(CNS): The public beach area at Smith Cove (Smith Barcadere) has come under scrutiny by local activists and the broader community after revelations that a local tour company is using the location for snorkelling tours for cruise ship passengers. Others may also be using it as a place to rent paddle boards to visitors, despite the ban on trade at the beach. The issue of businesses operating from the area has once again stirred up questions about the legality of commercial operations at all public beaches and the failure of the relevant government departments to enforce the law.
Morne Botes, a developer who has become a vocal advocate for beach access and protecting public beach space for the local community, raised concerns this week when he became aware of operators using Smith Barcadere as a base for their businesses.
Posting the issue on the Save the Cove Facebook page, he pointed out that the original land, which was donated by the Webster family, has a covenant prohibiting commercial activity at the beach. In addition, after purchasing more land in the area last year to protect the beach from development, government made a commitment not to allow trade and business at the location.
Nevertheless, it appears that Anchor Tours and another as yet unidentified business are involved in commercial operations there.
Speaking on a local radio talk show Tuesday, Botes noted that his social media posts had attracted much attention and people were really concerned about the possibility of Smith Barcadere becoming commercialised, as has happened on Seven Mile Public Beach and is beginning to happen at West Bay public beach as well.
He urged the community not to be afraid of their government but to raise their voices, lobby and pressure their MLAs, and speak out when they see things that are wrong.
During the course of the Cayman Crosstalk show on Rooster, a person claiming to be part of Anchor Tours called in and said the company was being very respectful of the area and that they were a Caymanian company giving tourists an educational tour of the area, including a snorkel trip.
The chairs were brought there for people on the tours and were not being rented out, he said, adding that no money changes hands at the location. He said he had made various inquiries and no one had said that they could not take guests to Smith Barcadere, though he did indicate that he had no written permission or special rights to use the location.
Shortly after his call Barbara Conolly, the MLA for the constituency of George Town South, which covers the area, also called the show. As the person responsible for the enhancement project there, she reconfirmed government’s commitment to keeping the much-loved beach free of commercial activity.
Conolly said she did not believe the tour operator was cleared to do business there and she was planning to hold a meeting with the Public Lands Commission, which is now tasked with monitoring beach access and public beach use.
The subject of beach access and the commercialisation of publicly designated beaches is already a significant problem in and around George Town and West Bay. And with dwindling beach space on Grand Cayman, it is also one of the major concerns about government’s decision to press ahead with a cruise berthing facility, which, CNS has learned, could attract as many as three million passengers annually by 2022.
As private development has made access to Seven Mile Beach increasingly difficult, the remaining public spots along the strip of the famous beach, as well as Smith Cove and potentially Barkers, have become targets for commercial operations feeding the current cruise market.
The construction of the piers will destroy marine life in the harbour as well as several famous wrecks, reducing the number of attractions and activities for visiting cruise passengers. At the same time, they are expected to result in a massive increase in passenger numbers, who will have fewer places to go and less things to do.
The recent appearance of beach chairs for guests of the Cayman Turtle Centre at the public beach in West Bay has also been fuelling concerns. This has been compounded by the application by the owner of Calico Jack’s to clear turtle grass and build a dock in Barkers, paving the way for that bar’s relocation in 2020 as the Dart Group closes off more access to the beachfront skirting its extensive property along Seven Mile Beach.
Young Caymanians seem particularly concerned about the threats to the Barkers beach area, which is one of the very last place across Grand Cayman that has remained completely untouched by commercial development.
Botes and other activists are urging government to put a stop to commercial activity in public beach spaces and enforce environment and planning laws where developers are encroaching on beach areas, which will diminish access.
Botes stressed the power people have and the importance of pressing their representatives, regardless of the district. He said the Barkers application is not just a West Bay issue, anymore than the problems at Smith Cove are merely a George Town issue; they impact everyone island-wide and it is important that constituents let their MLAs know their concerns.
Botes warned that the only way to preserve the already significantly reduced beach access for Caymanians and residents is to make the politicians know what they think. He has asked government officials for a meeting about the cove and hopes that Conolly’s own plans to meet with the Public Land Commission will start to address the issue.
CNS contacted Conolly, as well as Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell, Planning Minister Joey Hew and their respective chief officers about this issue. We have not yet received a response.