An environmental impact assessment has been deemed unnecessary for a proposed resort development at Beach Bay, described as “critical habitat” for sea turtle nesting.
The National Conservation Council’s advice on the project determined that, “although the loss of primary [turtle nesting] habitat is considered an adverse effect, it is not considered to warrant an [environmental impact assessment]”.
The advice, scheduled for confirmation by the council on 11 Sept., concludes that the Department of Environment possesses enough expertise on turtles that an assessment will not be needed.
Detailed plans for the Mandarin Oriental Hotel project were submitted to the Central Planning Authority in July and will be presented on 11 Sept. The project has been in the discussion phase for several years.
As proposed, the DoE expects the project to greatly diminish the site’s beach area – one of the few sandy beaches located between Savannah and Bodden Town.
Current plans include two main hotel buildings, a pool, tennis courts, a restaurant and two beachfront villas. The resort would include 100 guest rooms and 25 apartments, and reach up to nine storeys in height.
Much of the construction is planned directly on the beach. Construction of villas, pathways and a sewerage system are expected to reduce the 170‑foot wide beach to approximately 90 feet, according to the DoE.
“While we understand the desire to create an experience where villas open directly onto the beach, we do not support building directly on the beach. The villas could be positioned so they open onto the beach but are not directly built on the beach,” reads a 5 Aug. memorandum addressed from the Director of Environment to the Director of Planning.
“The plans as proposed make a relatively small beach (for the size of the development) even smaller, and this effect will worsen as the wider development comes forward.”
The National Conservation Council has made a series of recommendations to reduce the project’s environmental impact, if the CPA moves to approve the application.
Those recommendations include relocating villas and pathways off the beach, installing turtle-friendly lighting, checking in with the Department of Environment on the presence of turtle nesting before works begin, and no construction during turtle-nesting season, from 1 May-30 Nov.
The DoE described the location as a high-density turtle-nesting beach over the past 20 years. It is considered critical habitat under the proposed Sea Turtle Species Conservation Plan.
The site was home to 20 turtle nests and 48 nesting attempts in 2017, according to the DoE. Through July 2019, there had been two nests and 12 attempts at nesting recorded for the season.
While revisions were made to the resort plans following a 28 May meeting with the DoE, proposed structures remained on the beach.
“Although the path is now further back from the majority of turtle nests, it does still overlap with critical habitat and there will be adverse effects on sea turtles,” the National Conservation Council advice reads, adding, “The applicant has reduced but not eliminated these adverse effects.”
The DoE also concludes that “greenhouse gases and climate change [do] not appear to be accounted for” in the project plans.
“Climate change is likely to have severe impacts on the Cayman Islands, including this site. The Cayman Islands are inherently vulnerable to climate change because of the small size, low-lying areas and other environmental factors,” the NCC states.
“The Proposed Development is likely to both contribute to climate change and be affected by climate change.”
Approximately 10 acres of primary habitat, including dry forest and shrubland, would be lost to the development. The DoE has recommended that construction retain and incorporate as much native vegetation as possible, adding that loss of the habitat would compromise the ability of the natural environment to sequester carbon.
Revised plans include a waste water treatment plant to reduce the impact on water quality. Plans did not include generators or the use of renewable energy, according to the DoE.
Other potential impacts noted by the department were socioeconomic. Several potential benefits were noted in terms of promoting tourism and business to the eastern districts.
The site’s location in a residential neighbourhood, however, could result in “minor socioeconomic effects by changing the community”.