Just under a third of the corals in the proposed construction site for a new cruise berthing facility in George Town harbor could be relocated, according to a marine consultant’s survey.
The survey, involving scientific divers and sonar imaging of the sea floor, was commissioned to get a more precise estimate of the number of corals that would be impacted by the project.
The report concludes that around 391,000 hard corals and 61,000 soft corals will be affected over 11 acres.
The consultant, Continental Shelf Associates, also delved into the issue of potential mitigation measures, estimating that just under a third of the corals would be candidates for relocation. They gave no estimate of the likely cost.
The government caucus, meantime, was presented with the findings of the completed Outline Business Case on Monday. Consultants PwC have been working on an update to their initial report, expected to include refined estimates of the cost of building the dock, the likely funding method and the positive and negative economic impacts of the project.
Environment Minister Wayne Panton said the caucus has not yet made a decision.
“It was discussed, but there was no vote. We have only just been presented with the up-to-date documentation, so there was no opportunity to read, absorb and understand what has been put forward.”
It is not clear whether the final business case will be released to the public before a decision is made. The Benthic Habitat Survey report was completed some time ago but was not released publicly until Tuesday. The report was commissioned amid concern from pro-port advocates that the original environmental impact assessment had overestimated the amount of coral habitat in the harbor.
“This survey is both necessary and timely, particularly in light of the differing views and opinions about precisely what exists within the area of impact and how it could potentially be affected if the project proceeded,” Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said in a press-release accompanying the report.
The original environmental impact assessment estimated that approximately 15 acres of coral reef habitat would be directly impacted by the project.
The new consultants had a remit to collect more precise data, said Mr. Kirkconnell, describing their research as “like looking at the area through a magnifying glass.”
The report indicates that 391,001 hard corals and 61,291 soft corals are estimated to be at risk from the dredging and land reclamation activities. Of these, more than 116,800 hard corals and more than 17,000 soft corals could be relocated, the report states. The rest were deemed to be too small to move.
“Coral translocation would probably be the primary mitigation option for … reducing [the] impacts associated with the berthing project,” the consultants wrote. “Coral translocation, if done properly, can significantly reduce the loss of coral tissue and the ecological services provided by corals.”
The consultants indicated that they were involved in previously successful coral relocation projects, though on a smaller scale.
The report makes no mention of the potential relocation of the Balboa shipwreck or where the corals would be relocated. The original EIA consultants estimated the cost of relocating coral at a minimum of $13 million.
Mr. Kirkconnell said the Benthic Habitat Survey report provided more valuable objective data for government to review in making a decision.
“This is the largest project ever being considered for our islands and government has a responsibility and duty of care to ensure that our collective decision is based on sound scientific evidence, not speculation or impassioned pleas, however well intended those might be.
“When Cabinet convenes to make its decision on the cruise piers, it must be able to do so with full confidence that all of the relevant facts and information have been sourced and objectively presented for consideration,” he said.