ci_cruise_ship_port, cayman islands, coral reef destruction, marine conservationResults from a Department of Environment survey published this week indicates Public sentiment seems to be largely opposed to the Cayman Islands government’s plan to build two new cruise ship piers in George Town on Grand Cayman.

A majority of respondents to the survey oppose the government’s plan to build a new cruise terminal with two piers in the harbor of George Town, the Cayman capital. Of the 473 public comments gathered by the Department of Environment, 347 express objections to the project, while 111 express support and 15 were either neutral or undecided.

The Department of Environment issued the survey as part of a public consultation process following the June publication of an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the pier-building project commissioned by the Cayman Islands’ Ministry of Tourism and Transport and the Port Authority of the Cayman Islands.

The EIA states the $150 million project would “have significant negative impacts on the marine ecology within George Town harbor, in particular the coral reefs and associated habitat surrounding the project site.” Yet the same study also predicts the new piers would provide “significant employment and entrepreneurial opportunities for residents.”

Ironically, the survey was not intended as a referendum on the project, according to Wendy Williams, an environmental assessment officer with the Department of Environment. In a Cayman Compass report, Williams said the survey was designed to generate “public feedback” on EIA and “ensure all concerns had been adequately addressed and explained” in advance of the government’s decision-making process.

Nevertheless the issue has sharply split Cayman residents, tourism stakeholders, environmentalists and even visitors. “Based on a review of the responses and respondents, it is clear that the project has polarized the local community,” said officials at W.F. Baird and Associates, the consulting firm that prepared the report.

Overall, dive, marine and water sports operators, environmentalists and even some Cayman Island tourists oppose the project, citing the anticipated damage to George Town reefs and dive sites. Meanwhile retailers and excursions operators who rely heavily on cruise visitors have largely supported the plan.

Travelers to the Cayman Island appear to side with the former group. Of the 347 respondents who objected to the project, 205 were visitors. Of the 111 respondents in favor of the project, only one was a visitor.

While the majority of the comments submitted to the Department of Environment advocate scuttling the pier project, overall they reflect both sides of the issue.

“I own a dive shop in the Turks and Caicos Islands and saw the devastation done to the reefs in Grand Turk,” said Debbie Been, dive operator. “Please do not make the same mistake our government did in allowing the facility to be developed. Many of my divers have told me they will not come to Grand Turk anymore if they built a cruise [dock]. They kept their word and did not come back.”

Said Gene Thompson, a developer, “The plans for the port call for some 1,600 [feet] on our coastline to be used for this project. If you put that against the 53 miles of coastline that we have, it is approximately 0.6 percent of our coast that will be impacted. I contend this is acceptable, bearing in mind the benefit to our Caymanian people and to our economy.”

This week Ellen Prager, a marine scientist who is an advisor to Celebrity Cruises’ Xpedition Galapagos Islands specialty brand, told the Cayman News Service that cruise lines will not want to support a project that will cause “significant damage.”

“The cruise lines want piers, yes, as a result of issues of safety and itinerary management but not at any cost,” she said. “The EIA is extraordinarily clear that this is far too damaging.”

In an interview at Blue Ocean Network’s recent Blue Ocean Business Summit, Lois Hatcher, a Cayman Islands dive guide discussed cruise ship issues that effect this top dive destination. Hatcher is involved in the  restoration of Magic Reef – a pristine reef crushed by the cruise ship Carnival Magic Carnival Magic cruise ship when it anchored in an unauthorized zone near George Town.

Hatcher spoke of the pending cruise ship pier development that was seemingly being pushed through behind the scenes without adequate local discussion, and causing grave concerns to those who understand that we all rely on a pristine ocean. This latest survey gives weight to a trend at many destinations to seriously reconsider their investments in cruise developments. If kiboshed, this latest cruise development could set the precedent for more ocean-based destinations to re-evaluate future cruise ship development plans.