Who will speak for our reefs, if not the Cayman Islands Ministry of Environment?
It has been a week since Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced he had presented Cayman’s government with a plan to remediate coral allegedly damaged by his 300-foot mega-yacht Tatoosh. Yet, on the substance of the proposal, all our officials have provided is “no comment.”
According to statements from his representatives, Mr. Allen understands the “biological” clock is ticking on the viability of the broken reef: “Mr. Allen and [his company] Vulcan asked the Department to consider the plan on an expedited basis …”
“[T]he most important action now is a rapid review of the remediation plan by local officials and the restoration of the reef. Time is of the essence, and we stand ready to begin playing our part in quickly implementing that plan …”
“We supported swift action to help mitigate the impact and restore the reef as quickly as possible.”
On the part of the statutory stewards of Cayman’s reef, however, there has been no corresponding sense of urgency — at least not publicly.
Spooked, perhaps, by the global media attention the incident has received, the Department of Environment referred questions to Ministry of Environment spokeswoman Angela Piercy, who served up a warmed-over dish of bureaucratese: “Because the matter is under investigation, DoE will not make further statements until the time is more appropriate.”
What, we ask, is there to investigate — or, more specifically, what is there to investigate that would prevent officials from commenting on the matter of Mr. Allen’s proposal?
If Mr. Allen is offering to repair the reef out of his own pocket, then, doesn’t that achieve the goal of the investigation, while avoiding reams of extraneous paperwork and purposeless finger pointing? (Remember that no one has disputed the assertion from Mr. Allen’s representatives that the Tatoosh captain moored the vessel in a location directed by Port Authority officials — who have also maintained their wonted silence in the wake of coral destruction for which they may bear at least partial responsibility.)
On the other hand, if Mr. Allen’s proposal is not adequate, shouldn’t our local environmental experts have been able to recognize that almost immediately, and respond accordingly?
If it’s not as simple as that, surely the government could have at least acknowledged receipt of the proposal, outlined some key points of the plan, and said it’s under consideration.
On the contrary, it appears our officials are insistent on keeping their heads underwater, on the pretense of studying coral fragments. While Mr. Allen is taking reputational licks from the international press, Cayman’s government is doing little that is visible or audible to ensure the situation is resolved, quickly, for the benefit of all parties.
Lately, the relationship between Cayman’s environment and visiting billionaires seems to be one of animus. If it’s not Mr. Allen’s yacht encountering coral, it’s Sir Richard Branson being swarmed by voracious stingrays. Although Sir Richard reacted to his stingray “bite” with characteristic good humor, we presume that Mr. Allen is less accommodating about any unnecessary damage to his preciously purchased image as an ocean conservationist.
We are not finding fault with the Department of Environment’s referral of press inquiries to the ministerial level. In fact, we think that’s entirely appropriate given the seriousness of the situation, the brightness of the lights, and what’s at stake for Mr. Allen and Cayman.
On this topic, the microphone deserves to be in the hand of Environmental Minister Wayne Panton. Rather than issuing dueling statements and non-statements, Minister Panton would ideally be sharing a stage with Mr. Allen (or a high-ranking representative) to make a joint announcement that, thanks to Mr. Allen’s conscientiousness, they have struck an agreement to realize a commonly shared goal.
That is, to save Cayman’s coral.