The Cayman Islands Government was contacted on Wednesday 9th October by a UK publication, The Telegraph, and asked to answer some questions regarding the Cruise Berthing Facility Project. Please see below in its entirety the answers that were submitted:
The Cayman Islands is a premier tourism destination. Attractions across our three islands (Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac) include the acclaimed Seven Mile Beach and historic sites. With some of the world’s best coral dive sites found around all of our three islands, we strive to protect our environment and species – including our successful Blue Iguana recovery programme.
The Cayman Islands is not an industrial nation, nor are we a significant manufacturer of goods. Our economy is service based and we are reliant on both financial services and tourism. The Cayman Islands Government is keenly aware that our natural environment is integral to the viability of our Islands’ tourism product and actively seeks to protect it. As well as regular direct flights from the UK and USA, we rely on visitors from cruise lines.
For over 40 years Caymanians have built a thriving cruise tourism industry that contributes over $200 million a year to our economy. This has been achieved through grit, hard work, and the Caymankind hospitality that is our culture and heritage. The 2015 BREA report noted that our cruise sector supports 4,545 jobs. In our small population of around 65,000 this makes a big impact.
- An estimated $87 million is earned in salaries from cruise tourism.
- The businesses that service our cruise sector are predominantly Caymanian owned and operated and principally include taxi drivers, tour operators, water-based attractions, restaurateurs, retail shop owners and other industrious and creative entrepreneurs.
A cruise berthing facility will secure the jobs and market for the businesses that currently make their living from cruise tourism. It will also create new jobs and increase employment and entrepreneurship opportunities during construction as well for decades into the future.
The new cruise berthing project involves the construction of two piers in the harbour of George Town – our capital on Grand Cayman – that are capable of berthing four cruise ships and the expansion and redevelopment of our Islands’ primary cargo port.
On 29 July, 2019 the Cayman Islands Government (CIG) approved the selection of Verdant Isle Port Partners (VIPP) as the preferred bidder for the proposed cruise berthing facility and cargo port enhancement project. VIPP is a consortium of companies which offer a high degree of local and international technical expertise and have the relevant experience and key personnel who are familiar with working on projects of similar scope and scale as the George Town berthing facility.
The two piers will be built on pilings to allow sea and marine life to move freely underneath. Pilings are commonly used all over the world in the construction of piers and bridges situated over water. Along with the piers the project also includes expansion and redevelopment of our cargo port.
From the inception of the project, the Cayman Islands Government has done everything possible to ensure that the cruise berthing facility is carefully and responsibly built in a way that causes the least environmental impact. Government is committed to ensuring that the ecological impact is being minimised as much as possible and comprehensive mitigation measures and coral relocation are part of the plan.
The Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) conducted in 2015 was the most robust ever carried out in the Cayman Islands. The project team worked closely with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to draft the terms of reference for the EIA and it was completed by Baird, a globally recognised environment and engineering consultancy group. The first question that was asked of the marine scientists, engineers and experts was “is Seven Mile Beach at risk?” The answer was and still is an emphatic no. Consequently, the Cayman Islands Government granted approval for the project to move to the procurement phase of its development continuum.
RESPONSE TO DAILY TELEGRAPH QUESTIONS
1. Have the plans for the port changed since those originally released to the public in 2015?
If yes, will these be released to the public before the proposed referendum on the project?
The design for the proposed cruise terminal and cargo facility has changed since the design that was assessed in the 2015 Environmental Impact Assessment (which involved full public consultation as required under our own EIA directive). The new design accomplishes Government’s commitment to minimise impact to the environment and when compared to the original design presented in 2015, will achieve a number of benefits including the following:
- A reduction in the overall dredge footprint
- A reduction in dredge volume
- A reduction in direct impact to coral
- A reduction in size of the proposed upland area
- No dredging in Hog Sty Bay and no direct impact to Eden Rock Coral Reef area
The updated design for the cruise berthing facility is currently being finalised and is expected to be available for release to the public in the coming days.
2. Has there been an Environmental Impact Assessment made since the original assessment in 2015? If yes, will this be released to the public? If no, why not?
An Environmental Impact Assessment has not been conducted since the original Environmental Impact Assessment in 2015. This has not been possible to date as the design is only just being finalised which will provide a basis for comparison to the original EIA 2015 design. An Environmental Scoping Update is being completed which will assess any changes in the updated design and how these could affect the outcomes of the original EIA and this will be submitted to the Environmental Assessment Board.
Management plans will also be developed in order to show how mitigation and monitoring will be conducted and reviewed and how management actions will be put in place to ensure the success of any mitigation proposed.
Additional studies are also planned and they will provide supplementary information on the baseline environment. Verdant Isle Port Partners (VIPP), which is the consortium of companies approved by the Cayman Islands to construct the cruise berthing and cargo enhancement project, have submitted an application for a coastal works license to undertake a geotechnical investigation to assist in the design of the new piers and this work won’t commence until after the referendum.
The proposed studies to be undertaken prior to the referendum are detailed dive surveys to map and grid the existing corals in the George Town Harbour and the proposed coral relocation sites as well as bathymetric and hydrographic surveys of the sea bed. Bathymetric and hydrographic surveys typically involve measurement of the depth of water as well as mapping of the underwater features of the seabed.
