Grant funding for important environmental projects in the Cayman Islands and other British Overseas Territories may be impacted by Britain’s exit from the European Union.

With the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looming, Britain’s territories are readying themselves for the ripple effect.

One potential consequence is the loss of a vital source of funding for environmental protection and research. The EU Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Territories initiative, known as BEST grants, currently provide around $1 million annually in funding to Britain’s Overseas Territories. The Cayman Islands National Trust and the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman have received BEST grants in recent years.

A 100,000 Euro grant from that source helped CCMI fund a study to determine the movement patterns of lionfish on Little Cayman’s reefs in an effort to better manage the invasive species.

Carrie Manfrino, founder of CCMI, said any loss of funding would be a major blow to the centre’s important research, including groundbreaking work on coral reef health and climate change.

“We have urgent issues to address related to coral reefs, and a window of opportunity to address them. We have an incredible opportunity to do the work here in Little Cayman at the research centre that many locations in the Caribbean do not have.

“It would be a major loss if we cannot compete for funding from the EU, which has enormous resources to [help] solve these big problems.”

She said CCMI was currently working to grow a population of corals that are more resistant to high temperature stress events – a development that could prove important to the survival of coral reefs in the region.

“Losing EU funding for projects that will impact the whole region is a major loss for all of us, especially in the marine realm,” she added.

Nadia Hardie, director of the National Trust, said the organisation sought grants independently and in combination with other groups, such as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

“We are greatly concerned by the potential effects of Brexit on our levels of funding and access to EU and UK grants on offer,” she said.

“The Trust relies heavily on these grants to deliver key environmental programmes and conservation efforts. Without these we would find it very difficult, such is the need for funding, to have any real chance for success.”

Hardie said she was working on a submission to the UK government, which has put out a ‘call for evidence’ from non-profits and other environmental groups in the territories as it assesses how best to manage any funding shortfall post Brexit.

The issue was first highlighted in a UK parliamentary committee report, ‘Global Britain and the British Overseas Territories: Resetting the relationship’.

It states, “Some of the evidence we received suggests that the OTs’ ability to manage their environments and mitigate the impact of climate change may be hampered by the loss of EU funding, particularly the roughly £1 million a year the OTs receive from the EU’s BEST Initiative.”

The UK government has pledged to match EU funding up to 2020 and is considering how best to replace such funding post Brexit.

The ‘call for evidence’ – basically a consultation document – states, “If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, and without further action, the UK will leave the EU Budget. This would mean governments and other organisations in our Overseas Territories could lose future funding for existing projects under EU programmes.

However, the Chancellor announced that the UK government will guarantee funding for specific EU projects. This will provide certainty for British Overseas Territories governments and participating organisations over the course of our EU exit.”