Guest column by Protect our Future
People often say that children should be seen and not heard. If we succumb to this oppressive statement, then our country may end up making a grand mistake.
As a group of high school students who care deeply about the environment and the future of our country and this planet, it is truly disappointing that we cannot vote on 19 Dec. in the referendum on the port project. More than 10,000 students attend school in the Cayman Islands and if we had our say, we would easily tip the scales against this project. Long after the ballots have been counted, we shall be the ones who will face the consequences.
Initially, the thought of a new port brought about visions of strong development and progress. As an environmentally focussed group we were naturally interested in the plans for the port development, but were surprised by the lack of information released from our own government. We decided to do our own research and scratch below the surface of catchy jingles and talking points. We met with representatives from Verdant Isle, from CPR Cayman, and from government. Some of what we heard raised more questions than answers. So we decided to do a little more digging. We contacted marine scientists Ellen Prager and Stephen Miller after reading their article on CNN.com to get a deeper perspective from people who have a firm grasp of this type of project.
Interestingly, we learned that George Town Harbour is a marine park and has been designated as a ‘hope spot’. These reefs are recognised by scientists for having unique ecological attributes. Eden Rock and Devil’s Grotto have always been some of our favourite places to dive and snorkel. Now we know why. Prager told us, “The George Town Harbour reefs provide an important habitat for marine species, fisheries, tourism and recreation industry, education and wonder. They also act as a barrier to dampen wave energy and prevent the offshore transport of sand during northwesters.” It is obvious that we have more to lose than picturesque sites.
We also learned that our beautiful harbour is home to several critically endangered species. Miller stated that, “The IUCN Red List identifies corals that are threatened. Species like the staghorn type corals are at increased risk of local extinction or maybe even regionally.” Miller then asked us, “If we still have these species in the harbour, and they were once abundant but are rare now, is it okay to lose the last of them to a dredging project?” This made us very concerned.
So we looked to our own National Conservation Law and Regulations. Here it states, concerning endangered species there shall be “no taking of any marine life alive or dead”.
When meeting with Verdant Isle, they did not seem concerned about the coral reefs, as they continually mentioned Dr. David Vaughan and his miraculous coral restoration projects. We tried to remind them that relocation is not replacement. Miller stated that, “A major challenge is sustaining restoration projects long enough to overcome whatever stressors kill corals every year. Additionally, you wouldn’t want to do a lot of work during the dredging project if sediment plumes are present that can kill corals.”
As students who have done our research, we understand that coral relocation can be successful but this is a ‘worst case scenario’ response. Most people do not understand that you cannot replace the whole ecosystem. As the scientists explained, the best way to safeguard the coral is not to build the port. And we agree.
As a society, it seems that we have our priorities set on the wrong things and the port is one of them. We deserve completed school buildings, and solutions to constant traffic jams, a growing landfill and a soaring cost of living. We need to stop focusing on an industry that is already thriving and truly focus on the real problems that affect us all. As the youth of the Cayman Islands, Protect Our Future will not sit around nonchalantly and allow our paradise to disintegrate in front of our eyes.
We believe our government officials have forgotten that our island is dependent on our reefs. Instead of thoughts of outrageous ports and 50-storey towers, Cayman should be an example of sustainability to the world. Instead, we risk falling into the same traps other countries now regret.
If this decision is made the damages will be almost irreversible and our generation will be the ones to pick up the mess. Do you want your future children, grandchildren and even great grandchildren to live on an island where they will have to suffer from the decision you have made?
We understand that it is probably easy to dismiss what we have to say. To some people we will just be a group of schoolchildren with a megaphone. Children that should be seen and not heard. But we have put many hours of study into this subject, we have read the reports and talked to the experts. After it all, we can say that we are concerned for the future we will inherit. We may not have a vote, but we do have a voice.
Every registered voter has a chance of being that one vote that can make the difference for generations to come. It’s up to us as Caymanians to do what is right. We are fighting for our future! The question is, do you hear us? Will you help us?
About Protect our Future
The Protect our Future group is a student environmental advocacy group.
They were awarded the people’s choice award for their efforts over the past year at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s Festival of the Seas gala last weekend.
The main authors for the piece were Ben Somerville and Dejea Lyons, with contributions from Sadie Finch, Isabela Watler, Nicolas Padega, Cici Bradley, Lilly Langevin and Connor Childs.