Dart Realty’s plan to remove rocks from the shallow coastal waters off Seven Mile Beach to create a more pleasant “beach entry experience” for hotel guests is under review by the Department of Environment amid significant public interest in the proposal.
The plan initially involves collection and analysis of rock samples to assess the feasibility of wholesale removal of “beach rocks” along a stretch of coastline, where Dart hopes to build a new five-star hotel.
Environment Minister Wayne Panton acknowledged Friday that news of the plan had attracted significant interest. He said the coastal works application would be reviewed by scientists and staff at the Department of Environment before any decision is taken.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the department, said the precedent of allowing beach rock to be removed from Seven Mile Beach was “quite significant” and the application would be scrutinized carefully by the department’s technical review committee, which will make a recommendation to Cabinet on Dart’s coastal works application.
Dart Realty Chief Operating Officer Jackie Doak told the Cayman Compass last week that the removal of the rocks was central to the company’s plans for a five-star hotel, just north of the Kimpton, forming a wider “resort district” in the area.
Dart’s initial coastal works application, reviewed by the Compass, seeks to collect samples and assess the rock formations in the area to confirm that they are beach rock – which is fast forming and considered less ecologically or geologically significant than ironshore or bedrock. A second application would be necessary before the rocks could be removed.
Paperwork submitted with the initial application indicates it will involve collection of samples for analysis by Dr. Brian Jones, a geologist.
In a report, submitted with the application, Dr. Jones, wrote, “Slabs of rock that lie in shallow water below the high water mark along this stretch of coastline may be old beach rock. This suggestion however cannot be verified until samples of the rock can be collected and analyzed.”
The application also seeks permission to conduct trials to determine a safe rock removal methodology, ascertain the thickness of the rock and what lies beneath it.
It also carries an endorsement from Richard Seymour, a consultant in coastal processes, who authored the 2000 report, the Natural History of Seven Mile Beach, describing the “dynamic sand transport system” that shapes the beach.
He said the rocks had no impact on that process.
“Removing a major rock feature, which was capable of seriously influencing along-shore sand transport would require careful consideration, but that is not the case here,” wrote Mr. Seymour.
“Since the local along-shore and cross-shore transport of sand seems to be largely ignoring the presence of these rocks there is no reason to prohibit their removal.
“Since the utility of this section of beach for future hotel visitors will be greatly enhanced and the loss of sub-strata vegetation is minor, I would recommend that the rock removal be permitted.”
Murray Roed, author of “Islands from the Sea – Geologic stories of Cayman,” told the Compass that further investigation may be needed to determine if the rocks can be safely removed.
“My only concern is that no one knows how thick these beach rocks are. For that reason removal may involve substantial disturbance,” he added.
Mr. Roed describes the formation of beach rock as a “magical geologic process” because of the speed of which beach sand consolidates into rock.
In his book, he wrote that beach rock can form in as little as two weeks and that a layer of beach rock, analyzed in Cayman, had contained a Coca Cola bottle. Similarly beach rock, he writes, is susceptible to erosion during storms and can be destroyed overnight.
“They are everywhere in the process of being formed, or alternatively being destroyed, a remarkable manifestation of geology happening now,” he wrote.
Gabriella Hernandez, of Sustainable Cayman, said the group was interested to hear more about the application.
“We’d like to see an independent report and some analysis from the Department of Environment before we could be comfortable that it really would have no harmful impacts. “We’d also like to see some public discussion on this, so everyone understands what is planned.”