To dredge or not to dredge, that is the question

| 08/10/2019 | 28 Comments

Courtney Platt writes: I respect our leaders, expect that they have our country’s best interest at heart and they love everyone, just as I do. I have no ill will toward them nor those who have bought into their plan, though I think it flawed.

Government discusses success rates of relocating corals as if that is our concern instead of avoiding the near total loss of well over 45 acres of the harbour’s unique and highly valuable reefs. The harbour will die. It’s like saying “yes, we’re going to cut off your head, but we’ll find a recipient for your eyes”.

No, suh! Our real concern is permanently losing the habitat and direct economic value of the unique coral reef systems which lie in harm’s way.

Government talks about corals as if we should be happy salvaging some living tissue for bio-diversity, while destroying the habitat those corals took thousands of years building, and which currently earn as much for our economy as the projected net government gains of the plan. The average citizen might not know the difference between corals and reefs when reading government’s statements. Are they conflating the issue? I wish to set the record straight on what we stand to lose in the harbour and its enormous economic value.

Preserving bio-diversity in no way equates to relocating coral reefs, which are deeply three-dimensional structures. The relocation plan leaves behind massive, Swiss cheese-like occupied “cities” beneath the veneer of living corals being moved, most significant of which is the 20-foot high, 200-foot long Balboa reef. This is like claiming to “relocate” the Ritz-Carlton by moving the landscaping, fixtures and fittings, but not the occupied building itself.

The all-important function of housing along with all of the inhabitants is lost. Relocation from the 27-acre dredge site also does nothing to save 30+ acres of reef directly outside the dredge pit at Eden Rock, Soto’s South and the wreck of the Cali tourism attractions.

You’re missing the magnitude of the loss. According to the environmental impact assessment (EIA), those sites will certainly be killed by silt at least 200m beyond the pit, even if all known mitigations are employed effectively. All that the best mitigations can do is limit how far beyond 200m the death will reach, which is far from guaranteed. Those sites will remain dead and obscured in murk once the dock is operational. This experience has preceded us throughout the Caribbean, which is why visitors exclaim how lovely it is to see one of the last clear water ports.  

Government correctly does not claim that their optimistic 70% success rate in relocating some live corals from the reef surface within the dredge pit is remotely the same as 70% salvation of the entire reef we’ll lose and the goods and services it provides us, yet that is clearly the mistaken take-away they hope you’ll make for yourself.

To be clear, it saves close to 0% of the reef’s current value. Remember in 2015 when proponents claimed “it’s already dead and there’s nothing there”? We knew at that time that the percentage of live-hard-coral cover on the harbour’s unique reefs is at least equal to the rest of the island. The EIA confirmed 21% live coral in the harbour compared to 20% island-wide. What else are they misrepresenting?

Perhaps the most resonant test is seen in comparing the tremendous economic value of what will be permanently lost vs what appear to be comparatively poor short-term gains with the project. The EIA states these reefs provide annual economic gains through “goods and services” of $23M to $26M/year. The amended 2015 PWC economic assessment, which went unseen by most of the public, assumed only a small percentage of the reef’s value would be lost.

Direct ticket sales alone to activities on these reefs is nearly $9M/year, largely from cruise shippers who can walk to them from the landing.  Additionally, goods and services provided by these reefs have tremendous growth potential if we allow fish to repopulate. We need only to stop taking more fish than the reef produces to see spectacular gains.  It’s like we own Sea World but without the overhead. We should take advantage of this gift, not squander it.

The economics of permanently losing these reefs is the issue I most want to find included in a new economic assessment, made available for discussion, before the referendum is voted on. A plan without extensive dredging is the solution environmentalists seek, not euphemistic mitigations that still leave massive loss. A single pier for two mega-ships could be done without dredging and would leave the harbour clear during operations.


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Category: development, Local News, Viewpoint

Comments (28)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    i live in the UK have knowledge of, and see the overwhelming power that big business and the cruise lines have and continue to wield. they all claim to have the environment at their core – clearly this example shows this is not true.
    with direct campaigning aimed at the companies surely the individuals will see sense for the sake of their children rather than their annual bonus!
    We all have to make decisions and quickly or there wont be a choice…
    i wish you all well and hope that common sense can prevail.

  2. Anonymous says:

    as I have seen and read almost everything about this matter, I can conclude the following: the port will be built as they (whomever you chose to put in this line) as doing everything in their power to not have your voices (our voices) heard, 2) the port will be built 3) Cayman only cares about money and not US (the people) 4) the transparency is like having eye problems and not getting the appropriate solution, its a little blurry and we cant seem to grasp the information like a thunder clouds that raid our blue skies in order for precipitation to do it’s job in helping the planet.

    If you understood my comment good for you, if you didn’t please save it.

    Kindest Regards,

    A Concerned born and raised Caymanian with no vote due to recent dates being announced.

  3. Anonymous says:

    This project is about striking a balance so that the port development is sustainable. There will be a lot less degrading than originally planned as the plans have changed. We also now know that 7 Mile Beach will NOT be wiped out (that’s why you no longer hear that argument). Our financial industry will be taken from us soon with all this global pressure to shut us down and all we will have left is our tourism industry. There is nothing wrong with trying to improve that industry in a sustainable manner. If we are saying that there has to be zero impact on the environment then we are not being realistic.

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    • Anonymous says:

      I keep hearing this “Our financial industry will be taken soon” malarkey for about 20 years and have yet to see it happen. The financial industry has always adapted to various global regulations and is still striving today. If you were citing something more logical, such as another massive recession, then I would give your post some credence. Otherwise find another argument please and stop trying to scare voters into voting for the port simply for a few more tour guide jobs for Majestic tours and co.