Verdant Isle is conducting these studies and the EIA Scoping update with their consortium members who are:
- Baird & Associates, the Environmental Consultants who undertook the original EIA in 2015;
- Polaris who are the Coral Relocation specialists that have undertaken many coral restoration projects in Grand Cayman;
- Van Oord an international dredging contractor with specialist experience in dredging in sensitive marine sites.
The outcomes of these studies will be shared with the public to provide further reassurance regarding Government’s commitment to the stewardship and care of our environment.
3. Environmental groups and marine experts argue the 2015 plans for the port to “relocate” the reef are unfeasible. What measures / assessments have been made to show relocation of the reef will be successful and not damage the existing biodiversity?
A Benthic Characterisation Survey Report was commissioned on behalf of the Cayman Islands Government to examine marine habitats within the dredging footprint of the proposed cruise terminal. The results of the survey estimated that a significant proportion of the impacted coral could be successfully translocated. The study included mitigation measures and was conducted by CSA Ocean Sciences Inc.
CSA are experts in the field of coral translocation and began doing coral reattachment during the infancy of this technique. Their marine specialists have been instrumental in refining reattachment procedures and have field-tested applications for reattachment of coral, soft coral, and large structural sponges as a means of accelerating habitat recovery. The Benthic Characterisation Study recommended coral translocation as the primary mitigation option for the impacts associated with the berthing project. The report states that ‘Coral translocation, if done properly, can significantly reduce the loss of coral tissue and the ecological services provided by corals.
In terms of successful outcomes, while it is true that success rates vary, there are several examples of successful relocation projects similar to the George Town Harbour worldwide. The Benthic Habitat study noted 60 such programmes, some of which were monitored by independent parties, including the U.S. National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Coral Reef Institute (NCRI), and Florida Marine Research Institute. To cite just one case where 1000 coral colonies were removed from a site in Broward, Florida, the coral stability and health at the reattachment site over a 3-year period showed a 97% success rate.
Evidence of successful outcomes in Grand Cayman is also available in cases where shipping incidents have dislodged and fractured large sections of the limestone reef and damaged thousands of corals in West Bay and Eden Rock. Verdant Isle’s Coral Relocation partner (Polaris) restored both of these sites in 2016 and 2017. Coral fragments broken and disturbed by vessel anchors and ship hulls should arguably have lower survival than those removed more carefully, yet monitoring studies have reported 89% survival of tagged specimens in the West Bay site two years following the restoration compared to 93% of unaffected coral colonies.
The Cayman Islands Government recognises the challenges inherent in the plans for coral relocation in George Town Harbour. However, through our proposed contracted partners, we will seek to draw on global best practice in order to maximise the potential mitigation that can be achieved.
4. Have you consulted with environmental groups, both local and international, and experts, about the potential impacts on the biodiversity of the area from this project?
The Cayman Islands Government (CIG) regards stakeholder engagement, consultation and disclosure as a necessary and welcomed part of the process throughout all project phases, from EIA through to construction and operation. Consequently the best practice guidelines of the Equator Principles and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) of the World Bank are being used to inform this project.
Public and private consultation meetings hosted by the CIG have taken place to provide stakeholders with an opportunity to comment and provide feedback on various aspects of the project such as the Terms of Reference for the EIA.
Consultation with relevant experts has been undertaken throughout the environmental process, including during the original EIA when international experts provided advice on the environmental impacts and proposed mitigation. Consultation was also an important part of the EIA process and the review process for the Environmental Statement produced. Since then ongoing consultation has occurred with the Cayman Islands Government Department of Environment to develop the potential mitigation through initiatives for the coral relocation. This has included dive surveys of potential relocation areas to ensure that an area is available that would have the carrying capacity to support additional corals and the necessary environmental conditions. This process has also involved consultation with local stakeholders and international experts.
5. As a UK Overseas Territory, the Cayman Islands is party to the Convention on Biological Diversity, meaning you must safeguard biodiversity – has this been taken into consideration with these plans?
The safeguarding of biodiversity has been taken into consideration with the development of the interim Coral Relocation Plan that has looked into the objectives for, and potential methods of, relocating corals and possible relocation areas should the project gain the necessary approvals.
This involved review of the Cayman Islands National Biodiversity Action Plan which has the aim of “Zero Extinction in the Cayman Islands”. Review of international documents (relevant standards and best practice) was also undertaken including the International Finance Corporation Performance Standard 6 on Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources.
Through review of the above documents and surveys to further understand the biodiversity of the corals in the area, the interim coral relocation plan was developed. This document will be further developed, with ongoing consultation with the Department of Environment, as the survey work progresses. The aim of the coral relocation as developed through the objectives of the plan would be no net loss of biodiversity.
Through the work of experts associated with the preferred bidder’s team, there could be additional benefits to the Cayman Islands’ coral reef areas linked to the setup of a coral nursery which is expected to grow Caribbean corals. Many traditional coral nurseries can only grow a limited number of species but the new technique is able to grow most, if not all, species found throughout the Caribbean.