In 2016, George Town Harbor was designated by Mission Blue as a Hope Spot. Mission Blue and the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) define Hope Spots as “areas in the ocean recognized by scientists for having unique ecological attributes that make them especially deserving of designation as marine protected areas.” These areas that are privileged enough to be recognized have qualities of ecological, biological, aesthetic, or socioeconomic significance.
Hope Spots were created to “encourage people to take responsibility and ownership of their environment” and now for the first time, the people of the Cayman Islands could have a direct say in the fate of their marine environment and the fate of George Town Harbor through a referendum. If you live in the Caymans, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) encourages you to take responsibility for your ocean and stand up for what is right with your vote.
Guy Harvey has a long history in the Cayman Islands. Not only have Guy and his family lived in Grand Cayman for the last 19 years, but the Guy Harvey Gallery and Shoppe operates in the heart of George Town and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation conducts scientific research, outreach, and education in all three islands.
The GHOF understands business and the drive to benefit the economy of the Cayman Islands, and strengthen the tourist industry. However, they strive to protect the marine environment and educate both locals and visitors about the value of Grand Cayman’s natural assets. In Cayman, the most valuable natural resources are the sea, the coral, the beaches and the animals, forming the basis of the tourist industry.
The Cayman Islands are a popular tourist destination because the islands are clean, safe, speak English, provide the “island feel”, the water is warm, clear and there is still a relatively healthy population of fish and coral. Islanders are now asking themselves the simple question; do we want to remain a niche destination or become a mass market destination? You can check out the Cruise Port Referendum page here: https://www.facebook.com/cprca
With 2.1 million cruise ship visitors each year, Grand Cayman is a preferred destination for ocean-going tourists, second only to Alaska. The George Town Harbor itself generates an approximate economic revenue of US $21-27 million per year.
Building the berthing facility for cruise ships will mean a projected 700,000 additional visitors per year. The research and statistics reveal that stayover guests spend twice as much per person per day than cruise shippers; that visitors currently describe the islands main attractions such as Stingray City Sandbar, Cayman Turtle Centre, Public Beach and the George Town Harbor as overcrowded; and that stay over guests lose the feeling of exclusivity when cruise ship passengers crowd beaches and attractions. With its main attractions completely oversubscribed, Grand Cayman cannot logistically accommodate more visitors.
A proposed National Tourism Plan (NTP) was recently released, which is contradictory throughout the document. It points to the redevelopment of the cruise port as a necessity and then describes the negatives associated with this plan. The proposed NTP aims to “increase destination competitiveness and bolster the luxury brand.” The NTP was developed to share a “long-term vision and medium-term objectives” which aim to help tourism thrive. It also identifies its vision as “protecting the environment” and ensuring “sociocultural, economic and environmental sustainability.”
The proposed cruise ship berthing facility has questionable economic benefits. It puts existing local business at risk, including famous dive and snorkel operations such as Eden Rock and Sunset House, the tendering business and other watersports operations in George Town. The construction of an extra seven acres of commercial space will facilitate competing business and the cruise visitors will remain seasonal. The facility will increase traffic in George Town and overcrowding will deter stay over visitors from shopping in the town center.
The environmental concerns are a huge issue, as are the socio-economic consequences of dredging, coral removal and the loss of popular dive sites adjacent to the George Town waterfront, some of which are historical wrecks. This is ironic as another aim of the NTP is to “conserve the natural resources and cultural heritage” of the Cayman Islands.
The NTP identifies climate change as a threat to our coastal environment and refers to overcrowding, unsustainable tourism practices and placing undue stress on coastal and marine attractions. However, it responds with the solution of a cruise ship berthing facility, increasing tourist numbers and therefore overcrowding, unsustainable tourism practices and further undue stress on coastal and marine attractions. Not to mention the increased pressure from dredging, mass removal of coral, sedimentation and the constant disturbance of the seabed when the facility is in operation. The effects on Seven Mile beach are also unclear.
Stepping back for a bigger view, the Cayman Islands and in particular Grand Cayman face more immediate issues including establishing a centralized sewage system and national waste management plan and the relocation of the landfill, which is a serious health and safety consideration. The lack of transparency behind the plan to execute the facility is also concerning and with the public knowing very little, rumors are circulating and tensions increasing over the potential buildout of the Georgetown Harbor port.
If you are a resident of the Cayman Islands and have the ability to vote, you can make a difference by signing the petition, being circulated locally at the Lobster Pot in Georgetown, Pure Art, and Cathy Church Photo Center, and sending a message that you do not support the construction of a new berthing facility and its inevitable increase in cruise ship traffic to Grand Cayman. The group, Save Cayman continues to push hard on this issue. Future generations will thank you when they are able to swim and dive in a less developed, more pristine Grand Cayman Hope Spot!