EDITORIAL – Force of ‘nature’: An activist on the public payroll

Idealists might presume that environmentalists are a romantic lot, perhaps retiring at eventide to curl up with a well-worn copy of Henry Thoreau’s “Walden Pond” or John Audubon’s classic tome, “The Birds of America.”

Don’t kid yourself. Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” would be more likely.

The reality is that any “environmentalist” worth his or her salt is a fierce soldier, eager to take up arms against perceived adversaries. Remember that if your battle cry is “save the environment,” it must be saved from someone — that is, other humans.

One trait that eco-warriors have in common with military warriors throughout history is an unquenchable thirst for the acquisition of territory, which, in turn, must be protected through the exercise (or threat) of even more force.

Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the Department of Environment, clearly laid out her personal battle lines in the struggle of man versus nature. On one side are herself, her supporters and the National Conservation Council — and on the other are developers, and many Caymanian landowners (aka voters).

Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said, “We still need proper planning and development legislation and we must take steps to put in place development plans that actually mean something for this country.

“Without these tools, the National Conservation Law will not be able to stop some of the more egregious decisions and actions that are being taken in terms of development.”

Well, certainly it isn’t stopping the more egregious statements from Ms. Ebanks-Petrie.

Notice how with the National Conservation Law barely having taken effect, she is already arguing for the expansion of more “pro-environment” legislation?

Here we’ll take a half step back and stipulate that Ms. Ebanks-Petrie, as a citizen, has every right to espouse her views on the environment and development, or any other topic whatsoever. However, in her capacity of “director of the Department of Environment,” her continuing agitation and activism is completely inappropriate for a civil servant.

Rather than focusing on the line between the environment and development, she should be concerning herself with the line between the civil service and the elected members of the Legislative Assembly. As a government employee, Ms. Ebanks-Petrie is responsible for carrying out policy — not formulating it.

On the other hand, as an elected member, Environment Minister Wayne Panton, for example, would be well within his proper remit if he were to argue publicly for or against legislation, or criticize, well, anybody he wants.

If Ms. Ebanks-Petrie wants Minister Panton’s privileges, she must do what Minister Panton did — run for, and win, elected office.

Regardless of Ms. Ebanks-Petrie’s activism or aspirations, the Conservation Council remains an extremely powerful entity as constituted. While environmental officials continue to ply the public with assurances that the Council is merely an “advisory” body, that simply is not true.

Here we’ll quote from the National Conservation Law: “Every entity, except Cabinet … shall apply for and obtain the approval of the Council before taking any action … that would or would be likely to have any adverse effect whether directly or indirectly, on a protected area or on the critical habitat of a protected species.”

Environmental officials point to that provision as a narrow exception, but it contains language that is purposefully broad enough to drive a redwood-laden lumber truck through.

As we’ve said from the moment of its conception, the National Conservation Law was and is a bad idea with far-reaching practical consequences, most of which bode ill for the economic growth of these islands.

With an election approaching, it will be up to the next government to abolish this draconian piece of legislation — removing it (to use naturalist nomenclature) root and branch.



  1. I should like to point out that a pristine and well functioning environment has many positive spin offs for Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) In years to come the Cayman Islands will have to content with Climate Change and Sea Level Rise. Furthermore, Brexit has removed a source of adaption funding, i.e. The Eoropean Commission. The following excerpt from The Nature Conservancy looks at environmental activism through different lenses.

    Seychelles | The Nature Conservancy

    Swapping Debt to Save Oceans

    Seychelles is a nation of 115 islands in the Western Indian Ocean about 1,000 miles off the coast of East Africa and north of Madagascar. Its “Blue Economy” is based on tuna and tourism, which, along with its low-lying island geography, makes its people and economy particularly vulnerable to the threats of climate change.

    More severe storms and rising sea levels are battering coastal areas that attract important tourist dollars to their economies; warmer ocean temperatures are diminishing fish stocks; and increasing ocean acidity from rising carbon levels are destroying coral reefs that buffer the force of storms and provide vital habitat for numerous marine species.


