A decade after public consultation on the expansion of Cayman’s marine parks began, and two years after the plan was approved by Cabinet, regulations on the expanded protected zones were gazetted on Friday.
In March 2019, Cabinet approved the expansion plan to designate nearly half – 48% – of Cayman’s coastal waters as marine parks, under regulations gazetted on Friday. Prior to this, 14% of coastal waters were zoned as protected areas.
The Department of Environment began its consultation process on expanding Cayman’s marine park areas in 2011. The department presented its plans for the marine parks to government in 2016.
Cabinet approved the marine park expansion plan on 26 March 2019, but only signed off on the regulations last week, on 9 March. On the same date, ministers have also approved the Port Amendment Regulations to convert an area of a marine park in the George Town Harbour to an anchorage area, which was also gazetted on Friday.
Under the National Conservation (Marine Parks) Regulations 2021, marine parks can include a marine reserve zone; an environmental zone; a wildlife interaction zone, like the Stingray City sandbar; a line fishing zone; a shore line fishing zone; a no-diving overlay zone; or a spawning aggregation overlay zone.
Under the regulations, no-dive zones are being significantly expanded – and will be implemented for the first time on the Sister Islands. The eastern end of Little Cayman, as well as an area in the southeastern side of Cayman Brac, are now a no-dive zones.
The Compass has reached out to the Ministry and Department of Environment for comment on the new regulations and is awaiting comment.
What you can and can’t do in various marine park zones
Marine reserve zones
In marine reserve zones, people can catch and release tarpon, bonefish and permit, but no other species. They can also take fry and sprat with a fry net or cast net from the shore, a dock or while standing unaided in water no deeper than four feet so long as they take no more than 2.5 gallons of fry or sprats each day.
Licensed lionfish cullers are allowed to kill or take lionfish in these zones so long as they use approved methods and are authorised by the National Conservation Council.
Boaters can anchor vessels not exceeding 60 feet if they do not use grappling hooks, a mushroom anchor or kellick when anchoring the vessel; if they anchor in sand; or use an anchor, chain, rode or rope which does not touch coral.
Tourist vessels are not allowed to enter marine reserve zone designated as ‘Little Cayman Bloody Bay’, unless the vessel has a permit issued by the National Conservation Council.
A person in an environmental zone is not allowed to:
- take any specimen;
- damage a natural resource;
- anchor, moor, dock or ground a vessel; enter into the water;
- operate a vessel in excess of a speed of five miles per hour;
- disturb the natural environment.
Wildlife interaction zones
In wildlife interaction zones, it is forbidden to:
- take any specimen;
- sell fish food from a vessel;
- anchor a vessel in water shallower than 3 feet deep or so that any part of the anchor, chain, rode or rope is within 20 feet of any reef structure;
- wear footwear in water shallower than 4 feet deep.
Within these zones, people can engage in wildlife interaction in accordance with the orders, guidance notes or directives issued by the National Conservation Council; and wear flippers while snorkelling in water deeper than 4 feet.
Tourist vessels can only enter a WIZ area if they have a permit issued by the council can enter a WIZ zone.
Line fishing zones
It is not allowed to anchor a vessel in line fishing zones.
In these zones, people can take fry and sprat with a fry net or cast net from the shore, a dock or while standing unaided in water no deeper than 4 feet if the person takes no more than 2.5 gallons of fry or sprats each day.
A person may by hook and line, take a species of bony fish (Teleostei) which is not otherwise restricted by a species conservation plan or regulations. Also, licensed and authorised lionfish cullers may kill or take lionfish in a line fishing zone.
Vessels shorter than 60 feet can be anchored in these zones if they do not use grappling hooks, a mushroom anchor or kellick; if they anchor in sand; and so long as the anchor, chain, rode or rope which does not touch coral.
Shore line fishing zones
People in a shore line fishing zone may by hook and line from the shore, a dock or while standing unaided in water no deeper than 4 feet, take up to 2.5 gallons fry or spray with a fry net or cast net, or take a species of fish (Teleostei), which is not otherwise restricted by a species conservation plan or regulations made under the National Conservation Law.
Authorised lionfish culling is also allowed in these zones.
No-diving overlay zones
Scuba diving is not allowed in no-diving overlay zones unless the diver is authorised by the National Conservation Council to do so.
Divers can apply to the council for permission to dive in these area.
If authorised specifically by the council, licensed lionfish cullers may scuba dive to kill or take lionfish from a no-diving overlay zone.
Spawning aggregation overlay zones
Each year, between 1 Dec. and 30 April, a person in a spawning aggregation overlay zone shall not:
- take any specimen;
- enter into the water;
- anchor a vessel, between the 50 foot and 200 foot depth contours.
Maps of the various zones can be seen in the regulations below.