A detailed scoring system has been devised to assess nominations for land to be protected under the new National Conservation Law.

A $6 million fund has been allocated this year to buy up environmentally sensitive land, and nominations of potential areas to be purchased for protection are being accepted from the public.

The National Conservation Council has now published a points system it will use to assess the relative merits of land under consideration for protection.

The system rates biological diversity as the most important of the criteria, with social, financial and strategic value, as well as climate value also factored into the decision-making process.

The conservation council will allocate points in a range of sub categories, including the diversity of plant species, the cost of the land and its value to nature tourism.

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A total of 18 criteria will be assessed and the land under review will be given a ranking of 1-5 within each category.

The system was devised by the Department of Environment’s Terrestrial Resources Unit, which will be responsible for scoring the land in advance of adjudication by the National Conservation Council.

The planned purchases will create the first protected areas on land in the Cayman Islands.

A copy of the scoring system, distributed at last month’s council meeting, states, “The National Conservation Council expects to receive, during set periods designated by public notice, nominations under the National Conservation Law section 9 of areas for protected status.

“This scoring system is designed to assist NCC in arriving at objectively justifiable decisions regarding which of these nominations to carry forward, given the funding available in the given budgetary period and the purposes, objectives and criteria set out in the law.”

Fred Burton of the Department of Environment’s terrestrial resources unit and a member of the council, said at the meeting that the system would be used to provide an objective and scientific basis for decisions on which land to protect.

He acknowledged there would still be an element of subjectivity to the decision-making process. But he said examining quantifiable criteria like the number of plant species and the diversity of animal species supported by the land would bolster the process.

The resilience of land to climate change, such as rising sea levels, and its value in terms of diminishing the global effect of climate change, are also among the criteria considered.

The report notes, “The Cayman Islands is limited (by small size) in the scale of its global contribution in carbon sequestration, but we can play our proportionate part as a group of islands under extreme threat from sea level rise.”

Compass reporter Charles Duncan contributed to this article.

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