(CNS): Sand Cay in South Sound and Hemmington Forest on Cayman Brac are among the ten new protected areas across all three Cayman Islands put forward by the Department of Environment, which is inviting the public to comment on its proposals. Most of the nominated sites are already owned by the Crown and in cases where the land is in private hands, discussions are underway with owners to either sell or lease the land to enable conservation plans. Each of the areas are important habitats supporting threatened and endangered, endemic and native flora and fauna.
There are two proposed sites on Little Cayman: Tarpon Lake and East Interior. In its explanation the DoE stated that Tarpon Lake is one of Little Cayman’s largest and most characteristic inland natural areas, and in addition to the tarpon, a wide range of resident and migratory water birds frequent the mangroves. Fiddler Crabs abound on exposed mud flats, and white land crabs burrow near the interface between mangroves and adjacent dry land.
The interior of Little Cayman’s east end includes open wetlands important to whistling ducks and other water birds, and native rock iguanas. Most of the area is practically inaccessible but there may well be more rare and endangered species on the land that forms the backdrop for the natural vista from the higher parts of the east coast road.
On Cayman Brac an additional parcel of the Hemmington Forest and the Eastern Lighthouse Park have been nominated.
The Hemmington Forest includes areas of Cayman Brac’s least disturbed, ancient dry forest ecosystems. The DoE said protecting this parcel will extend the Hemmington Forest area as far as the Deadman’s Point Bluff Road trail, helping to secure an existing recreational asset for residents and visitors. Protection will aid in safeguarding the remarkable biodiversity of the whole Hemmington Forest area, which is so characteristic of the island.
The eastern lighthouse area of Cayman Brac is not just home to brown booby birds but it is a very popular landscape visited by residents and vacationers attracted to the magnificent views from the cliff edges out to sea.
Half of the other six proposed sites on Grand Cayman are wetland areas in the central mangroves and on the western side of the island, where the remaining slithers of mangrove are in desperate need of protection.
Mangrove wetland has long been recognised as a vital environmental asset for the Cayman Islands, providing natural services of substantial social and economic value, the DoE stated. Adding the new parcels will improve connectivity, and in the west, where mangroves are greatly reduced and fragmented due to expanding human habitation, the protection is more important than ever.
The DoE is also proposing to expand the Salina Reserve in East End, which includes foraging, retreating and some nesting habitat for the blue iguanas. Protecting this land would aid the recovery of the iguana due to their territorial nature and the need for additional nesting areas for the expanding population. It also supports many other endangered and iconic species of both flora and fauna.
Another parcel of the Lower Valley forest, with a high density of wild fig trees, which supports a small population of the white-shouldered bat, is on the list. It is also home to a number of endangered and endemic plants and the forest flora is notably diverse.
Sand Cay, a small emergent rock and sandbank islet in South Sound surrounded by spiraling reef, is proposed for protection because it is the site of a moderate least tern breeding colony and is a prominent part of the landscape of South Sound.
The proposals to protect these critical habitats are made possible under the National Conservation Law, which itself remains under threat. Despite clear warning signals from the current government that it intends to review and water down the legislation, which was passed in 2013, it has not yet presented any draft amendments.
As it stands, under Section 9 of the National Conservation Law, the DoE can propose sites to become permanent protected areas. The public can now submit written comments and offer support by writing to the DoE or undertaking a survey on each parcel on the website. All of the submissions will be published as part of the consultation report.
Contributions from the public will help the National Conservation Council and Cabinet in objectively assessing the level of support or opposition for each proposal.
The consultation ends on 12 August at 5pm when the Council will take into account all written submissions before deciding whether to recommend the proposals.
See all of the proposals in detail and take the surveys on the DoE site.