25 Years of Marine Parks – 23 May 2011
Comments from Director – DoE
Hon Mark Scotland, Minister for Environment; Ms Jennifer Ahearn – Chief Officer in the Ministry of Environment, Lady Johnson, other distinguished guests, Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls.
For those of you who may not know me, my name is Gina Ebanks-Petrie and I am the Director for the Department of
Environment. This afternoon it is my great pleasure to formally welcome you to this event commemorating 25 years of Marine Parks in the Cayman Islands. 25 years is a long time in most people’s books and Cayman has much to be proud of in taking such a bold and forward-looking step all those years ago in order to protect something of our marine heritage for future generations. While it is true that our Marine Parks are now fully accepted by almost every citizen of these islands and while they have earned many accolades both at home and abroad – and so we have much to celebrate today – I feel a huge responsibility to use this time of celebration to also sound a warning bell.
Three months ago the World Resources Institute published an update to their Reefs at Risk publication – a detailed assessment of the status and threats to the world’s coral reefs. It is a very sobering read! Key findings for the Caribbean Region include: corals across the region have been in decline for several decades – with average coral cover declining from around 50% in the 1970’s to just 10% today! More than 75% of Caribbean coral reefs are considered threatened from impacts such as over-fishing, coastal development, marine and watershed based pollution with more than 30% in the high and very high threat categories. The increasing incidence of coral bleaching due to an increase in sea surface temperatures caused by rising concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (also known as Global warming) increases the overall threat to more than 90% of regional reefs with almost 55% in the high or very high threat category.
Past studies and the DoE’s own long term coral reef monitoring programme show similar results for coral cover on Cayman’s reefs, with coral cover declining from an average of about 32% in the early 1990’s to an average of about 10% today.
The Reefs at Risk report concludes that even well-protected and managed marine areas are still affected by regional and global problems, making it clear that major improvements in reef health will require a broader array of management interventions.
What this means is that while our Marine Parks are an important tool for managing our marine resources, they are
not a panacea. We will need to be ever vigilant and engage in a wide array of new management tools to tackle local issues, while also increasing efforts to quickly and significantly cause a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. To this end the DoE has been actively promoting he need for a more comprehensive legal framework for conservation in the Islands in the form of the National Conservation Bill which we hope will soon be passed into law, are currently engaged in a comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness of our current Marine Parks in association with the University of Bangor and The Nature Conservancy through a UK-funded Darwin grant, and have just completed a Draft Climate Policy under the Enhancing Capacity for Adaptation to Climate Change project, also funded by the UK government, which will shortly be presented to Cabinet. We look forward to continuing the dialogue with members of the public on recommendations to enhance the system of Marine Parks that have served us so well over the last 25 years so that they are able to continue to play a major role in helping to preserve our marine resources for the next quarter century.
It is now my pleasure to introduce the Minister with responsibility for the Environment, the Hon. Mark Scotland to give his remarks.