Just over 6 percent of land in the Cayman Islands has been protected from development and other threats since the National Conservation Law was established five years ago, officials confirmed this week.
The law, passed in December 2013, created the framework for the first public protected areas in the territory. Since then, Cabinet, the National Conservation Council and the Department of Environment have collectively moved to designate 4,111 acres of land for protected status under the law.
Booby Pond on Little Cayman, the Crown-owned land at Barkers, and large swathes of land in the Central Mangrove Wetlands are among the areas preserved for future use so far.
Though no new funds were allocated for land purchases in the 2018/19 budget, Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour said government was working with the Department of Environment and others to identify areas that could be protected in the future.
Gina Ebanks-Petrie, director of the DoE, said the long-term aim was to protect one-fifth of Cayman’s land mass. The National Conservation Law allows for government to purchase land for preservation or enter into agreements with private landowners.
“Ideally, we want to have a minimum 20 percent overall protected land area, in line with international recommendations,” Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said.
“We are delighted that the initial transactions for the protected areas have now been completed. This has always been one of the core purposes of the National Conservation Law. These new protected areas now safeguard several areas that Caymanians have always valued for their natural beauty and the spectacular diversity of flora and fauna there.”
Fred Burton, the DoE’s terrestrial resources unit manager, said the protection of such large areas in such a short space of time was a “monumental advance.”
“It could not have been possible without the full support of our elected officials and the implementation of the National Conservation Law,” he said.
Premier Alden McLaughlin spoke about Cayman’s protected areas at a United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association meeting in London earlier this week, stating that the government had recently added 634 acres to the land under protection in the Cayman Islands, bringing the total to 4,111 acres – equivalent to 6.3 percent of Cayman’s total landmass.
The protected areas were all identified from public nominations that were received and considered by the National Conservation Council. For privately owned land, the DoE contacted the landowners to ask if they were interested in selling to government for protected area purposes.
Those nominations advanced only with landowners’ consent and consultation with adjacent landowners, as well as the wider public.
Cabinet members had the final say on all protected area nominations.
Minister Seymour said work would continue to identify suitable sites to be considered for purchase for protection. Funding for such transactions is typically drawn from the Environmental Protection Fund.
“It’s a fitting tribute, as we approach the 5th anniversary of the National Conservation Law’s passage on Dec. 13, 2013 to celebrate these protected areas, now preserved for our children and grandchildren to learn about and enjoy,” Mr. Seymour said. “While we recognize the importance of development, we have to strike a careful balance between progress and the need to safeguard our environment for future generations of residents and visitors to enjoy.”