With six more protected areas added to the National Conservation Law, work is under way to acquire land and establish management protocol.
As the National Conservation Council reviews five locations in Grand Cayman and one in Little Cayman, Frederic Burton of the Department of Environment said Crown land will take priority over private land.
“The council decided last year to work the Crown nominations first because they are the simplest,” Mr. Burton said. “They didn’t involve all the negotiations with land owners, so it could be quicker.”
A three-month public consultation period this year resulted in 12 nominations for legal protection. Six areas made it into the 2017 National Conservation (Protected Areas) Order, published in the government gazette this month.
Announced areas include parcels in Barkers, Vidal Cay, Western Crown Mangrove Cays, Central Mangrove Wetland and Lower Valley Forest in Grand Cayman, as well as the Booby Pond Nature Reserve in Little Cayman.
Areas already under protection by the law include Meagre Bay Pond near Bodden Town, Colliers Bay Pond north of East End and Little Cayman’s Booby Pond.
“Once it is protected, we are obliged to start developing a management plan for them. Really, that’s where the action is. A management plan will really lay out what’s going to happen. Will we have facilities for people to visit? Are we going to allow [certain] activities? What are the rules going to be?” Mr. Burton said.
He expects the plan for Barkers to take a year or longer, given the extensive and diverse applications of the West Bay park. He described a wide range of threats that must be addressed, including the impact of Easter camping on the forest and the impact of horseback riding on turtle nesting.
“Some [plans] will be simple and some will be very, very complex. I think the most complex one we’re going to have to do will be Barkers, because there is a long history of pretty unregulated and very diverse use,” Mr. Burton said.
Government earmarked $6 million in the current budget for conservation land purchases, and Mr. Burton expects the entire allocation will be spent.
“There are a couple of purchases from the original nominations. There is a piece of private land in Barkers, a piece of private land in the Lower Valley Forest and another piece on the Booby Pond Nature Reserve,” he said.
“The Booby Pond Nature Reserve purchases are almost done,” he said. “The Lower Valley Forest is just beginning down there. It’s a very small piece, but I think a price has been agreed. Barkers is still under negotiation.”
For nominations that did not make it into the 2017 order, Mr. Burton said, their time may still come.
He pointed out that Cayman Brac is conspicuously absent from Crown nominations. The Crown owns little land on the Sister Island, making protections much more difficult to establish.
Negotiations with private land owners in the Brac appear to progressing, however. Mr. Burton has hope for the future of East End Lighthouse Park, Hemmington Forest and areas of The Bluff.
“One land owner … agreed up front that she would sell and the government is in negotiation with her family now to agree on a price. We’ve also talked to another family out there that own a big area right up to the edge of the cliff. In principle, we’ve got a concept agreed with, potentially for next year’s nominations,” Mr. Burton said.
“There’s some progress on what has been called the East End Lighthouse Park. That’s been on the agenda in people’s minds for a very long time. I think we may be able to move towards that now.”
In Little Cayman, the department is wrestling with access issues that could result from establishing protected areas.
“Some of those wetland areas on Little Cayman stretch for extensive distances along the north and the south coasts. If we protected those mangrove areas and then the council refused to let anybody put a road through them, basically it would lock up the land inside from access,” Mr. Burton said.
“Everybody is of the same mind, that that is not what those proposals were for. But I think at the end of the day, explaining council’s intent might not be enough assurance. Perhaps what we are going to need to do is re-look at those nominations and try to figure out where it would be good to reserve access.”
Establishing protections for these lands would be an asset far into the future for the Cayman Islands environment and tourism industry, Mr. Burton added. After the Department of Environment receives its budget in October for the coming fiscal year, he said, it will be able to set priorities for future efforts.