Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) such as the Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife Protocol to the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Marine Environment of the Wider Caribbean Region and the Convention on Biological Diversity, and bilateral accords like the Environment Charter, obligate the Cayman Islands to protect, develop and manage environmentally important resources, habitats and ecosystems by establishing protected areas. These areas allow us to preserve valuable parts of our environment for their aesthetic beauty as well as their environmental value and services. Thus protected areas are sensible investments in Cayman’s future.
Establishing Protected Areas, however, does not necessarily mean rendering places off-limits to the public. Our Marine Parks are protected areas dedicated to preserving marine life for future generations, but we can still fish in some types of zones. This balance of use and preservation is a cornerstone of any protected areas system. Some areas prohibit access, purely for the protection of the species or habitats found there. Other areas afford restricted use, meaning the public can continue to enjoy these areas for fishing, bird watching, boating or other recreational activities but with some limits placed on their use to ensure generations to come will have the same opportunities. The Marine Parks zones are examples of protected areas with restricted use governed by the Marine Parks Regulations.
Another example is Little Cayman’s Booby Pond and Rookery, a Listed Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention because it serves as habitat for important waterfowl and other birds. Though its purpose is to protect the breeding site of the largest colony of red-footed boobies in this hemisphere, the basic approach of Ramsar has always been “Wise Use” of all wetland areas, not just Listed or designated sites. Wise Use in this instance includes facilitating visitor access at selected areas in the form of observation towers on the pond’s periphery for people to watch the splendid aerial display every evening as boobies, magnificent frigate birds (man-o-wars) and other birds come in to roost. For the protected status to be effective, this Ramsar site is also an Animal Sanctuary under our local Animal Law.
Environmental preservation and wise use often require complex decisions and are difficult to implement effectively, but if we do not choose to manage our environmentally sensitive areas wisely and afford some of them protected status, these wonderful areas and the services they provide us may be lost to present and future generations forever.