in-harbor at George Town. 

Documentary filmmaker Michael Maes said he was glad to volunteer his time to help document the biodiversity of the reef, even though it has taken him away from his own work. 

“You’re in the mouth of the harbor and there’s so much life and so much young life,” Mr. Maes said. “It’s a cradle of new life.” 

While Mr. Maes said he’s most concerned about the environment and the future for the children of Cayman, he also sees the potential for a negative financial impact should the pier be built. 

“You’ll have more passengers in,” Mr. Maes said. “But you’re taking away the reason why many of them come.” 


One solution offered by the authors of the environmental impact assessment to mitigate the potential damage is to relocate the reefs that lie within the zone that would be immediately affected by dredging. The authors noted that such a solution would not be able to completely save the reefs. 

Kristi Foster, assistant director of research at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, said relocating coral is “an incredibly sensitive operation” that could “easily” result in mortality rate of 50 percent or higher. 

The coral first has to be dislodged in some way and somehow transferred to another site. Ms. Foster said that for a coral relocation project in Qatar that was awarded to Continental Shelf Associates in 2012, removal teams planned to set up swimming pool-size aquaria on a barge to transport the coral. After it is moved, one by one, the coral has to be taken down to the new site. 

She said that even if teams can figure out how to remove and transfer the coral, the survival rate is incredibly variable, because different depths, water flow, and neighbors like other coral or algae affect the coral in different ways. 

“The other thing that’s going to happen is you’re disrupting the entire biodiversity,” Ms. Foster said. “You can’t recreate the new reef, the exact complexity, and the exact topography. For instance, the sea urchins that live inside the reef, how will those be moved?” 

Ms. Foster said that the sea urchins that live inside the reef eat algae and keep the coral healthy. “It’s such a complex operation and we still know so little about it,” Ms. Foster said. 


Mr. Maes hopes that the government will find an alternate solution that protects the unique environment of the reefs in the harbor and ensures that future generations of Caymanians will be able to enjoy not just the beauty of the reefs but the economic benefits they bring to the country, too. 

He hopes to turn his footage of the harbor reefs into a documentary and plans to show it at international film festivals. 

Mr. Platt plans to continue posting photos and video of the reef every day until dredging begins. He posted on Facebook a photo from Wednesday’s dive that he says had received more than 1,200 hits by Thursday afternoon. The photo shows a group of
excited Caymanian children, hands pressed against the window of a glass bottom boat, as they look out at a school of fish being fed at the south end of Soto’s Central Reef in George Town Harbour. 

“I nearly cried in my mask with happiness seeing the joy and amazement of those kids watching us, the fish and the reefs,” Mr. Maes commented on the photo. “It was so fun to see and made the importance of education very clear again.” 


Courtney Platt photographs the wreck of the Balboa in George Town Harbour this week. – PHOTO: ELLEN CUYLAERTS
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  1. It’s pretty simple, folks.

    Weigh the cost of not doing the project against the environmental impact of the project. I am a strong environmentalist but there comes a time when tough choices have to be made.

    With Cuba imminently opening its doors to US travellers, seems like business is rather important. People will have choices and while on vacation they are less likely to choose a tougher task of easement to shore.

    Good luck with the decision.

  2. Len do you not see that they are going to destroy the very attraction that people are coming to see? People keep referring to Cuba. We cannot keep up with Cuba no matter what we do. Cuba has so much more to offer in the way of rain forests, mountains a rich history and also amazing diving. Most of Cuba is one big environmental protected zone so it is pristine. We have the diving and that”s about it. Everything else we have to offer is small in comparison. Those sites in the area proposed to be destroyed are very much alive and are a big draw for a lot of the divers coming to this island. These sites are ideal for persons just beginning to dive and for seasoned professionals alike. Ask the majority of the cruise guests coming here if the tendering is an issue and you will get the answer that it is part of the adventure and they do not like the idea of a port facility being built. The small amount that complain are those who just can’t be happy with anything you do and if they do return will only then proceed to complain about the crowds that these big ships are bringing. We have enough development going on already and we have lost a lot of return guests because of that already. The airport should be the focus of any development now. Bring the stay-over guests that spend the real money and they are the ones who will boost our economy.

