The Port Authority will be responsible for policing snorkelling, diving and other marine activity in George Town harbour as part of a rezone of the coastal waters off Grand Cayman’s capital.
The change, which will be introduced alongside new legislation expanding and enhancing Cayman’s system of marine parks, means part of the harbour will no longer officially be designated as a marine park.
Joey Woods, director of the Port Authority, said the zoning change was for safety reasons, and would happen regardless of whether the cruise and cargo pier development plan went ahead. He said locals and tourists would still be able to swim, dive and snorkel from the shore and the majority of coral reef in the area would remain within the marine park zone.
A map of the port zone, provided by the Department of Environment, appears to show the Wreck of the Cali, a popular snorkelling area, accessible from Rackam’s and Balboa Beach on the waterfront, falls within the restricted area.
It’s not clear how that will impact water sports activity in that area.
Woods said the main aim of the rezone was to ensure safety.
He said there was already a significant amount of boat traffic in the anchorage area, and it was important the Port Authority had control over who was in the water. He said the same fishing restrictions would apply as in the marine park.
He added, “No diving, or fishing, or in-water activity is permitted in the designated Port Anchorage Area without first obtaining the permission of the Port. This is to maintain the safety and security of the harbour and anchorage area. Diving in an area where vessels are operating or anchoring is dangerous and we are trying to maintain a safe and secure harbour. Separating the two helps us do that, in that we know where to expect divers and where not to.”
He said the anchorage area and marine park zone had previously overlapped and separating them would be a “win-win” for both the Port Authority and the Department of Environment. One advantage, according to Woods, is that it will be very clear to visiting vessels where the anchorage zone ends and the marine park begins.
“It also means that vessels clearly know where the Marine Park Zone commences and they are not to enter it and will be responsible for any damage they cause to it should they do so.”
John Bothwell, manager of the Legislation Implementation and Coordination Unit of the Department of Environment, said the zoning change was part of the enhanced marine parks legislation approved by Cabinet. The overall effect will be to increase no-fishing zones around all three islands, protecting some 44% of the island’s territorial waters, but it will also mean part of the harbour moves out of the direct control of the Department of Environment and ceases to be a marine park.
He said there would still be no fishing allowed in the port anchorage area, but it would be the responsibility of the Port Authority to police this, along with snorkelling and diving in the area.
“From a conservation management perspective, there should be no impact from the change of zone. However, policing of the Port Anchorage Area, including the no fishing rules, will be the responsibility of the port authority or police,” he said.
New marine parks legislation is currently going through the legal drafting process.