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    • Courtney Platt says:

      Anonymous 8:32 seems to have either completely missed what I’ve been saying about the impact this will have in our harbor, or completely rejected what I believe to be absolutely true, and is based on 36 years underwater experience in the harbor and a lot of research since 2015 on dredging near coral reefs. This plan does not improve the tourism industry in a sustainable manner… wherever did you get that idea? To the contrary, it destroys a unique (means the only one of its kind) reef system that cruisers can walk to and that earns us $23M-$26M/yr… all lost if we dredge. Carrying capacity is another issue that I recommend you take a look at. And I would refer you to look at my letter regarding the SMB sand in the 3 Oct. Compass. NO, SMB is not safe! Aside from that, I totally agree that there is nothing wrong with improving the tourism industry in a sustainable manner, which this is not.

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Without a doubt Courtney is extremely passionate about the ocean and environment.
    He doesn’t seem too worried about all the families and jobs that rely on cruise tourism though. It’s a shame the same passion isn’t shown about people.

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    • Anonymous says:

      But the cruise tourism is growing anyway. Why do you think tourists do come here?

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      • Anonymous says:

        Cruise is in decline. Only one month so far this year the numbers were up comparatively. Year before only up because the Eastern Caribbean was devastated by hurricanes.

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        • Anonymous says:

          So if the cruise industry is dying, your best suggestion is to throw more money at it and dig our debt hole deeper? How about changing the business model to align with current economic conditions? Stay over tourism is growing and at a fast pace. May be its time to become technologically savvy and use the digital media platforms available rather than standing in town with sign.

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    • Anonymous says:

      And you don’t seem concerned about all the jobs that rely on the diving attractions in the GT Harbour.

      Especially since the cruise jobs won’t go anywhere if the port is built, but those jobs facilitated by the GT Harbour attractions will.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think you missed the part about the businesses that depend on Hog Sty producing about 25 Million a year. (FTA: The EIA states these reefs provide annual economic gains through “goods and services” of $23M to $26M/year. ) So, if that goes away over the 25 year lifespan of the port Cayman business, and all those people relying on that tourism business will be out approximately $625 million dollars, and that income will never be coming back. Add that to the cost of the $200 million dock.

    • Courtney Platt says:

      Anonymous 7:51 seems to be assuming that current jobs in cruise tourism are at risk, which the cruise industry has indicated are not at risk. There is not a planned phasing out of the current ships to mega-ships in the foreseeable future. Cruise continues to grow. If anything, this port plan will eliminate: $9M/yr in direct ticket sales (mostly to cruise passengers to a variety of harbor activities and the jobs associated with those activities; $23M-$26M/yr in goods and services from these reefs; The tender operator and maintenance jobs; a number of attractions that helped to distribute the cruise passengers within our carrying capacity (a reduction in our carrying capacity will be the result). There is also a credible threat to SMB. See my letter explaining it in the Compass on 3 October. Am I really not looking out for our people by rejecting this as an unnecessary loss that can be avoided by a plan without dredging? Yes, this is all about people… Caymanian people and Caymankind. We are supposed to be shaping ourselves into a high end tourism destination and a nice place to live. This plan doesn’t fit that goal.

  5. Mary A Madis says:

    Don’t hurt the coral or the sand. People won’t come when the beach is gone. Cruise touists don’t stay and spend enough tourist money. Keep the port as it is. Concentrate on the beauty of the island and the visitors that come and stay a while, year after year. Don’t ruin the beauty you have already.

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  6. Anonymous says:

    Courtney, your respect for the politicians is admirable, but you know as well as I that they care about only themselves.

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  7. Eliza says:

    Well said, Courtney. The coral and marine life in GT harbour is of huge economic value. There’s a saying – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The current tender system for the cruiseboats works fairly well. If the bigger ships don’t wan’t to come unless there’s a cruise dock, then let them go elsewhere. As is so obvious, we are better off concentrating on stayover visitors. They are the big spenders.
    Tom Jefferson once said as, I think, the minister of tourism, that we should be aiming to have as few visitors as possible, spending as much as possible. Quite right. Why destroy this island on the demand of the cruise ship companies? Take back control, Caymanians. We need to be in charge of our destiny. We can’t walk away … but the cruise companies can, and will, when we’ve trashed the place to please them and their customers.

    Personally I don’t want to live in a “theme park” island full of fat, bored, low-class Americans. “Volume” tourism. Let them go elsewhere, and let us guard fiercely our natural environment.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Dredge. The future of Cayman depends on this project!

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  9. Lizzy says:

    Leave my bottom out of this.

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  10. Nicholas Robson says:

    The political paradigm has changed.
    Politicians, governments and the corporate world are proving once again to be slow learners.
    They are resisting change rather than embracing it,.
    Neither are they listening to the people’s protests.
    Therefore they will be swept away by the winds of change.
    Nicholas Robson c.2016

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Courtney for spreading the facts and showing us all the facts and what’s really at stake. Why are the government pursuing a project the country does not need. They are telling blatant lies to advance their agenda and to mislead the public.

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  12. Anonymous says:

    Bravo Courtney and others. Disengage any remaining safeties, and speak now in these final weeks pre-Referendum, or forever hold our’s (and future generation’s) collective peace.

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    • Anonymous says:

      We are From Nature and Nature is our Habitat so we should Respect Nature!

      I am 30+yr old Born Caymanian and was taught in primary chool the importance of mangroves for our island, yet once the its the right price it can be sold and destroyed (what will protect us from hurricanes)- just look at our 7 mile beach, there is literally nothing left for Us who want to sit down under a seagrape tree!

      I could write on and on but it doesnt matter until the heads of government realize that we need to take back the land as Crown Land for the future and stop thinking about their bank account!

      Selling out the island thats all you are doing!

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