(Published in The Cayman Reporter, Wednesday, 1 February, 2017)
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
‘Til it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
Canadian singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” lyrics sum up quite neatly the importance of protecting the environment which is so easy to ruin, and so hard to restore. In the face of Cayman’s rapid development, it has as much significance here as anywhere in the world.
Indeed, here in Cayman our stunning natural environment is the jewel in our crown – enticing millions of tourists to our shores who go on to spend their hard earned money with our local businesses, bolstering our economy. It can operate as no small inducement either, to professionals in the financial and legal sectors who are able to enjoy the benefits of operating in an offshore territory, with its associated jurisdictional advantages, whilst enjoying the benefits of a Caribbean lifestyle.
As reported in our paper today, with $6 million to spend on protecting Cayman’s natural areas, the Department of Environment and the National Conservation Council are asking for the public’s input on which land, both private parcels and Crown land, should be declared “protected natural areas.”
The nominations include 12 parcels of land on Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, with a second set of nominations to be released later on in the year aimed at protecting areas on Cayman Brac. This new designation is meant to preserve Cayman’s environmentally important areas on the islands so they may also be enjoyed by future generations to come.
Members of the public have from now until May 2 to submit their written views on the nominations and we encourage everyone in Cayman to do so.
Of course, there is a balance to strike between developing a country and protecting its most treasured natural resources. While Cayman must continue to develop to ensure a robust and healthy economy, it must be done sensitively. And, with development underway at a rate unprecedented in Cayman, these nominations could not be more timely. This is especially so given that economic growth in Cayman cannot be decoupled from its environmental wellbeing as here, more than most countries in the world, the two are intimately related.
Unfortunately, during the past years there seems to have been little action on many of our environment’s most pressing issues. Just take a drive along Seven Mile Beach to observe one of Cayman’s biggest environmental disasters “Mount Trashmore,” a towering mountain of rubbish for all to see. As a nation we are also woefully behind with much of the developed world in embracing alternative forms of generating electricity. Just look to our close neighbour Costa Rica – a leader in sustainable practice and policy – which generates 90 percent of its energy through renewable means.
However, small changes have been made over the years. Supermarkets now charge for plastic bags with the hope it will discourage their use; a growing number of companies have sprung up offering solar panels; Cayman saw its first electric car charging station in 2012; new developments, such as the KimptonSeafire Resort + Spa are embracing green building practices; and, currently in development is a 22-acre solar farm in Bodden Town, set to supply 5 megawatts of electricity to the national grid; that’s around 5 percent of Cayman’s peak electrical demand.
And, let’s not forget that just a few months ago following an outcry from members of the general public, land to the north of Smith Cove beach was saved from development when the Cayman Islands Cabinet approved the purchase of the land with money from the government’s Environmental Protection Fund.
We need not choose between continuing economic development and the protection of the environment. It doesn’t have to be a question of either one or the other. They sit on opposite sides of the same coin. Sustainable and environmentally friendly development which recognises the central importance of Cayman’s most important asset, these beautiful islands themselves, can help Cayman lead the world. All we need is for the people of the Cayman Islands, the politicians, and the business community to come together with unity of vision and purpose.
Cayman is a natural jewel in the Caribbean and now is the time to protect it – otherwise, as Joni Mitchell’s song forewarns, we will be doomed only to recognise it when it is gone.