The Central Caribbean Marine Institute has urged Cayman to “consider the long lasting impacts” of the cruise port development and warned it will affect Seven Mile Beach.
As the Cayman Islands heads for a referendum on the development, the Little Cayman-based research centre entered the debate, issuing a statement Friday warning of long-term impacts for the island’s environment.
The statement also cast doubt on the likely effectiveness of any coral relocation programme.
“The proposed dock construction will disrupt an entire ecosystem by removing the corals and sand,” it said.
“CCMI is concerned about the detrimental impacts to Seven Mile Beach and the coral reef ecosystem in the George Town area, and urges all stakeholders to really take stock whilst there is still time.” The organisation said the dredging required for the project would deplete Grand Cayman’s “sand budget” and disrupt the processes by which the island’s beaches are replenished.
An environmental impact assessment on the proposed development in 2015 concluded there would be no “significant impact” on Seven Mile Beach because there was no substantial sediment transfer between George Town harbour and Cayman’s most famous tourism attraction.
However, scientists at CCMI warn that the removal of coral for the project will have an impact on the sand reserves that stock all Cayman’s beaches, including Seven Mile.
Cayman’s beaches are built over millions of years by the stony skeletons of millions of coral reef organisms which break down to produce sand. The loss of corals in George Town as a result of the project will impact the island’s overall sand budget, CCMI said.
“Home and resort owners on Seven Mile Beach, and everyone who enjoys Seven Mile Beach should think seriously about the impacts of this proposed dock project on reefs, and the part corals play in contributing to Cayman’s tourism product and healthy ocean ecosystem.
“The downstream and lasting risks of dredging/coral relocation not only include the long-term loss of coral and tens of thousands of other species living within the reef, but also a gross reduction in the capacity for the reef organisms to produce the skeletal sand that makes up the beach.”
The release indicates that CCMI believes Seven Mile Beach will be impacted, stating: “We recognize that there are many complex processes contributing to Seven Mile Beach’s sand budget, but what is proposed will undoubtedly affect Cayman’s most famous beach.”
The release continued: “The full details on the coral relocation have not been released. But for simplicity, if we conceptualise that only one foot is removed off the top of the proposed twelve acre dock site, we are moving a half a million cubic feet of limestone, coral and sand.”
The scientists also say that coral relocation, planned as a mitigating measure, is unlikely to be effective, highlighting an 80% mortality rate for corals within two years of relocation, in recent studies in the Caribbean region.
“Little hope for replenishing the sand on Seven Mile Beach in the long term exists, due to the limited proven success of coral relocation as a mitigation strategy,” it said.