Port of Grand Cayman

September 17, 2018


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.

Port of Grand Cayman

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/cprcayman

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!


9 thoughts on “Grand Cayman Port Controversy

  1. What is so sad is a country that foreigners came to, have done nothing to improve the Caymanian way of life. The cost of living is so high that any worker can hardly afford beer (US$ 6-12 )and a hamburger with fries US$20-25. The cruise ship industry is allowing the local people to reach a standard of living that equate to middle class. Working in stayover markets equates to living standards of lower class. The cost of a car would elevate you very quickly.
    The coral reefs in GT harbour are not the only reefs in the Cayman Islands. In fact the Balboa can hardly be used due to tenders passing over the wreck. Eden Rock has been hit several times and recently had a 100 meter ship running on top of the reef. A cruise ship that was anchored, instead of tied to a dock smacked the same reef with the stern of the ship.
    We are competing with other Caribbean islands who all have cruise ship facilities. The cruise lines due to their own competition are now building larger volume ships. They will not be able to tender in the time limit to see the island. Plus having a dock, will also allow the drop off reef time to repair itself. The reefs there have had anchors and chains from the first cruise ship Atlantis in 1937 till now. The damage is aprox. 2000 ft long and from 60 feet deep going out to the drop off. No one who has been diving here has EVER said anything about that ( convienient ). The Gov’t here has delayed the project from 2013 to do an EIA. There not happy they want another one. Then they want a petition for a referendum. We have an election every 4 years we have been talking and finally promised to do this project. People who want this port are aprox. 4500 people who are mostly Caymanians. There are aprox. 40 companies here diving they usually have 2 boats some more. If there is more then 5 Caymanians working in this industry, I would say it was a miracle.
    I am 65 years old and my family has been here for hundreds of years. We deserve better . Why don’t they teach free of charge to instructor level? Why isn’t there instruction in the public school? David Miller NAUI,PADI instructor I got mine from ITC, I have been diving from 15 years of age.

  2. Well said and how true.

    The problem is the love of money and the fear of not having it, instead of compassion, the believe that money can be the solution, then as a result, not only on the Cayman Islands but all over the world, materialism and fear of poverty are sinking the planet into a toxic destruction.

    By the way who and for what purposes some mysterious mischievous people are spraying toxic chem-trails all over our blue- green planet?

    Yet take heart: our Milky Way Galaxy including our Solar System are going through a metamorphosis and therefore stars and planets are warming up in this galactic ascension.

  3. Greed for profit is the cause of the problem with all aspects of our health and environment. From Monsanto destroying ground soils and seed, to name a few, to over development of pristine areas for profit. It’s like fast fashion or fast food, make the money now and don’t worry about the future. We are at a serious tipping point for humanity and reckless developers need to be stopped. The science is in! This is no longer debatable.
    What is it that these passengers of the cruise expect to see if this goes through? Another close to a million people on the island, it will be trampled over, crowds will make the experience less than positive and then what? Oh well too late, the environment will be destroyed and the people living there will be left with the mess not to mention all the run off into the surrounding ocean from all these extra people’s impact. Who is going to take of the trash that would be generated once the consumers leave daily? (Think restaurants, hotels, consumption, etc.) Another million toilets flushing, where is that going to go, who is going to pay to treat it? This is a NO.

  4. Follow the money. Just another example of short-sighted greed. Clearly the entire initiative is based on unsustainable arguments and is in the interest of a small clique that stands to benefit. Forging ahead with a development plan as described will leave devastation in its wake. Eventually, the appeal of St. George and Cayman will become so degraded by the impact of over use and crowding, that the touted increase in “business and tourism” will implode, and the crowd will move on to wreck some as yet “undiscovered” vacation paradise.
    The mentality and motivation of those planning this potential disaster are the same kind of individuals who would cut the Giant Sequoias to make paneling, open the Grand Canyon to mining, and level mountain tops in West Virginia to mine coal (which they have done). Clearly the initiative has to be stopped by popular outrage, and recognition of the obvious moral imperative.

  5. Well stated and a good summary of the issue. Our quaint “Island Time Forgot” has been thoroughly discovered, populated and exploited in record time to the extent that the Caymanian way of life seems to be fading into history within just 60 years of opening the airport. Isn’t the term “Sustainable Development” the epitome of an oxymoron? Sustainable means you can do it forever. Our leaders seem to be taking the route of endlessly increasing as quickly as possible, both resident population and cruise visitation with no ceiling in sight as if it is certainly the best solution to growing the economy. Is this heedless of the societal costs of the over-crowding that we can already feel? Is anyone else envisioning us becoming the “Hong Kong” of the Caribbean within a few generations? IT”S A SMALL ISLAND. Where can we fit anymore asphalt, anymore people? I’m reminded of Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax”. Shouldn’t we work on making the island more attractive to both stay-over tourism and Caymanians rather than less? The street traffic and environmental degradation is surely bad enough as it is… please, if you are a registered voter… sign the petition regardless if you are for or against the port. Let’s request that our government give the people a vote on this issue. It’s your heritage and legacy and it’s your right to request a vote on it! Please find and sign the petition today. Let’s find out what the majority wants to leave to our great-grand children. I’m pretty sure I know what I want. I dare us to vote.

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