Tour encourages voters to judge harbour for themselves

It is one thing to be told of a place and another to experience it.

The National Trust for the Cayman Islands embraced the ‘show, don’t tell’ philosophy on Sunday morning, taking dozens of guests out on the Nautilus submarine to witness sites in George Town Harbour that many have only read about.

National Trust director Nadia Hardie was not able to attend the full tour, instead leaving before departure to meet with lawyers regarding the judicial review of the 19 Dec. port referendum.

“Unfortunately, I can’t come with you this morning because I’ve got to go spend two hours with some lawyers,” Hardie said in opening remarks, eliciting a round of applause from the public.

“But the National Trust really wanted to try to show people what we have out here. We’re not telling you to vote yes or no. If you can vote, just vote. But I think it’s really important to actually see what’s at stake. …

“If you can vote on Dec. 19, if the referendum does go on that day, then just make an informed decision. That’s all we’re asking. Sadly, I don’t think you will have the facts if we go ahead on the 19th.”

The hour-long tour took guests to sites that are expected to feel the greatest impact of the proposed port project: the wrecks of the Cali and the Balboa, Eden Rock and Soto’s Reef.

Aaron Hunt, of Eco Divers, guided guests as the Nautilus navigated reef structures, hardpan and sandy areas, schools of fish and other marine life.

“Reef structures that are up to 30-feet tall and that reach within 10 feet of the surface are forming the future landscape and reef crests of this island,” Hunt said.

Even for reef areas that are not projected to be moved, Hunt fears the effects of silt plume that could prove harmful for the surrounding ecosystem.

“It needs to be looked at very seriously. The layout for what’s going on, the design and the concept, seems to fly in the face of what makes maritime sense,” Hunt said.

Proponents of the port say they do not expect the ecological impact to be significant and have assured voters they will be able to mitigate the effects of construction through coral relocation.

“Many of the proposals that have been tossed around recently speak of an almost magical quality for individuals to be able to solve problems of … the corals needing to be moved, of the reef structure being needing to move, of the financial impact.”

Eden Hurlston joined the tour, sharing the experience with his partner and son. For him, the experience was a reminder of what makes Cayman special.

“[It showed] how precious this reef system is, how unique it is, the fact that it is worth so much more alive,” Hurlston said.

“The research and what we can learn from having this ecosystem thrive is worth way more than … any amount they want to put on it. We have a priceless treasure. You can’t sell that for any amount.”

Long-time visitor to the island Elizabeth Barnum of North Carolina said that she knows of no other Caribbean capital city that offers such ease of access to shore snorkelling and diving.

“As we were on the boat today and looking at the corals, what crossed my mind is that we may be some of the last humans to ever see this incredible reef here in Cayman,” she said.

“It’s very sad to think that humans would contemplate destroying such an important and beautiful resource.”