Protect Our Future calls for mangrove conservation

Protect Our Future members at the site of clearing of mangroves at Prospect Point on Monday. - Photo: Carolina Lopez

Protect Our Future members marked Global Wetlands Day on Monday by protesting the destruction of mangroves at an Old Prospect Road site after a developer removed the vegetation and filled the area without planning permission.

The group met at the site with Martin Keeley, director of the Mangrove Education Project in Cayman, to talk about the significance of losing yet another mangrove site to development.

“The Department of Environment has put together a Mangrove Conservation Plan. It’s been sitting in Cabinet for six months, seven months, and nobody’s acting on it and we need that in place so that there is some kind of control over this sort of thing because this is happening on a constant basis,” Keeley said.

Keeley, who has worked for 20 years on an international mangrove action project, spoke about the significance of Cayman’s wetlands and the current lack of action in protecting them.

He said that if the Mangrove Conservation Plan is approved by Cabinet, it will protect all mangrove species and allow the DoE to take enforcement action into their own hands.

Mangroves act as juvenile nurseries for 60-70% of species found on coral reefs, and stores large quantities of carbon dioxide in their roots, Keeley said.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s a mangrove, saltwater, wetland, or it’s a pond; most people see it as just swamp and [think] you’ve got to fill this swamp in because ‘that’s nasty because of all the mosquitoes’,” Keeley said.

Protect Our Future member from John Gray High School, Jhadari Lumley, said she is a nature lover who is dejected to see the number of trees around her decreasing.

“I think we should keep a lot of these trees because it gives us a lot more benefits than roads,” said Lumley, who is in Year 10.

Yasmin Vernon, a Cayman Prep and High School Year 12 student and Protect Our Future member, said trees were being destroyed to make way for buildings, which shouldn’t be what Cayman is about. “I think we just need to start caring more about conservation and keep our natural assets that we have,” Vernon said.

Another Protect Our Future member Luke Sell, a Year 12 student from Cayman International School, said he’s lived in Grand Cayman his whole life and is sad to see how the reefs have fewer fish. Sell said there is already a lot of underdeveloped space that developers could use instead of mangrove and ecological areas.

“I would like there to be less lax zoning laws,” he said, adding, “I think they have to value what makes Cayman the way it is instead of building apartments that we don’t really need.”

The mangrove area that was cleared in Prospect Point was confirmed by DoE to be an illegal clearing and filling of the site, for which the Planning Department has issued an enforcement notice.

Chris Luijten, who has recently established the group Cayman Mangrove Conservation, said the powers at play that are in the position to effect change have not responded in favour of conservation.

“The financial incentives to them is what drives their behaviour. It means the risk for them that is associated with destroying mangroves and filling land without approval is so low compared to the benefits, that even if in the last few months there have been countless articles in the news, public outcry, they just do it again,” Luijten said.

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