When we’re talking about the Cayman Islands population, our mantra is, “Growth is good.”
Two recent news items have given us cause for applause on the “growth front,” on land and at sea.
First, the Elections Office reports that 21,465 people have registered to vote in the May general election. That’s 3,000 more registered voters than for the 2013 election.
Second, super-artist Guy Harvey and his stingray census team tallied a grand total of 100 underwater denizens at the North Sound sandbar. Combined with the 107 counted during the last census in July 2016, that’s evidence that the ray population is surviving, even thriving, at one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Cayman Islands – indeed in the Caribbean.
Now, some of our readers may see little relation between registered voters and “registered” stingrays. (Both can “sting”? No, that’s pretty weak.) (Genetically? Nothing to report there.) But economically – they’re both extremely positive indicators.
The stingrays are an important component of the lifeblood of Cayman’s tourism industry. Several years ago, Mr. Harvey (entrepreneur, scientist and conservationist) estimated that each stingray at the sandbar is able to generate US$500,000 in revenue per year, and if it lives more than 20 years, more than US$10 million in its lifetime.
The sandbar is a precious natural resource that, in blunt financial terms, is one of Cayman’s God-given gold mines. Our government and our tourism operators should take great care to continue utilizing the sandbar without exploiting it, while ensuring the safety of passengers and stingrays by resisting the impulse to “overcrowd” boats or drive recklessly.
If any animal has “earned” protected species status in Cayman, it’s the southern stingray (with the “tourist” running a close second, perhaps).
The contributions of the stingrays at the sandbar, the boat operators who take visitors to it, and more broadly, the tourism sector as a whole, go to benefit the entire human population of Cayman.
Like the stingrays at the sandbars, “more is better” when it comes to the number of registered Caymanian voters. Accordingly, we were most pleased to hear that the local voter rolls now contain the names of nearly 21,500 individuals, which translates to a more than 15 percent increase in the past four years.
Each of those new voters represents an additional taxpayer, potential juror and general contributor in Cayman society.
As we’ve written on a number of occasions, Cayman’s public sector is far too large – in terms of size and cost – for the community it serves. In the long term, there are only a few ways to reach a sustainable “equilibrium” between the tax base and public service expenditures:
- Raise taxes (and destroy the local economy in the process);
- Significantly shrink the size of the civil service (a task for which elected lawmakers have shown no political appetite, or backbone); which leaves us with,
- Significantly grow the size and wealth of the taxpaying private sector.
Although as we have noted above, stingrays are extremely valuable to Cayman’s economy, in the coming decades our country cannot hope to pay for the salaries, benefits and retirement schemes for our overgrown civil service through stingrays alone.
What Cayman needs, in brief, is more Caymanians.