  3. Jonathan Rivers is absolutely right.
    Comparing Cuba to the Cayman Islands is like comparing apples to oranges.
    Watch free documentary on PBS "Cuba: The Accidental Eden" to see what Cuba has to offer. There are a number of hot springs and other spa facilities across the island, unknown yet to Americans. With current health trends dominated by holistic approach it will be soon discovered and utilized.
    Cayman can”t compete with Cuba, it must find its own niche, which in my opinion is Luxury or High-End Tourism. But you must preserve what nature has given you, not to destroy it.

  4. Well said @L.Bell – High quality is the way to go!

    It is often quoted that the proposed dock will improve the experience of the Cruise Shippers,

    What is less appreciated is WHAT will improve the experience of the stay over guest? – that might well be LESS Cruise shippers!

    I am often asked about the weather by hotel guests as they plan their itinerary for the week but so many will plan to stay out of the way on ”cruise ship days”.

    Even stayover tourists can see that the infrastructure is overwhelmed as it stands – Cayman can’t handle much more cruise ship tourism – that we may be at the limit not through lack of a dock, but the facilities, attractions and amenities once the passengers are ashore.

    7 Mile beach may be among the best in the world but once 5,000 cruise shippers have their towels spread out over it, there is little scope to compare it with some of the inferior ones.

    Stingray city is at its limit according to Dr Harvey.

    Someone told me that Bermuda actually limits the number of cruise ship passengers allowed to disembark, this has had benefits for the economy as the ”exclusivity” has raised the per capita spend to a point where it significantly exceeds the total vs. the previous unrationed figures – Less is More!

    Sure there is a curiosity about Cuba (There may have been a curiosity factor to the cruise ships visiting post ivan?) but Cayman can’t compete on cost so, YES, it has to be quality.

  5. What is so sad about all this is that it will affect so many Caymanians. The problem is that there will not be more divers coming. Cause of global warming climate change. But they won’t show a film about that. How many divers are on a boat? How many boats per dive site? How many dive sites on just the west side of the island?
    Ladies and gentlemen open your eyes. They took pictures and video of shipwrecks. Balboa 1932, Cali 1948. These ships can be moved. But they are not as interesting. They want newer shipwrecks like Kittiwake. The proof is when you drive by their dive shops and see it advertised.
    Reef dives are all over the island. Wall dives are all over the island but the wall dive in GT is not important. Why don’t they want to protect 1200-1500 ft. of damaged coral that could recover if they just stopped anchoring there? Bias too much bias. A lot of people have come to this island because of first coming on a cruise ship. I have been a dive instructor and worked in hotels , over 40 years of working in the tourism industry dealing with cruise ships people. They don’t like the tenders. All they do is hold up people in the sun or rain.
    Lets play the devil’s advocate and really believe that they are worried about the environment. Let their group suggest where the cruise facility should go? They don’t want it anywhere period.

  6. I hear people grumbling about the survey of marine life being done recently. What no one seems to know is that Courtney Platt was the diver contracted in the original EIA, and now he is one of the main people pushing against the dock proposal. I think it is fairly easy to say that while I hold Mr. Platt in high regard, there leaves a little bit of a conflict possibility that the information could be swayed in favour of the anti-dock side, especially if he had motive to organize
    I feel it is justified by CIG to confirm what is actually out there.

  7. People who believe that sky bridges aren’t needed don’t understand. Elderly or physically challenged people cannot climb those stairs that we provide for customers. There was a passenger trying to get off and 4 workers from the airline lifted a small lady onto a wheelchair and tried climbing down the staircase. Can you imagine if she was accidentally dropped. All you would need is a mosquito flying into your ear eye or nose. Then look at the lawsuit.
    No, we need the sky bridge. But how are we going to use the airport while we renovating? A lawsuit waiting to happen.

  8. I am amazed at the short sighted attitudes of the local authorities regarding mitigating risk. There are other options to transition passengers to and from the ships/port without constructing a new harbour and disruption the reef. I would be happy to discuss with the government officials.