November 28, 2020

The Editor Speaks: Cayman’s environmental policy is a farce

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Colin WilsonwebI feel very sorry for Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Cayman Islands Director of the Department of Environment. She gets the short end of the stick and takes the brunt of attacks from the wealthy developers who most couldn’t care two cents what part of Cayman’s environment they destroy just as long they can make their millions and move on. She takes hits from the other end of our society, the poor fishermen who are trying to scrape a living. Payment for a fish puts money in their pockets now. They can’t wait for replenishment that means I can’t fish now.

And when she looks for help from her elected ministers, and I don’t just mean our present one, they generally ignore her advice, proven scientific studies and common sense, they look at now and not later, and side with the developer and the fisherman.

And even when we have an Environmental Protection Fund bursting with nearly $40M it cannot be used for the Environment. It’s prime purpose is to bolster the reserve funds the government is legally required to have under the Public Management and Finance Law to run the affairs of our beloved islands for 90 days.

The Environmental Protection Fund receives between $4 million and $5 million a year, gathered through departure taxes charged to travellers leaving Cayman via the airport or the cruise ship terminal.

The Fund was set up originally to buy land and support conservation efforts.

“The only way we will ever get conservation land is to buy it at sale market value,” Ebanks-Petrie said. “We realised some time ago that we would need to get some money in order to do that and for other conservation projects, not just government conservation, but for other conservation organisations, like the National Trust.

“The idea was that you would apply for grant money from the fund if your project met certain criteria. It was also envisaged to be out of the hands of government as a separate trust to be managed by a board of trustees comprising government and private sector. That is not how it has transpired.”

We still have no comprehensive conservation law despite Ebanks-Petrie and her departments efforts, and even after she has gone to great lengths in getting the public’s input into coming up with an outline plan to be put to the Legislative Assembly, our present minister has intimidated that there must be even more consultation before he can present it to Cabinet.

With the Environmental operating budget being cut drastically Ebanks-Petrie has had to go direct to the UK’s Overseas Territories Environment programme to request a hand-out and was told “No”. The reason – “without a conservation law being in place, it would not be worthwhile”.

Under Ebanks-Petrie National Conservation Bill, a conservation fund would be set up into which fines and other environment-related fees would paid into.

“It could also accept transfers of funds from the Environmental Protection Fund, said Ebanks-Petrie.

With Cayman’s environmental policy such a farce I wouldn’t bet on any of that coming her way.

“It is a curious situation that the sea, from which life first arose should now be threatened by the activities of one form of that life. But the sea, though changed in a sinister way, will continue to exist; the threat is rather to life itself.”

- Rachel Carson, (1907-1964) The Sea Around Us, 1951

“To halt the decline of an ecosystem, it is necessary to think like an ecosystem.” – Douglas P. Wheeler, EPA Journal, September-October 1990

“Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” – Mohandas K. Gandhi quoted in EF Schumacher, Small is Beautiful.

“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” – Gaylord Nelson, former governor of Wisconsin, founder of Earth Day


“The use of sea and air is common to all; neither can a title to the ocean belong to any people or private persons, forasmuch as neither nature nor public use and custom permit any possession therof.”-Elizabeth I of England (1533-1603)







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