HC 846 Sustainability in the Overseas Territories

Written evidence submitted by Christine Rose-Smyth


1. The moral and legal duty established under international conventions and the Environmental Charter is not adequately recognised in the Cayman Islands. It is not at all clear that any relevant recommendations made by EAC in the 2008 Report, Halting Biodiversity Loss have been implemented to create a so-called "joined up approach".

2. Extensive preparatory work is sitting on the shelf.

3. Definitive action to halt biodiversity loss by halting primary habitat loss is required now, principally in the form of:

a. Adequate, integrated legislation for spatial planning and environmental protection - a Framework for Environmental Responsibility with concrete outcomes set out for action within a defined time period complementary to the Framework for Fiscal Responsibility - is required.

b. Utilisation of the Cayman Islands Environmental Protection Fund as originally envisage in 1995.


4. Christine Rose-Smyth carries out research on the Cayman Islands native orchid flora and is an administrator for eBird Cayman Islands. She is the recipient of a small 2012-13 Overseas Territories Programme Fund Award [1] and is a member of the Cayman Islands Orchid Society Conservation Group, but is otherwise self-funded. The views expressed herein are personal and do not represent the opinions of any other group.


5. Comments are provided on two of the seven issues being examined:

· Whether the recommendations in 2008 Report, Halting Biodiversity Loss have been implemented.

· How weakness in civil society and governance in the UKOT’s impact on conservation.

6. The pre-eminent threat to biodiversity in the Cayman Islands both long term and immediate, is not climate change but human impact on primary habitat. Land conservation lags substantially behind marine conservation. All three Islands contain substantial tracts of primary habitat. For example: the Central Mangrove Wetland on Grand Cayman represents 17% of the land area of the Islands; the remaining Ironwood Forest fragment in George Town contains four important endemic plants, including two endemic orchid species. The ghost orchid, Dendrophylax fawcettii, was featured in the top 25 of endangered species selected for Priceless or Worthless launched at the World Conservation Congress in Korea in September 2012 [2] . At present voluntary stewardship or mere inaction are the only reasons areas like these remain relatively untouched. We have the option of ensuring protection now versus remediating them in the future at much higher cost, assuming it would even be possible.

7. A great deal of preparatory work has been done, much with the assistance of some of the support programmes provided by the UK Government, much by local endeavour of the Department of the Environment and non-governmental organisations, especially the National Trust for the Cayman Islands and also by private individuals. At the macro level: a National Biodiversity Action Plan has been drafted (2009); a Conservation Law has been drafted (2002); a Green Paper: Consultation draft: Climate Change Issues for the Cayman Islands - Towards a Climate Change Policy has been drafted (2010), an Environment and Coastal Zone Management Report on Proposed Amendments to the Development Plan 1997 has been drafted (2002); a ‘Go East’ – Strategy for the Sustainable Development of the Eastern Districts of Grand Cayman has been drafted (2009); new extended Marine Parks proposals are currently in the consultation phase (2012). This list is non-exhaustive.

8. Whether the recommendations in 2008 Report, Halting Biodiversity Loss (RHBL) have been implemented.

9. In the RHBL you concluded that the UK Government must act immediately to protect the equally valuable and higher risk internationally important species and habitats found in the OTs. However, in my view, all the criticisms levelled by the UKOT Conservation Forum in the RHBL continue to plague progress on natural environment issues in the Cayman Islands.

10. The direct and indirect substantial benefits of biodiversity in the marine environment has fairly high recognition in the Cayman Islands due to the large part that diving and watersports play in the Islands’ tourism product. The value of terrestrial biodiversity receives much less consideration. Land is seen by an influential constituency as only there to be exploited through development. A significant and unusual contradiction to this was the community-based successful opposition to the routing of a new arterial road through the Ironwood Forest of George Town in 2008 and more recently a proposed port development in the district of East End. However, a large tract of the land in East End that would have been affected by the port development has this year been stripped of its primary forest for no approved purpose.

11. More recent illustrations of the ineffectiveness of existing planning and environmental legislation are:

a. A Frank Sound development represents cumulative applications to the Planning Department for 535 acres of land for which Planning is apparently powerless to require a "planned area development" application;

b. A proposal for the Duck Pond area represents 416 acres of land in the Central Mangrove Wetland. Together these amount to more than 2% of the entire Cayman Islands;

c. At the Shetty Hospital site in East End substantial land clearance has already occurred;

d. Preparatory work has begun at the proposed Dart landfill site in Bodden Town ahead of a voluntary EIA. However, the draft terms of reference are of limited scope and subject to criticism. A fundamental flaw is the pre-determination of the site without public input.

The limited ability to require Environmental Impact Assessments is either circumvented or nugatory.

12. How weakness in civil society and governance in the UKOT’s impact on conservation.

13. The Overseas Territories White Paper: Security, Success and Sustainability, June 2012 (White Paper) accurately identifies the glaring immediate threats to the pristine primary undisturbed habitats of the Cayman Islands: unsustainable development, less than ideal waste management practices and invasive species. Of these, the unmitigated advance of random, unplanned (in the sense that there is no true national planning and development policy) development, regardless of actual need is the primary problem. Fees and the benefit of short term economic activity are the foremost consideration even in times of prosperity and more so in an economic downturn. Culturally powerful, also, is a tradition of mastery over land. In its most extreme form this is manifested in absolute opposition to any proposals for environmental protection to the point of rejection of full compensation at market value as a model for acquisition of land for habitat conservation.

14. As a result successive governments have not been able to reconcile the laissez faire tradition with a recognised need for integrated national planning. The Cayman Islands desperately needs to break this deadlock.

