Mangrove protection still limited by laws

| 30/09/2021 | 25 Comments
Mangroves (photo by Alvaro Serey)

(CNS): Mangroves are still disappearing under the bulldozer, even after the National Conservation Council (NCC) adopted a Species Conservation Plan for Mangroves, because this protection is limited by the parameters of the conservation and planning laws, which do not prevent owners from developing their land in accordance with the planning laws.

Department of Environment (DoE) Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie told CNS that mangroves cannot be removed without planning permission and there are now stiff penalties when they are, but once a landowner gets the green light to build on or clear mangroves from their land, then all the DoE can do is implore and encourage the owners to save these plants.

Responding to public concerns that mangroves are still being cleared on an almost weekly basis, despite the roll out of the species protection plan earlier this year, the DoE director explained that the plan is “an instrument under the National Conservation Act”, so it must be compatible with the law. The conservation law operates by virtue of consultation with the planning authorities and the NCC, which has delegated the consultation function to the DoE, who are the technical experts.

This means that if someone owns a tract of mangroves and they are granted planning permission to remove them, regardless of any recommendations made by the DoE, the clearance of those mangrove is lawful and the conservation plan cannot protect them, Ebanks-Petrie explained.

“People misunderstand this. They think that the plan somehow allows the National Conservation Council to do more than the act can do,” she said.

In order to further protect mangroves, the DoE is first working to get permanent protection under the conservation law for those on crown land. But greater protection for mangroves on private land will require a change in the ethos surrounding planning to be “more in line with a sustainable development approach”, rather than the current situation where almost anything goes, she said.

Another provision is offsite mitigation, so that where development “is going to consume” large areas of mangroves, these can be replaced in another area that can be protected in perpetuity, Ebanks-Petrie said.

“The frustration that has been percolating in the wider community recently is where we have seen land parcels partially mangrove-covered cleared in sub-divisions and people are wondering why. Now partly that has been illegal clearing, as it is an offence now under the conservation law, but previously that was only an offence under the planning law,” she explained.

The loss of local mangrove habitat is significant. Over the lost 50 years Cayman has lost 75% of its mangrove coverage, and Ebanks-Petrie said it is more critical than ever to save what is left, especially the central wetlands. “We believe that it is critical that we save the Central Mangrove Wetlands as a functional eco-system for the services mangrove provide,” she said, which is long list, from shoreline protection to carbon sequestering.

Mangroves are also fundamental to Cayman’s wider environment. The crystal clear sea lapping at the shores of Grand Cayman owes its beauty and clarity to mangroves, while other unique and indigenous species are here as a result of the wetlands. “A big part of what makes Cayman Cayman is mangroves,” she noted.

But mangroves also provide a home for Cayman’s native mosquitoes. And so in some respects their enormous ecological value has been undervalued over the years because of their traditional relationship with the islands’ historic pest and why seeking to protect them now is difficult.

“It has been a journey to shift the perceptions from something that is bad to something that is valuable to us and something we need to treasure and protect,” Ebanks-Petrie said.

Mangroves provide nurseries for many marine species and numerous other natural services, including supporting the North Sound. They also provide protection from storm surge, filtration of pollutants, exportation of nutrients and a habitat for fauna. They also help slow down climate change because they take carbon out of the atmosphere and store it. This gives these ecological services economic value because they can offset emissions and balance carbon budgets.

“Mangroves have value that we don’t often understand because they are not traded on a market,” Ebanks-Petrie said. “But these eco-systems can be valued and economists are getting much better at that.”

She explained that natural capital can be valued in greener economies, because it is not just the GDP that tells the worth of a country but its ecological resources as well.

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Category: Land Habitat, Science & Nature

Comments (25)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Dear DoE, please tell us why no EIA will be required for the airport connector road? That goes through mangroves (the little that is left on the peninsula).

  2. Anonymous says:

    For developers, landowners, and all those who are bent over to destroy the remaining mangroves left in our country you should have a read of the following article below:

    Even though the article is not specific to the Cayman Islands, a sense of clarity is needed here to understand that mangroves have a place in our country and need to be strictly protected.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Are the roots of the mangrove not holding the island together? With the roots gone, the water level will rise no? Would of thought that would be an obvious reason for people to give a hoot.

