The vast majority of public access paths to Cayman Islands beaches are either blocked, neglected and overgrown with vegetation, or lacking proper signs, according to a comprehensive survey.
Of the 108 officially registered public rights of way in Grand Cayman, only 17 are listed as clear, with signs, in the report by government’s Lands and Survey department.
The exhaustive study was commissioned amid public complaints that rights of access to the islands’ beaches were being blocked.
The findings show that in many cases, beach accesses have been left neglected and overgrown.
In some cases, poorly maintained paths lead to dead ends where beaches no longer exist.
In a handful of incidences, property appears to have been built across old access paths. Others have been blocked by locked gates.
Of one access in West Bay, the survey team recorded, “This beach access is blocked by a 6 foot wire fence along Garvin Road. Overgrown vegetation and no sign of any footpath can be seen beyond the wire fence.”
Another entry notes, “The access in this situation is blocked by a 4 foot chain-link fence and passes through a concrete house.”
Others are more subtle.
One entry path to Seven Mile Beach is obstructed “by decorative vegetation and gardening,” the report noted.
The survey, an update of the 2003 Grant Vincent report, identified a total of 279 access paths in Grand Cayman. Of those, 108 were classed as “registered public rights of way to the sea,” and 91 of those rights of way were fully or partially blocked or missing signs.
The surveyors identified a further 112 “unregistered paths” – rights of way that have acquired legal status through consistent use over time.
Of these, 94 were clear and 18 were blocked or overgrown.
A further 59 paths were identified as “private accesses” between neighboring property owners.
The 1,174-page report, which includes details of every access path on all three islands, along with photographs and Lands and Survey maps, will be used by the new Public Lands Commission to help ensure beach access is maintained.
The commission will be tasked with clearing overgrown paths on Crown land, erecting new signs for all registered rights of way, and taking action against private landowners who block registered paths across their land.
It will also use the report to bring actions in the Grand Court to register the prescriptive rights of way in cases where the public’s right of access is disputed.
Alice Mae Coe of the Concerned Citizens Group, whose decades-long campaign to protect beach access was the catalyst for the report, said its publication this week was a “positive step.”
She urged the Public Lands Commission to take the document and use it to ensure registered paths were kept clear and well maintained and to officially register the prescriptive paths, ensuring they would remain open to the public.
“It is not just for us few Concerned Citizens that will benefit from this,” she said. “The reason we fought so hard for so long is for the public to enjoy access to the beach without restriction and without animosity. The ocean is one of the few natural resources we have in the Cayman Islands.”
In a statement to coincide with the release of the report, Lands and Survey officials said it would be a key resource to protect and maintain beach access.
“The overall rapid coastal development in a relatively short period of time has underscored the need to openly and formally safeguard unimpeded public access to the beach for locals, residents, visitors and the next generations to come,” they said in the statement.
Minister for Lands Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said the report provided a comprehensive catalog of all rights of way on all three islands.
“This report will assist the local population to locate public beach accesses, and to report complaints of any breach of access,” she added.