15. Page 41 of the White Paper reports that DEFRA assists in meeting the requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS). At page 42 it is proposed that placing environmental consideration at the heart of decision making is to be achieved by a more strategic, co-ordinated approach. This could not come soon enough in the Cayman Islands. With respect, the time for platitudes and preparation is over and the time for action is now. The comments made by Dr Peter Hayes on his recent trip to Cayman are therefore welcome.

16. I recognise that the description of protection efforts at page 98 of the White Paper as limited by space. It is inaccurate nonetheless. For example, it overlooks the great efforts with the marine parks system over the last 25 years and the blue iguana recovery programme. More importantly it over emphasises the role of the Botanic Park and the bird sanctuaries as safe environments. Both are under threat, the Park from proposed encircling development (see paragraph 11). The ponds described in the White Paper are inadequately protected by the antiquated Animals Law.

a. Animals are only protected within a 300 feet zone around the ponds.

b. The only such sanctuary in Cayman Brac, Dennis Point (Salt Water) Pond was deleted from the Schedule to the Animals Law on 5 November 2012 [3] . In 2009 the Premier of the Cayman Islands said, in relation to turning the pond into a marina open to the sea. "[If I have to] shift road a bit, chase away a few Whistling Ducks, but so be it, that’s common law. If I had my way today … I would sign that document today and say to those gentlemen that proposed it, go ahead and get it done." [4] Mr Bush signed the Environmental Charter for the Cayman Islands in 2001.

17. This is only one example of how conflicting goals in civil society and weakness in governance in this UKOT impact on conservation. Many other could be provided, in addition to those alluded to in paragraph 11 above.


18. The Bill of Rights (Part 1 of the 2009 Constitution) came into effect in November 2012. It mandates that the "government shall, in all its decisions, have due regard to the need to foster and protect an environment that is not harmful to the health or well-being of present and future generations, while promoting justifiable economic and social development". The UK Government and the CIG must ensure that appropriate legislation is passed, environmental impact assessments are undertaken before approval for major development is given and the public must have reasonable time for consultation. At minimum the Development Plan 1997 (2010 Revision) must be updated (incorporating the Environment and Coastal Zone Management Report on Proposed Amendments to the Development Plan 1997 (ECZR)) and a Conservation law adopted followed by immediate integrated and effective implementation in conjunction with the National Biodiversity Action Plan. Separate legislation for Little Cayman and Cayman Brac should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.

19. It is argued by certain land lobbyists that the Conservation Bill 2009 is unworkable even though their objections are not well-founded [5] . The Conservation Law must be finalised, passed and acted upon. A pilot management agreement programme for private land should be developed to provide illustrated concrete example(s). In the meantime publicity for voluntary adoption of the ECZR recommendation for conservation of primary habitat should be promoted.

20. Notwithstanding the vigorous debate as to the future site of landfill services in Grand Cayman 30 years of commissioning of reports must end. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac must adopt best practices as soon as possible as well.

21. The Cayman Islands Environmental Protection Fund must be utilised as originally envisage in 1995 by Governor Gore, the National Trust and others [6] . In 1997 an environmental protection fee was added to the tourist tax paid by all persons passing through the international ports, air and sea (essentially cruise ship traffic). As it stands the fee is being applied contrary to the legitimate expectations of those who pay it. Proper implementation would involve forming the recommended independent oversight body, free from government interference; releasing the Fund from its role as a budgetary prop for the Cayman Islands government; applying the US$50 million (and accumulating) Fund for its intended use of acquisition of land, including the Central Mangrove Wetland. Do not use Fund monies for bounty programmes for invasive species (lionfish or otherwise). Matching funds from the UK would have a significant impact.

22. The Central Mangrove Wetland should be designated a Ramsar Site. The Crown wetlands in Little Cayman, that have not already been put under National Trust control and which already represent a significant eco-tourism investment, should be vested in the Trust.

23. Guarantee funding of the core expenses of the National Trust to ensure that the Trust is able to deliver its mission without untoward government influence.

24. To assist with awareness, make BBC natural world programming free for broadcast on a local Cayman Islands station.


25. The failure to implement the 2008 recommendations adequately or at all, nor to address governance issues leads to the conclusion that :

a. The UK Government strategy, whether it actually embodies the principles of sustainable development or not, does not appropriately trades-off environmental protection, social development and economic growth because it has not taken significant steps beyond the merely aspirational.

b. The UK Government is not fulfilling its responsibilities to protect biodiversity in the Cayman Islands.

26. There are abundant opportunities for the UK Government to meet its obligations to this OT. The UK and Cayman Islands governments should as a matter of formal policy adopt the conclusions of the Bermuda Ombudsman: "The UK Charter is more than just a statement of good intentions. ... our signature on the UK Environmental Charter has the force of law. Our word must be our bond." [7]

4 December 2012

[1] Development of Genetic Fingerprints for Endangered Endemic Orchids of the Cayman Islands; being executed in conjunction with RBG Kew.


[2] https://www.zsl.org/conservation/news/the-100-most-threatened-species,997,NS.html & http://viewer.zmags.com/publication/44234ae6#/44234ae6/1


[3] http://www.caymannewsservice.com/science-and-nature/2012/11/06/legislators-defeat-environment-animal-law

[4] http://caymannewsservice.com/headline-news/2009/08/31/bush-supports-brac-marina


[5] For example, objectors focus on the general penalty clause as if the Interpretation Law does not apply.

[6] CALPE 2000: Linking the Fragments of Paradise. Proceedings UKOTCF 2001 pp118-119

[7] Today's Choices – Tomorrow's Costs , Systemic Investigation into the Process and Scope of Analysis for Special Development Orders, February 2012 and Special Report of 1 June 2012 (www.ombudsman.bm)

Prepared 14th January 2013