Director: Harbour marine park not ‘safe or sensible’

| 27/04/2021 | 26 Comments
Cayman News Service
Wreck of the Cali (Photo by Courtney Platt)

(CNS) Joseph Woods, the director of the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands (PACI), has said that having the George Town Harbour designated as a marine park was not practical or sensible given that it is an anchorage area. Explaining why so much of the harbour, which was previously designated as a marine park under local legislation and a Mission Blue Hope Spot, has now been marked for the port, Woods told CNS that having ships anchor in a marine park where there are stiff penalties if marine life on the seabed is destroyed “is inadvisable”. As campaigners wait for government to take another look at the new port designation, Woods said there were also safety concerns to consider.

CNS asked Woods for documents or guidelines indicating why areas beyond the locations that cruise ships have traditionally anchored have been included in the new port designation, which was unveiled as part of the new revised marine park enhancement. Though no documentation has been supplied, Woods outlined the reasons why PACI sought a formal port designation and the removal of the marine park protections.

While the new marine park regulations significantly increase the areas of marine habitat around Cayman that are now formally protected to almost half of local waters, part of George Town Harbour, including reefs and the Wreck of the Cali, have lost their protections. Local environmental activists and those behind the Cruise Port Referendum campaign are concerned that the real reason for the designation is to remove one of the legal stumbling blocks government would face if or when the cruise berthing idea is resurrected.

While the designation is not necessarily unexpected in the specific anchorage area, activists who oppose any move by government to build a port want to know why the designation has been extended to include reefs as well as the popular dive attraction and underwater cultural heritage site.

In response to CNS inquiries, Woods said, that the designation was to address the inevitability of something going wrong if vessels continue to be allowed to anchor in a marine park. “In short, having a marine park in a designated port anchorage area is just not practical or sensible,” he said.

Woods also noted the lack of restrictions on snorkellers and divers accessing the areas for recreational purposes and to do so with an expectation of safety, but it was not usual to find people swimming, snorkelling and scuba diving in a harbour and designated port anchorage area with vessels traversing back and forth.

“It is unsafe and a risk to life to do so,” he said. “There have been many times that snorkellers and scuba divers off Eden Rock have unwittingly ventured into unsafe territory where cruise ship tenders have been operating and some have come within close proximity of the thrusters of cruise ships at anchor, all on the basis that they thought that they were in a marine park.  Experience has shown that it is very unwise to have a harbour also designated as a marine park.”

The International Ship and Port Facility Security (ISPS) code also requires security zones around vessels in the harbour, and this is always a challenge when anyone could simply use the excuse that they were only snorkelling or scuba diving in a marine park, Woods said, as he explained why the port designation extends beyond the anchorage area.

As the Department of Environment was doing its work to expand marine environment protections, PACI worked with then to find a solution to both to the port anchorage issue and to establish the DoE’s main objectives, Woods said. 

The amendment that has been made is therefore a result of us looking at this situation critically, logically and practically,” he said. “The amendment affords the marine environment even greater protection in the port anchorage area than it does in the marine reserve area because there is no in-water activity in the port anchorage area without the port director’s permission. The PACI also agreed with DoE to allow what was previously a part of the port anchorage area, the area going north of Royal Watler Terminal that contains the vast majority of the coral bed, like cheeseburger reef, etc, where ships do not anchor, to become a marine reserve along with Eden Rock.”

Woods added that the designated port anchorage area has shrunk and is now only the area that the port uses for anchorage, a position disputed by the CPR in their letter to government asking them to reconsider the current designation ahead of further legal action.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (26)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    A normal port operator would have long ago installed permanent mooring buoys for the cruise ships. They could have charged rent and avoided all the anchor dragging damage over the years.

    • Anonymous says:

      I believe permanent moorings were investigated and after much discussions with the cruise lines rejected due to insurance considerations .

  2. Anonymous says:

    People forget that the so called treasured wrecks in the harbour port area were blown up with explosives because they were navigational hazards in the harbour. No port any where in the world is in a marine national park and our port should never have been included into the marine park in the first place back in the 1980s when the marine parks were created and designated under the new marine parks law. The port has been in this location from the time of first settlement in the 1700s. The port has been there as our life line to our existence and our economy for nearly 300 years and now we have a following of crowd cult objector obstruction against the development of important national infrastructure which is actually even more critically important to the country than the airport. Imagine is we all obstructed the development of our airport infrastructure?

    • Anonymous says:

      Imagine if a pandemic happened to shutdown that stupid port idea? Yea shut up.

