A tour company offering snorkel trips to Smith Cove has been moved off the beach amid public outcry about commercial activity encroaching on the popular site.
Residents and beachgoers raised concerns earlier this week about the appearance of beach vendors at the site. One company, Anchor Tours, was offering trips to the beach, providing snacks, snorkel gear and sun loungers.
Images, posted by beach access campaigners, show around 25 chairs being set up at the site under the supervision of a tour guide. The tours appeared to be being promoted on board visiting cruise ships.
Morne Botes, one of the campaigners involved with an earlier Save the Cove campaign to prevent a condo complex being built on land next to the beach, said residents feared a repeat of the situation at Seven Mile Beach over the last few years, where commercial vendors had taken over public areas.
He said Smith Cove was gifted to the government by the Webster family for public use and carried protective covenants that outlawed commercial use of the site.
The main beach, part of a half-acre plot, was gifted to the governor for public use for a peppercorn price in 1978 on condition that “no trade or business whatsoever” is carried out at the site, according to land transfer documents reviewed by the Cayman Compass.
Barbara Conolly, MLA for the area, said she had acted swiftly to shut down the Smith Cove tours. She said she had alerted the Public Lands Commission and met with the tour guides and advised them they were breaking the law.
“We told them that is not going to happen. They will have to change their tour,” she said Tuesday night. “The bottom line is there cannot be any commercial activity, and it has stopped as of today.”
Ms. Conolly said she had also been in touch with the police and Department of Commerce and Investment to keep checks on activity at Smith Cove over the next few weeks.
“Those covenants were set up from the get-go to prevent commercial activity on the land. The problem is no one has been out there checking,” she said.
From January, she said, a new inspector would be appointed under the Public Lands Law with a remit to monitor activity on public beaches. Though the law does create scope for vendors to obtain licenses to operate on public land, that process is currently restricted to Public Beach at Seven Mile Beach.
Ms. Conolly said there may be some future opportunities for businesses to operate at other island beaches, within certain parameters agreed through the Public Lands Commission, but she said that could not include Smith Cove.
“It is special and it has to remain that way,” she added.
Ms. Conolly said she empathized with the tour operators. She said they were young men who were trying to develop their business and sincerely believed they had the right to operate at that location.
“I was disheartened for these young men because they are trying to make an honest living and provide opportunities for others,” she said, “but we can’t allow commercial activity at Smith Cove. Period.”