Cayman recognizes World Oceans Day

Coral reefs are at risk from a variety of threats, including overfishing and pollution. – PHOTO: FILE

In recognition of World Oceans Day, Environment Minister Wayne Panton on Wednesday reasserted his commitment to seeing the National Conservation Law fully implemented as soon as possible and to bringing proposals to enhance and “future-proof” Cayman’s national system of marine parks.

In a message marking World Oceans Day and World Environment Day (June 5), the minister said that although Cayman was one of the first countries to enact comprehensive marine conservation measures, and that its marine resources are “relatively healthy,” its marine environment has nevertheless been subjected to threats such as overfishing, coastal development, mangrove removal, coral bleaching and the proliferation of invasive lionfish.

“Over the last 30 years, our marine parks have served us well, preserving marine life in the Cayman Islands for residents and tourists alike to enjoy,” Mr. Panton said in the statement. “But we know that our reefs are still in decline and we live in a different world today – the threats are real and growing and we must respond.”

“This is why I am also committed to ensuring that the proposed enhancements to the marine parks, which have been recommended by the [Department of Environment] and endorsed by the National Conservation Council, are adopted as soon as possible,” he added.

The minister said that the proposals for the enhanced marine parks aim to provide appropriate protections to the “fragile” marine environment, which offers the Cayman Islands many economic and social benefits. Department of Environment Research, in conjunction with Bangor University and The Nature Conservancy, has shown that marine protected areas are the most effective, efficient and economical way to conserve marine resources.

The minister also noted that Cayman is “ahead of the curve” when it comes to the protection of sharks and rays. All species of sharks and rays are protected by the National Conservation Law.

“As a fisherman, I know the perception is that we compete with sharks for fish, but this is not the case,” Mr. Panton said. “Even when a shark occasionally takes a tuna or snapper off the line, it’s not competing with us. That’s simply a sign of a healthy marine environment, which means more fish.

“Research around the world has shown that when we have healthy shark populations, we have healthy reefs and other marine environments.”

The Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission also released a statement marking World Oceans Day, applauding the government’s efforts to promote sustainable development of Cayman’s marine environment and encouraging it to “continue to comply with its constitutional duty to protect our natural resources.”

The statement noted that Section 18 of the Cayman Islands Constitution gives a right to protection of the environment.

“In all its decisions, the government is required to have regard to the need to foster and protect an environment that is not harmful to the health or well-being of present and future generations, while promoting justifiable economic and social development,” the statement said. “This includes the adoption of legislation and other measures to protect the heritage and wildlife and the land and sea biodiversity of the Cayman Islands.”

The commission also encouraged Cayman Islands residents to show their support for World Oceans Day by participating in beach cleanups, collecting recyclable materials, learning about climate change to understand what can be done to decrease its impact on sea and marine life, or by visiting the Cayman Islands National Museum and Maritime Heritage Trail to learn more about Cayman’s maritime and seafaring history.