Sea-level rise and storm impacts pose a serious long-term threat to the viability of Seven Mile Beach as a national recreational asset, the Department of Environment has warned.
The lack of a national development plan or a carrying capacity assessment for the beach are also highlighted by the department as key concerns for the future of Cayman’s most famous natural attraction.
While the planning department has begun the first update of the development plan in more than two decades, that process is still in its infancy and no substantive decisions have been taken.
Meantime new projects continue apace on the Seven Mile Beach corridor.
Significant mangrove and wetland habitat has been lost over the years and the DoE warns that the lack of planning for any meaningful green space or natural ecosystems in the surrounding area is a significant concern.
“Seven Mile Beach is a finite resource and there is currently no agreed carrying capacity for the level of development proposed or a proper development plan for that area or the country as a whole,” DoE Deputy Director Tim Austin said in an emailed response to questions from the Compass.
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The DoE will be one of the agencies consulted when the Plan Cayman process resumes after the election.
Austin said the department would like to see an updated development plan that “contemplates a realistic balance between meaningful ecological viability of natural ecosystems, human wellbeing and development within established limits or targets and based on realistic and agreed population scenarios.”
Though the department acknowledges the potential of high-rise buildings to allow for properties to be set further back from the ocean, Austin warns this is not happening in most cases.
He said many new multi-storey developments “push the maximum envelope” in terms of setbacks and are often built even closer to the beach.
“The trend of redeveloping older Seven Mile Beach properties for taller and higher density occupation has meant that several properties have moved closer to the active shoreline rather than maintain the historical setbacks,” he said.
He added that the increased density of taller buildings also had impacts on supporting infrastructure, including pools, pathways and cabanas, that often led to further encroachment on the active beach.
Amid concerns about erosion along Seven Mile – with parts of the beach often under water for weeks at a time – the DoE advocates for a policy of ‘managed retreat’.
Austin said the concept involved moving structures damaged by storms and coastal erosion off the beach rather than simply ‘building back stronger’ in the same location.
“The price of course is the loss of property square footage, which in the Cayman Islands is placed at a premium, but the benefit is that natural coastal systems are able to be reintroduced at no physical cost, and potentially beach recovery, albeit further inland, can take place to the advantage of the beach-going population.”
- This story is part of our ‘Seven on Seven’ feature series this week looking at the future of development in Cayman, and in the Seven Mile Beach corridor in particular, from multiple perspectives.