    With more than 30 years experience in marine conservation and restoration efforts, The Nature Conservancy is acting to mobilize an $30 million (USD) debt-swap for the government of the Seychelles in exchange for their commitment to enhance marine conservation and climate adaptation. The effort will also establish a permanent endowment that generates sustainable financing for Seychelles’ marine conservation and climate adaptation activities.

    Once complete, this project will result in the Indian Ocean’s second largest marine reserve, improving protection for the marine resources that fuel this island nation’s thriving tuna and tourism sectors. For example, some 200,000 square kilometers of Seychelles’ territorial waters are slated to be classified as “replenishment zones” to protect important tuna feeding grounds, and therefore the tuna industry.


    President James Michel and the Environment, Finance and Foreign Affairs Ministries of Seychelles strongly support this project, showing the political will necessary to make this debt-for-adaptation swap successful, and in the process provide a model for other at-risk island countries.

    With the leadership support of Oceans 5, a collaborative of philanthropists dedicated to conserving the world’s oceans, the Conservancy is facilitating a marine spatial planning process that engages multiple stakeholders (fishing, energy tourism, government and conservation) in the development of a sustainable use plan. The Conservancy is also providing financial expertise to help complete the swap and the design of the permanent trust fund.


    The Seychelles government will set up the Seychelles’ Conservation & Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT), which will purchase and restructure the debt, manage the endowment and enforce the terms of the debt forgiveness agree­ment. After 20 years, the endowment is expected to be fully capitalized at nearly $10 million and will pay out approximately $600,000 per year to fund continued marine conservation and climate adaptation activities.

    Nicholas Robson

  2. There are many laws on the books that, depending on who you are, are applied or not. This will be no exception. Let’s face it, the opposition to development wouldn’t be needed if developers had a track record of doing what’s right, and not just what’s right for their pocket book. There is money to be made in clear-cutting and conservation, just have to get the right balance. There are a lot of people out there who are interested in nature and we would be stupid not to capitalise on it. Once you’ve developed everything you’ve got nothing left for future generations, many who have sold family land will attest to that. To take a stance that conservation is a bad thing and development is a good thing is a little short sighted.

  3. Why is it that when someone writes in to criticize the Cayman Compaass Editorial staff the comment is not printed??
    If the Editor can publish what he/she wishes, forming opinions, with some pretty harsh critique at times, then he/she should have no problem with printing comments which dissappprove of the editorial staffs letters.

    Does freedom of speech only apply to the press (in this case the Cayman Compass) ? It appears so……no matter what nonsensical mombo jumbo the editorial staff chooses to type, save and print!

    ***Editor’s Note: The Compass certainly does not censor comments based on whether they agree or disagree with our newspaper’s editorial positions. We do, however, reserve the right to refuse to publish comments that contain libelous, inaccurate, incendiary or offensive language.***

  4. Last fall, my husband and I attended a public meeting on Little Cayman conducted by the DOE’s Mrs Ebanks-Petrie and her staff to outline the proposed changes to the marine preserve. Even in the face of some very rude and offensive comments, Mrs Ebanks-Petrie maintained a calm demeanor, a consummate professional. Indeed, she was very respectful and understanding of the depth of feeling prompting what were otherwise uncalled for personal attacks. We were greatly impressed with her as well with the depth of knowledge and the thoroughness of the research she and her staff conducted to support the proposals. Our son works at Stanford University on climate issues and can attest that the work the DOE presented was very impressive.

    I practiced environmental law before US state and federal environmental agencies and courts. Informed by those forty years of experience, I walked out of that meeting in awe of the competence and poise Mrs Ebanks-Petrie demonstrated, thinking, The Cayman government should be proud of the extremely high quality work she and the agency were doing: smart, sustainable stewardship.

    Reading the ad hominem attack on Mrs Ebanks-Petrie in your paper, I was floored by the lack of understanding and appreciation for her work and dedication the editorial board demonstrated in writing this piece. I suspect, however, once again, Mrs Ebanks-Petrie will rise above, maintaining not only her dignity and professionalism, but also her commitment to protecting and preserving the priceless and beautiful Cayman Islands, for today and for generations to follow. For that she has my family’s deep appreciation and gratitude.
    Joan Knoebel


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