      • Anonymous says:

        The Pandemic only effected cruise tourism however cargo continues to flow into our country through a single draft restricted berth at the dock. After the existing dock was completed in 1977 we had to build another or second port inland 15 years later and that particular port has expanded about 5 times over the years. As the country grows and develops so does important infrastructure. The port is out life line to our existence and you want to obstruct it.

    • Anonymous says:

      The Cali and Balboa are not obstructing anything anymore, except perhaps your imaginations of a rekindled Port project. They are beautiful attractions for what have always been our key ocean-interested travellers and residents: the scuba diver/snorkelling family. The Balboa was historically dived only on non cruise and container shipping days with permission of Harbour Master on Channel 16, for around 40 mins. It is still one of the best wreck sites in the Cayman Islands and like most Cayman wrecks, with an interesting back story. It doesn’t need to go anywhere because the CI Port was cancelled. There is no infrastructure approved for that area.

  3. South Sounder says:

    Are we satisfied with the above explanation as to why PACI deem it necessary to not only encompass the large area to the West of the Royal Watler terminal but to also make this an anchorage zone where the depth is only some 6-10ft? This designated area extends all the way up to what appears to be just beyond the Fish Shack restaurant.  This area is not appropriate for visiting vessels unless on a designated mooring but it is a well visited and managed area for snorkel expeditions and shore snorkeling and most importantly Soto’s Reef.

    It seems the Port Regulations over extend the practicality of port operations to the detriment of our Harbour reef ecology.  Port tenders have operated safely off the Royal Watler terminal for many years as a docking facility where the coral habitat is thriving due to no anchorage in the area.  Managed site operations are one thing, but designating an anchorage area over the top of coral reefs makes no sense.  An extension of the marine reserve and a carve out for this area (as has been accommodated for Eden Rock) is something that should not be overlooked to ensure we are doing our best to preserve our natural assets as well as provide leisure enjoyment for citizens who swim off these areas.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Like the SAGCs, NRA, and others, the secretive CI Port is one of the least transparent departments in CIG and a sink hole of tens millions. PACT needs to start there, shine the light in, audit their books, and clean house.

    • Anonymous says:

      Real nonsense being spouted by a clearly ignorant keyboard warrior with an agenda.
      Nothing secretive about the port .

      • Anonymous says:

        True, the Port’s ambitions are well known, since we all experienced the Port’s frantic opposition against voter referendum and ongoing sentiment – abetted by an enabling Cabinet, even to the final moments of their administration. One needn’t look much further than Royal Caribbean’s CEO remarks, today, about being “undecided” on whether to proceed to build a port in George Town harbour (like that is a foregone conclusion), to grasp just how secretive the ongoing discussions have become, all limp assurances to the contrary. What is motivating these lies? Shine the light in PACT.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Get the port OUT OF GT!!!!!! It kills any option of nightlife downtown with the container trucks back and forth. Seriously. Just get it out and build what you want in another area!

    • Anonymous says:

      And put it where? Somewhere else to start new destruction and get new objectors and complaints ??

    • Anonymous says:

      And create a much larger environmental disaster somewhere else around the idea. The research and the science conclusions are all part of record from the $2.7m Port EIA performed, so read it, all 2400 pages to enlighten yourself.

  6. Mikey says:

    What was established 1st? Shipping port or recreational diving? If port well who granted the dive schools on waterfront to operate?

  7. Anonymous says:

    It can still be a marine park also a no swim or dive zone.

    • Chris Johnson says:

      I agree. Just erect a no swimming sign. Is that too difficult.

    • Anonymous says:

      Should it be okay to drop temporary anchors in Marine Parks?

    • Anonymous says:

      Said the guy that doesn’t even swim or snorkel…

      • The audacity says:

        Swimming and snorkeling is the least of that persons worries.. sounds like he doesn’t think at all.

        Unless they’re school of sharks, radioactive waste or a whirpool then, nobody, I repeat nobody can tell this Caymanian where he can and can’t swim. I’ll enjoy every inch of ocean while I still got air in my lungs to breathe you can believe that.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Not too difficult to understand that this is a working Harbour and swimmers divers snorkelers don’t business with propellers.
    Everything is a conspiracy to some who can’t be bothered with facts cos their minds are made up.

  9. Anonymous says:

    You really think any Bracker is going to ask for permission to swim there? Ever?

  10. _||) says:

    I can understand here because of the level of boat/ship activity, but not Scott’s dock on the Brac..

    Really ga ask permission to swim at the dock that isn’t used for the weekly cargo and has tenders maybe 3 times a year?

    • Anonymous says:

      Joey, you are making too much sense for some persons that are unable to recognise that there is a commercial seaport in GT.

    • Anonymous says:

      I understand that the asking of permission to swim at Scott’s dock has been waived. True?

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