(CNS): The Department of Environment is continuing its battle to conserve what is left of the Cayman Islands’ natural resources and is turning its attention to mangroves. Despite the challenges the DoE faces with a minister who openly admitted in Finance Committee this week that he does not profess “to be a conservationist” and has previously signalled his dislike of the National Conservation Law, the department is still trying to do its part, using that legislation while it is still in effect, to protect important habitat. But it needs public support for its efforts to persuade Cabinet to accept a species plan to preserve the mangroves.
Even though mangroves offer protection from storm surge during hurricanes and flooding and their fundamental importance to marine diversity is well documented, Cayman has had a poor track record protecting them. The mangrove buffers in the development plan have often been ignored and the Central Planning Authority has consistently given developers approval to rip out mangroves, even for projects that never materialized.
As a result, researchers at the DoE Terrestrial Unit have proposed that four key species — red, white and black mangroves and buttonwood — form the country’s first terrestrial plant specific species conservation plan that would protect these critical plants no matter where they grow.
The DoE said that mangrove loss has been so extensive over recent decades that it has triggered local red listing. Back in 2008, the Cayman Islands national IUCN Red List status of black mangrove was assessed as ‘endangered’, white mangrove and buttonwood both as ‘vulnerable’, and red mangrove as ‘near-threatened’.
“The Ramsar Convention (1971) has been extended to the Cayman Islands, requiring a commitment to work towards the wise use of our mangrove and other wetlands through national plans, policies and legislation, management actions and public education,” the DoE said.
Ten years after identifying the need to protect mangroves, development has continued unabated, buffer zones have continued to be ignored, and more and more mangroves have been lost. The DoE is currently undergoing a public consultation, which will enable them to purchase significant areas of the central wetlands for land conservation. However, the goal of a species protection plan is to protect the plants across all three islands wherever they are and encourage developers to preserve and incorporate them into landscaping.
At last month’s National Conservation Council meeting, Fred Burton, the head of the Terrestrial Unit, presented the draft species conservation plan and said it would soon go out for public consultation. He stressed the need for people to engage in the process and offer their support to ensure that the plan becomes a reality. Burton said that he was also trying to encourage the community, especially landscapers and developers, to use them instead of imported plants.
Burton explained that the plan would offer another layer of protection for mangroves and said that going forward, he was hoping to see real penalties enforced against those who remove mangroves.
See the draft mangrove conservation plan on the DoE website among the NCC meeting agenda documents (scroll down about half way).
For more details email DOE@gov.ky or call 949-8469