Plans to turn part of the Barkers peninsula into a national park are included in an initial list of proposals for the Cayman Islands’ first protected areas.
Part of the central mangrove wetlands and an old-growth forest in Grand Cayman and part of Booby Pond in Little Cayman are on a shortlist of a dozen Crown-owned properties earmarked for protected status under the new National Conservation Law.
The selected parcels were whittled down from a list of 50 nominated areas from landowners, real estate agents, individuals, the National Trust and the Department of Environment.
A separate list of potential protected areas, currently under private ownership, has also been drawn up but not yet published. The Department of Environment has begun negotiations with landowners on behalf of the National Conservation Council with a view to purchasing those additional properties.
Government allocated $6 million from the Environmental Protection Fund at the last budget for such land purchases.
The National Conservation Law empowers the council to protect ecologically important land from development and other threats through management plans, after a public consultation protest.
The initial list of nominated properties, already owned by the Crown, was distributed for public consultation Friday and includes six on Little Cayman and six on Grand Cayman.
The properties include part of the area already designated as a national park on the Barkers peninsula in West Bay. The idea of a national park, featuring maintained trails and supporting low-impact nature tourism, has been discussed for decades but never legally enacted.
The issue is complicated by the fact that government owns only part of the land.
One of the proposed protected areas on the shortlist is the chunk of land on the southern tip of Barkers Peninsula, which government owns.
The bulk of the designated area comprises mangrove wetlands, and the nomination notes that protecting that area will safeguard key habitat for a variety of species, including resident and migratory water birds.
However, any plans for a wider national park along the lines of what was originally envisaged will depend on agreements that can be struck with the Dart group, which owns the bulk of the remaining land in the area.
The nomination highlights a vision for a park that incorporates nature tourism, including camping, fishing, kitesurfing, snorkeling and running.
However it cautions, “The extent to which the Department of Environment’s original vision for the establishment and management of the Barkers National Park can be realized depends primarily on any cooperative agreements that may be possible with the private company which owns almost all the area of the proposed park which is not Crown.
“A management plan for the whole Barkers area will be the ideal, but if this proves unachievable, a less comprehensive management plan for the protected Crown Land will require DoE to develop a new but reduced concept for the National Park.”
The other areas proposed to be protected under the National Conservation Law are:
A small Crown-owned rock islet just off Barkers Peninsula, Vidal Cay is proposed for protection because it is the site of the Cayman Islands’ only breeding colony of bridled tern.
“Its conservation value lies in the Tern colony it supports, and in its cultural value as a landmark in North Sound,” according to the nomination.
Western Crown mangrove cays
Five mangrove cays, hugging the eastern coastline of the West Bay peninsula, are proposed for protection as “remnant fragments” of coastal mangroves that still survive in an area where large expanses of mangrove wetlands have been converted for human uses.
“They provide precious fish nursery habitat in the red mangrove root system, and export nutrients into North Sound. Some cays have historically served as communal roosting sites for egrets and frigate birds, and may do so again,” the nomination notes.
This is a Crown-owned parcel of mangrove wetlands in West Bay. The nomination notes that Mosquito Research and Control Unit roads within the parcel provide an infrastructure that could be adapted to transform the land into an “important natural recreational area, with opportunities for walking, running, shallow water snorkeling and kayaking.”
It states, “The West Bay Peninsula is becoming an extremely developed area, and if the Salt Creek mangroves are protected they will end up as a small natural oasis within a largely urban landscape. It will become increasingly valued by local communities as a place to reconnect with and enjoy the island’s natural environment.”
Central Mangrove Wetland
A large area of Crown-owned mangrove wetlands is earmarked for protection.
“The Central Mangrove Wetland has long been recognized as a vital environmental asset for the Cayman Islands, providing natural services of substantial social and economic value. These include providing nutrient flows into the North Sound ecosystem which supports productivity of fish stocks,” the nomination indicates.
A small portion of old-growth forest in Lower Valley, encompassing Crown and privately owned parcels, is proposed for protection.
“Protection of the entire forest will be advisable in time, but the current nomination only proposes immediate protection of a small area which is under threat,” the nomination states.
“The forest is notable for a high density of wild fig trees, which have and still may support a small population of the white-shouldered bat.”
Preston Bay shrublands and ponds
The shrubland on the western side of Little Cayman is “heavily utilized” by Sister Islands rock iguanas and would sync with iguana habitat already protected by the National Trust.
The proposed protected area also includes ponds adjacent to the coast road that offer views of water birds such as stilts, whistling duck, egrets and teal.
The proposal, which includes plans to purchase a privately owned piece of property, would broaden the parameters of land already protected by the National Trust, supporting a colony of red-footed boobies.
“Subject to successful negotiation with the landowner and consent of the Cabinet, protection of these lands would close a significant gap in the protection of the nesting colony of red-footed boobies and magnificent frigate birds, which are such an iconic feature of Little Cayman,” the nomination states.
One of Little Cayman’s largest inland natural areas, Tarpon Lake, is proposed for protection.
“Tarpon can often be seen cruising in the shallow water and a wide range of resident and migratory water birds frequent the mangroves. Fiddler crabs abound on exposed mud flats, and white land crabs burrow near the interface between mangroves and adjacent dry land,” the nomination indicates.
The nomination comprises the Crown owned ponds and mangrove wetlands from Jackson’s Pond east to the eastern cross-island road.
“These wetlands support huge numbers of migrating waterfowl each year, providing quite a spectacle for birdwatchers who can view the bigger ponds from viewing platforms. The wetlands are also visually appealing, and are a key element of Little Cayman’s nature island experience,” the nomination states.
The nominated land lies in the interior of Little Cayman, east of Olivine Kirk Drive and north of South Hole Sound and the Island’s only quarry, the nomination states.
“The majority of the parcel is wetland, with a core of buttonwood wetland and surrounding areas of low-lying rocky shrubland with seasonally flooded sinkholes with ferns. The area is being proposed for protection because it is critical to supporting the largest known population of the unique Little Cayman land snail, Cerion nanus, which occurs in the humid area immediately downwind of the wetland.”
This nomination includes a large Crown-owned parcel including wetland areas and shrubland.
“The interior of Little Cayman’s east end includes open wetlands important to whistling duck and other water birds, a mosaic of dry shrubland, large inland ponds, and buttonwood wetlands. Most of the area is practically inaccessible, and there may well be more rare and endangered species there than we know about,” the nomination states.