  4. Davi M says:

    Michaelm Ryan is a notorious case of accepting conditions by the CPA and then just walking away. Michael Ryan, was granted planning permission by the CPA to clear over 378,000 square feet of mangrove buffer zone. The condition from the CPA was that a new 50 foot buffer of red mangroves would be established out into the ocean. The mangroves were ripped out straight away but nothing was seen of the new buffer zone. Yet another bill Michael Ryan left Cayman.

  5. JTB says:

    ‘Mangrove Protection still limited by complete failure of government to give a monkeys’

    Fixed that headline for you CNS

  6. Anonymous says:

    So simple to fix and the land is cheap. CI$20,000 per acre

  7. Peter Milburn says:

    Did i miss this the fact that mangroves provide us with much needed rainfall.In case everyone has missed the fact that our annual rainfall has fallen dramatically over the years and most of this is due to the fact that our mangroves plus other large amounts of trees have also gone.
    To be quite clear we are nothing but a get rich opportunity for those who dont give a rats ass about protecting our vital environment and future generations will be the ones bearing the brunt of this madness that we are allowing to happen.Wake up folks before its too late.

  8. Anonymous says:

    How stupid are we to allow the constant destruction of the biosphere we depend on to live? Where do all these idiots think air, food and water come from? Humankind is part of nature. Killing it is suicide, morons.


  9. DANIEL JOHNS says:

    How about making it cost prohibitive for them cutting the mangroves, and if done illegally, a bit of time in Northwood…

  10. Anonymous says:

    The government should stop selling the land and protect the mangroves.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Cayman has NOT loss 75% of mangroves. Please stop misinforming the public with scare tactics.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Despite the blah blah blah Climate Change fund from Ebanks stiff environmental legislation for Cayman is soon come, maybe. The system is rigged for destruction of natural lands and maximum profit and always has been.
    We might as well be living in the 18th & 19th centuries when Cayman was systematically stripped of most of its hardwood trees for shipbuilding in JA and mined for its phosphate deposits leaving a big hole which is now Windsor Park.
    The island is really a waste tip, most of the dumping, except for the dump, happens below ground and comes out in our coastal waters.
    The damage is not so obvious to most people in their daily lives so therefore in the eyes of authorities in charge it doesn’t exist, so no legislation required, it will take care of itself.
    Ignorant and unscrupulous people dump or leak nasty waste and chemicals on their and others lands and just a slap on the wrist, if it ever gets found. For many private companies in Cayman including hotels, laundromats, vehicle repair shops, heavy equipment companies, marinas, both fuel companies, gas stations and CUC dumping waste was and for some still is business as usual. Hell, even the DEH has done it at the dump for decades with total impunity, even while contravening existing vague and flimsy legislation made to protect groundwater and coastal waters. Just plead ignorance and easily avoid a fine, but really, no one seems to be watching or bothered especially if it might burden CIG or it’s Authorities with lengthy court cases against wealthy developers and businesses.

    The only significant environmental related fines that have ever been levied were where it was impossible to cover up, notably cruise ship dumping/reef damage and a fire at the fuel terminal. The same has happened with development run amuck, just bulldoze all the mangroves you want, build a sea wall, build into the sea and then ask for after the fact permission, no begging, kneeling or licking of shoes required.

    Some of our infrastructure and policies are first world but when it comes to environment we are truly third world.
    Cayman had the best chance of environmentally responsible change after hurricane Ivan but that bus has long since left the station. Now passing the right legislation is like stopping a runaway cruise ship on a collision course with George Town.

    Legislation soon come….but don’t hold your breath.

  13. Anonymous says:

    I can’t understand the lack of attention the destruction of our natural environment gets.

    We are bent over to ensure to please the large developers, for the most part, who are developing to build for the foreign investors.

    When there is nothing left to develop I can guarantee the cut throat mentality will raise its ugly head.

    Unfortunately, time and time again, we see that with each new government the same politricks playing out.

    I do not want to envison the ignorance that is being had at this time but I do understand the rules of nature and it will remind us and hold us accountable during the next big storm and the others to come after that.

    God help us will be the cry of the many especially those same people who believe that we are invincible.

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