Plans to turn part of the Barkers peninsula into a national park, protected from development, have taken a step closer after the approval of 11 pieces of land on Grand Cayman and Little Cayman as the islands’ first protected areas.

The National Conservation Council agreed Wednesday to formally recommend that Cabinet designate the chosen areas, including the publicly owned parts of Barkers, to be protected under the National Conservation Law. The recommendations follow three months of public consultation, which indicated overwhelming approval for the plans.

After the vote, Wednesday, Council Chair Christine Rose-Smyth said, “This is a historic step forward in our mission of putting the National Conservation Law into place.”

The prospect of a genuine National Park on the Barkers peninsula has been discussed for decades but never legally enacted, in part because government does not own all of the land.

The council now plans to negotiate with Dart Real Estate, the major private land owner in the peninsula, over broader plans to create a park, combining low impact leisure use with its conservation goals.

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In a report to the council Fred Burton, the Department of Environment’s Terrestrial Resources manager, wrote: “The Department of Environment has already begun meetings with a team from Dart Realty [sic] to explore options for joint management planning of the Barkers area, with the objective of achieving a viable final protected area configuration and management plan that involves both Crown and private land, and which fulfills the expectations of both environmental and economic stakeholders in the area, while safeguarding the high level of public interest and enjoyment of the area in a sustainable way.”

The Barkers project attracted by far the greatest interest during the public consultation period and was supported by 95 percent of those that chose to respond to the DoE surveys.

In its response, during the consultation, Dart Real Estate said it was “conceptually supportive” of protected areas but raised concerns that the impact for adjacent land owners was unclear. It indicated representatives from the company had met with the DoE to help understand how the designation of protected area status would impact development opportunities on Dart owned land, but stopped short of explicitly endorsing the proposals for a national park at this point.

A frigate bird swoops over Booby Pond in Little Cayman. – Photo: James Whittaker

“In our meeting, the Department of Environment committed to work closely together on drafting the management plans for future protected areas adjacent to Dart-owned properties, ensuring that the full scope of structure, site work, operations, staffing and budget are addressed. However, given the lack of certainty surrounding implications and limitations of management plans on adjacent lands, we cannot offer explicit support of the nominations of the above listed Crown Land (at Barkers) to become Terrestrial Protected Areas under Section 9 of the National Conservation Law. We reiterate our support of the concept of protected areas.”

Other respondents offered unequivocal support.

“As a resident of West Bay I consider Barkers to be one of the few natural areas left available to the public for recreation, whether it be for exercising, participating in water activities or for the pure enjoyment of nature,” said one respondent.

Others supported the idea, but raised concerns over enforcement.

“It would be pivotal to implement real and comprehensive surveillance, as the place has become a lawless land, used as a dump,” wrote one resident.

The council approved a total of 11 sites to be protected, including part of Booby Pond on Little Cayman and part of the Central Mangrove Wetlands on Grand Cayman. The bulk of them are government owned, but the plans will require the purchase of three land plots at a total estimated cost of just under $900,000.

The DoE initially recommended a dozen sites to become the first terrestrial protected areas. One of them, in Little Cayman, had to be rescheduled for consultation because of a clerical mix-up which meant one neighboring land owner was not properly informed.

Overall, Mr. Burton said public consultation showed overwhelming support for the general concept of protected areas and for the specific sites proposed.

The only site that drew any significant opposition was Salt Creek Mangroves in West Bay, which the DoE had said could become a “natural oasis” in an increasingly urban area.

Mr. Burton said 16 percent of respondents were opposed to protecting this piece of land. However he said many of them were anonymous and suggested the figures could have been skewed by multiple responses from the same person or business.

There were also concerns over a piece of land in the Central Mangrove Wetlands which is the subject of an ownership dispute between the Crown and a private individual.

The council unanimously approved the 11 parcels to be recommended to cabinet as protected areas, with the caveat that the order was made provisional in the case of the Central Mangrove Wetlands on the Crown acquiring absolute title to the disputed parcel.

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