Cayman Islands Tourism Adds Voice to Cruise Port Opposition
PHOTO: Cruise port opponents a new cruise pier will destroy Cayman Islands dive sites. (Courtesy of the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism).
Count the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA) among the parties opposed to construction of a $150 million cruise ship facility many stakeholders view as critical to the country’s economic future.
In a press release last week, CITA’s membership, which includes hoteliers, dive operators, retailers, excursion firms and other tourism companies and organizations, said the majority of its membership opposes the project, which has been supported by the country’s tourism ministry.
CITA’s statement follows the ministry’s release earlier this month of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the cruise port project. The group’s decision to oppose the cruise facility plan was difficult “because the topic is extremely polarizing based on individual member business’ focus,” the statement said. Nevertheless a majority of the organization’s members oppose the proposal.
“This position has been reached after careful review of the documentation available, individual CITA meetings and a survey of our members where the majority of the respondents indicated that they did not support the current proposal,” the statement said.
The statement added that CITA officials want to discuss information uncovered in their review with the Cayman government to “discuss a sustainable healthy cruise sector.”
The EIA outlines the cruise port plan’s considerable scope and includes the frank prediction that the project, planned for the harbor of George Town, the Cayman capitol, will have negative effects on the surrounding aquatic environment.
Construction work will result in the destruction of 15 acres of coral reef and “increased stress on and degradation of” an additional 15-20 acres of reef, according to the EIA.
In addition, dredging for the project will result in the loss of the Balboa, a 375-foot freighter that sank in 1932 and forms a popular local dive site. The EIA also reports that muck generated by the dredging may also “degrade” the quality of diving at the Devil’s Grotto and Cali shipwreck dive sites. Moreover, consultants estimate the marine damage will cost Cayman $100 million to $165 million over 20 years based on the cessation of dive operations at these sites.
However, the EIA also predicts the new cruise port would create nearly 1,000 jobs and inject $250 million or more into the local economy over 20 years.
Interestingly while the proposed project will feature two piers accommodating four large cruise ships, it would not eliminate the need for cruise ship to ferry passengers from ships docked off shore when five or more ships visit the destination.
Ministry of Tourism officials this week issued their own statement, which acknowledges CITA’s opposition to the project.
“The Ministry of Tourism appreciates the feedback from CITA with respect to the proposed cruise berthing facility,” the statement reads. “The Ministry has carefully and methodically sought to garner as much relevant and credible information as possible, in order that Cabinet may reach an informed decision.”
The statement continues, “Garnering relevant information remains a work in progress…designed to facilitate scrutiny from the financial, technical and environmental standpoints, and safeguard the project from unintended consequences in the future.”
The Ministry has also commissioned a “benthic habitat” survey to “provide supplementary information regarding the habitats within the proposed dredging footprint,” the statement said.
Survey results are expected in mid-August. The Ministry has also engaged auditor PriceWaterhouse Coopers “to update the outline business case with the findings obtained from the EIA.”
While the CITA statement reflects the organization’s opposition to the project, the debate is shaping up – even among CITA’s membership – as a battle pitting local environmentalists and dive operators against land-based and other tourism stakeholders who rely on cruise tourism.
Tim Adam, managing director of the Cayman Turtle Farm and CITA’s secretary, said in a Cayman Compass interview there are “very strong dissenting opponents within CITA” and “very strong differences among certain sectors of the organization.”
Adam is featured in a video posted recently by Cayman’s Port, Cayman’s Future, a pro cruise port project group. Another group, savecayman.org, opposes the project based on its threat to the harbor’s marine environment.
More by Brian Major
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