Statement by NCC Chairman on Turtle Conservation Plans

19 June, 2019

Members, thank you for your indulgence in allowing me to make what I hope will not be considered a lengthy statement to set the record straight regarding the issue of sea turtle species Conservation Plans.

Some members of Council will know that nearly three years ago, my predecessor, Christine Rose-Smyth, began working with the Department of Environment (DoE) to formulate a species Conservation Plan for all three sea turtle species that nest in our islands. During that early planning process, the Council was contacted by Cayman Turtle Centre Managing Director Tim Adam, who requested a copy of the Council’s plan which was still being drafted. Former Chairman Rose-Smyth informed Mr. Adam that, although the Turtle Centre is a major stakeholder, the plan was not yet ready for the public consultation phase.

In May 2018, as Council members and DoE staff members continued discussing the proposed provisions of the plan, we were notified  that a Green Sea Turtle species conservation plan drafted by the Turtle Centre had been presented to Caucus with a proposal that Cabinet direct the Council to approve that plan. Following receipt of the Turtle Centre’s plan, the DoE wrote to the Ministry of Environment on 31 May, 2018 citing a number of issues with the plan and what had transpired. Shortly thereafter, the Council also wrote to the Ministry to express its concerns.  On 3 Sept. 2018, we were informed that in late August 2018 Cabinet had approved the Turtle Centre’s plan and that directions to the Council would be issued at some future date.

I must be clear: This plan created by the Turtle Centre was never shown to the National Conservation Council or the DoE prior to its presentation to Caucus/Cabinet. Council will recall that Sections 6(2)(j) and 17(1) of the Law require the Council and DoE to formulate and adopt Species Conservation Plans. In carrying out these functions the Council and DoE shall act in accordance with any directions given by the Cabinet (Section 17(2)(a)).  Further, the Law provides that Cabinet acts as the final approver for Species Conservation Plans submitted by the Council after review and possible inclusion of public feedback on proposed plans (Section 17(6)).

In a recent press release, issued Wednesday, 12 June 2019, concerning the Turtle Centre’s proposal Mr. Adam stated: “The Species Conservation Plan presented to Caucus and later presented to Cabinet, was endorsed by the Government.  Cabinet issued a direction last August to the National Conservation Council to proceed with the steps necessary to adopt and subsequently bring this Plan into force.”     

As Council awaited formal direction from Cabinet, expert legal advice was sought which has indicated that Cabinet cannot issue such a direction in the way Mr. Adam stated that it has done. Moreover, the legal advice also indicates that the Turtle Centre has no standing under the National Conservation Law (NCL) to propose Conservation Plans – much less directly present one to Cabinet.

The legal advice received by Council was confirmed by correspondence from the Acting Solicitor General on the 25 February 2019 agreeing that  a direction from Cabinet that the NCC adopt a particular plan would not be consistent with the scope of their direction-making power under section 49 of the NCL. The indications from the Solicitor General’s Chambers, as well as the Council’s expert legal advice are therefore in agreement: That under the NCL, this Council would be acting outside the law by treating the Turtle Centre’s document as a Species Conservation Plan and moving it forward for adoption.

We shall, therefore, not be doing so today.

Having said that, we believe it is important that this Council acknowledges the valuable contribution the Turtle Centre has made via its historical turtle releases, which DoE research confirms contributed significantly to the recovery of the Green Sea Turtle population in the Cayman Islands.

However, in the considered view of this Council, the Turtle Centre’s document is not a species Conservation Plan but rather a marketing/tourism plan, made for the benefit of the Turtle Centre. There is an obvious conflict of interest in a business developing a Conservation Plan to regulate and endorse its own activities. These circumstances risk reputational damage to the Cayman Islands at both a local and an international level.

In fairness to the Turtle Centre, Council members feel we must state, briefly, some of the reasons why the Turtle Centre document does not constitute a true and effective species conservation plan:

  • The Turtle Centre plan is extremely lengthy, overly complex and unclear (the full plan is over 100 pages of text and 1,206 pages with references and appendices).
  • The plan fails to provide essential conservation measures for wild sea turtles and covers only one species – Green Sea Turtles.
  • The Turtle Centre’s plan lacks enforceable provisions.
  • The Turtle Centre’s plan does not meet the requirements for conservation plans set down in Section 17 (3) of the NCL.
  • Parts of the plan conflict with DoE, Council and best practice recommendations.

It would be little known to members of the public, but over the course of the past three years the DoE and this Council have prepared a true conservation plan for all three sea turtle species nesting in these islands.  This plan is informed by more than 20 years of turtle nesting data and other relevant research.

It is unfortunate, due to all the delays caused by this ill-conceived attempt to bypass lawful process, that we have not already been able to present this proposal for public consultation.

If Council agrees, the plan prepared over the last three years by DoE staffers and Council members will be put out for public consultation today. With Council’s approval, the proposal will then go out for public consultation and we will take all public comments under advisement. As part of the consultation process we will continue consulting with the Turtle Centre and look forward to their input and support.   Taking into account all comments received, we will submit to Cabinet for approval a plan of which all citizens of the Cayman Islands can be proud.

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Please see the link to the DoE/NCC draft sea turtle Species Conservation Plan:

http://doe.ky/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Sea-Turtle-Conservation-Plan-Coversheet-19-June-2019.pdf

http://doe.ky/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/Sea-Turtle-Species-Conservation-Plan-19-June-2019.pdf

Please click the maps below to see maps for critical sea turtle habitats: