Opening Remarks for Minister for Health, Environment, Youth, Sports & Culture
The Hon. Mark Scotland
Department of Environment’s Marine Parks Open House
23 May 2011
A quarter-century ago the Cayman Islands Government initiated one of the most important environmental accomplishments in our history – the establishment of the Cayman Islands’ marine parks system.
Of course, as with any other significant change, this achievement did not come without its challenges or detractors. However, looking back on 25 years of marine parks, I believe there can be but few dissenting voices remaining. In enacting the Marine Parks Regulations , three types of protected area zone designations were created: marine parks, replenishment zones and environmental zones . Over the years, these locales – which were created off-shore of all three islands – have enabled dwindling conch, whelk and lobster populations to be sustained. . They have also protected our reefs and secured fish stocks.
That visionary move established our country as a regional leader in marine conservation. But apart from fulfilling the moral obligation to secure marine resources for future generations, the marine parks have also proven to be a sound economic decision. A 1985 National Geographic article described Cayman’s reefs as “a bonanza for pleasure and profit,” adding that the Islands’ “submarine splendor” supported an underwater recreation industry which even back then pulled in more than 350,000 visitors annually.
And although arrival numbers have been slightly lower in more recent years, visitors still spend in excess of CI$433 million per year. There is little question that the vast majority of visitors come here to enjoy our clear waters and beautiful marine life, whether by diving, snorkeling or fishing.
Tonight, as we celebrate this solid investment, I want to first thank the Department of the Environment for tirelessly acting to protect our environment. It is not always easy to do your job and we applaud all – both past and current employees – for your unwavering commitment. Not only are we considered regional leaders in marine conservation through your efforts, you have also managed to put Cayman on the map in many other ways, particularly through your constant efforts to secure international research projects and conservation partnerships.
For instance, the department is currently hosting a team of shark researchers, here to assess the prevalence of sharks, rays, whales and dolphins. The study is part of a Marine Conservation International project jointly funded by the UK’s Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP), the Save Our Seas Foundation, and the Guy Harvey Research Institute . There is also the Darwin Initiative in partnership with the University of Bangor’s School of Ocean Sciences and The Nature Conservancy that is taking a comprehensive look at our existing parks system. This latest initiative comes at a most opportune time to assess the effectiveness of our marine protected areas in today’s world in light of new and emerging stresses on our coral reefs and marine resources such as coral bleaching associated with climate change and fishing pressure from a growing population. The UK’s Joint Nature Conservation Council (JNCC) has also recently contributed funding to the DoE’s ongoing efforts to control numbers of the invasive lionfish on our reefs.
These partnerships are of course invaluable. Not only do they provide up-to-date information on the state of our natural resources, they also allow the Cayman Islands to play a global conservation role.
But on this occasion, I also want to thank our diving industry partners, the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the Cayman National Watersports Association and the Sister Islands Tourism Association, for supporting DOE’s efforts. Not only do I commend your dedication to ongoing diver education on conservation, but I am sure that DOE staff will agree that you also contribute invaluable additional eyes and ears.
Lastly, I pay tribute to all those individuals who were advocating for the parks even long before such advocacy
became critical. Pioneers such as Joe Parsons, Dace McCoy-Ground, Patricia Bradley, Ron Kipp, Adrian Briggs, Peter Milburn, Bob Soto, Kent Eldemire, Capt. Crosby Ebanks, Nancy and Ron Sefton and many others took on the difficult task of convincing our communities to support such ‘futuristic’ legislation. I would also like to publicly recognize Lady Rita Johnson, wife of the late Sir Vassel Johnson who was the Member of Executive Council with responsibility for the environment at the time of the establishment of the Marine Parks as well as Mr. Kearney Gomez, Sir Vassel’s Permanent Secretary at that time.
However, even as we celebrate their phenomenal achievements, we once again find ourselves at a defining moment, so far as conservation is concerned. We do need continued economic growth of course, but our natural resources also need to be protected and properly managed as part of that process. Looking forward to the next 25 years, the key word then must be sustainability. Development should never trump conservation and even as we work to build a strong economy, it is equally important to think about the kind of environment we want to leave behind for our children. Yet the challenge is not only for government; it is also for individual citizens and for the private sector. Long-term solutions can only be found if everyone steps up to the plate. This having been said, I look forward to receiving the recommendations which will come out of the current Marine Parks assessment under the Darwin project.
May the partnerships therefore continue and may we enjoy yet another quarter-century of conservation.