Plastics, glass bottles and cans and a diaper box protruding through garbage bags: These are just some of the things you can find lying about Cayman’s northwesternmost nature reserve and park.
Hidden deep within the district of West Bay is Barkers National Park. Secluded, serene and forested with sea grape and mangroves, the park on Conch Point Road is bordered by a 4-mile long shoreline known as Barkers Beach.
The beach is home to many local ventures from kiteboarding to horseback riding. Others benefiting from the turquoise seaside are cycle tour operators, locals seeking a little R&R, and, of course, the native flora and fauna that thrive in the wetlands.
Sadly, the West Bay national park is in poor condition.
Upon passing through the Barkers’ entrance, a long stretch of dirt road extends into the park, leading to a maze of dyke roads and winding pathways. The road surface is pitted with potholes – varying in size and water content – posing a challenge for those wanting to maneuver about the reserve in their vehicles.
Aside from wheel and tire damage from the many potholes, drivers trying to navigate the craters also risk damage to their vehicles’ suspension, alignment systems and steering.
Another issue facing the park is, unfortunately, the copious amount of litter that can be seen roadside, shore side and floating in the water.
Horseback riding operator Paul Rivers described how he was told that the people who operate on the beach should be responsible for cleaning it.
Heaps of trash can be seen on the roadside – and quite near the mangroves – in large polyethylene bags.
How they got there, why they were not properly disposed of, and who would drop off their garbage at a national park are just some of the questions their presence raise.
On the beach, miscellaneous items like glass bottles and plastic flotsam are scattered about, joined by other items floating in the water.
“We do two or three tours a day, and it’s not good publicity for Cayman nor its operators. People have a great experience [with the horses], and I have to give an exceptional service no doubt,” said Mr. Rivers. His horseback tour company Spirit of the West is one of five operating on the secluded stretch of beach.
“But when they take photos, they’re taking a picture of garbage in the background,” Mr. Rivers said.
“It’s unacceptable, and highly neglected by the government on a consistent basis,” he added. “Customers do complain about the garbage.”
In business for 11 years, Mr. Rivers caters to many repeat customers, and mostly to stay-over tourists.
He’s concerned the state of Barkers Beach is not being set as a priority, as compared to Cayman’s other beaches, like Seven Mile Beach.
“If they find two containers on the ground [on SMB] they’d have it picked up right away,” he said. “No one cares about this beach. No cleaning has been done [from] Aug. 2015 till present.”
Cayman resident Paula Ross thinks things may be getting worse at Barkers.
“I’ve been riding here for 25 years, and it’s the worst it’s ever been,” she said. “I live here, and it’s a shame.”
Given the proliferation of social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and review sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp that sway the decisions of potential visitors, attractions and activities have never been more vulnerable to negative feedback.
Mr. Rivers was not ready to rule out seaweed as a reason for the buildup of litter.
“It could have also washed ashore with the seaweed,” he said.
“The government does an all-right job with the cleanup,” said Lori Salvatore, owner of Pampered Ponies Ltd., which also operates in the area.
“The last time it was organized it was done well,” she said.
Ms. Salvatore agrees that the large influx of Sargassum seaweed that Cayman experienced this year might be a contributing factor to the garbage problem.
Kitesurf Cayman’s Jhon Mora first opened shop at Barkers in January 2009. He suggested that the solution to the litter problem had already been established two years ago but is no longer operational.
“I think lately and for the last two years, I haven’t been seeing the people who used to keep the park clean,” Mr. Mora said. “I remember there always being a crew cleaning.” “Barkers is a good location. The government needs to pay attention and look after it.”
Mr. Mora noted local activities also include paddleboarding, kayaking, fly fishing, and safari and cycling tours.
Most of Mr. Mora’s customers are a combination of stay-over and cruise ship tourists. Though his customers do not often complain, they do question the state of the park’s cleanliness.
“We don’t have the answers to their questions. We just try to keep the kite surfing area clean,” he admitted.
“And it’s sad because the park is a good place to hang out and be away from the Seven Mile Beach crowd.”
Mr. Mora worries the park has been forgotten, and urged action from the Department of Tourism and the government.
“This is a great location, and it has a lot of potential for so many activities for residents and tourists alike,” he said.
Mr. Mora firmly believes that the litter problem may cause visitors to change their minds about Cayman’s pristine reputation thus depriving businesses of potential clients.
Mr. Mora also urged that road maintenance be done much more frequently.
“Hopefully, they can open their eyes and do something,” he said. “The park deserves to be taken care of.”