Regulations that rezone an area of marine park into a port anchorage area will not adversely impact the marine environment, Port Authority Director Joey Woods says.
Those regulations, along with others that more than triple the amount of marine park space in Cayman’s coastal waters, were gazetted over the weekend.
The port regulations led to some concerns expressed on social media that removing the marine park designation from this area of George Town harbour would strip the site of environmental protection, and would make it easier to rezone the area if, at some stage, the idea of a cruise ship berthing port is resurrected.
Woods told the Compass, “The decision to build or not build a port in George Town is a political decision, and not one that I make. Neither do I think it has any relation to the defined port anchorage area, as one has to accept that if there is a harbour, there must be an anchorage area as vessels cannot be expected to drift aimlessly in a harbour.”
He added, that situation would be “extremely expensive, generate more pollutants than necessary for the atmosphere, dangerous to other vessels as sailors do need sleep too and a risk for collision and wrecks, which is also bad for the marine environment”.
The government’s plan to build a cruise berthing port in George Town was stalled by the Cruise Port Referendum Cayman group collecting enough petition signatures in 2019 to prompt a people-initiated referendum into whether the project should go ahead, and a subsequent court case. Then, in April last year, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced that no referendum would be held as the project was effectively dead as far as his administration was concerned.
Cruise ships have been banned from entering Cayman since March last year due to the COVID-19 crisis.
Woods said in an email to the Compass that the recent amendments to the Port Regulations and the National Conservation (Marine Parks) Regulations, “sought to remedy a longstanding conflict that has existed with having a Marine Park in a designated Port Anchorage Area. In fact, the area has been recognized as a Port Anchorage Area longer than it has been a designated Marine Park. The expansion of the recognized marine parks areas provided the Port Authority with the opportunity to seek to correct this conflict.”
He said that prior to the amendment, the marine parks regulations imposed strict liability on any vessel anchored within a designated port anchorage area if its anchor damaged any coral, or marine life. “It is a given that a change in wind speed, or direction, can cause an anchor to drag which can result in interaction with coral, or other marine life,” he said.
“So while the change remedies this situation, it still provides protection of the marine environment and enhances the Port’s control of the designated anchorage area at the same time,” he said. “In fact, the location of the Port Anchorage area vs what is designated as a Marine Park was agreed between the Department of Environment and the Port Authority.”
He added that the amendment to the port regulations stipulates that no one is allowed to take any specimen or species in a port anchorage area; cannot enter into the water in a designated port anchorage area without permission, for safety reasons; cannot damage, destroy or cause loss of a natural resource, except in the normal course of anchoring or mooring a vessel; cannot dispose of waste or effluent of any kind, or in any other way disturb, alter or destroy the natural environment.
“So essentially, the amendment that recognizes the Port Anchorage Area still preserves the marine environment,” he said. “In addition, the area within close proximity of the shore that contains a wide swath of coral habitat running north from the Royal Watler Terminal, which was originally a part of the designated Port Anchorage Area in the regulations, has been removed from such designation and is now a Marine Reserve area.”
The Ministry and Department of Environment plan to hold a press briefing on Friday afternoon to give more information on the marine park regulations.