Law won’t be enough says NT
CNS): Even if the much needed National Conservation Law is passed, Cayman will still need to protect far more of its dwindling natural habitat. Carla Reid, chair of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, says the organisation needs to buy more land in the face of the relentless development and is in desperate need of resources to help it do that. Although the Trust is criticised at times for not advocating loudly enough for the environment, Reid told CNS that it is doing what it does best, which is buying land to protect it from the bulldozer. But with a dwindling government grant and more charities than ever competing for a smaller donation pie, that job is getting tougher.
“People see our lack of advocacy as a weakness but what we do is buy the land,” Reid said. Although she acknowledged that advocacy and activism is important to raise awareness of essential issues and gain support for environmental protection, the only sure fire way of protecting any land at all in Cayman is for the Trust to own it. “We are not environmental policemen and we are far more effective by buying up the land that is under threat.”
The Trust currently owns just 5% of the islands’ natural land and historic built sites, which it manages and protects and is keen to buy much more, but it cannot do so without the assistance of the community. However, with a growing numbers of unregulated and unofficial charities as well as government agencies now competing for private donations, not to mention the continual annual cuts to its budget, the Trust is struggling to keep up with the purchases it needs to make to protect even some of Cayman’s most precious and critical sites.
From the Mastic Trail to the Botanic Park, important natural sites are under threat from potential development surrounding them and the only way sure way to secure these and the future of other sites is to buy the land so that it cannot fall into the hands of developers.
Reid noted that laws can very easily be changed or overridden by government, as demonstrated by the recent removal of protection for Salt Water Pond on Cayman Brac as a result of an amendment to the Animals Law. However, once the land is owned by the Trust it can be protected in perpetuity.
In the face of continued warnings about the dwindling habitat for some of Cayman’s most iconic and unique national symbols, such as the parrot and the ghost orchid, the Trust believes that in order to meet the government’s own target of zero extinctions, as set out in the Department of Environment’s own National Diversity Action Plan, then the habitat of these and other species has to be given protection of the kind that not even the proposed conservation law can provide.
Reid said she would like to see government lead by example and vest some critical crown land in the Trust to deal with some of the most impending threats. In particular, Reid pointed to the George Town forest and the crown land there in an effort to save the ghost orchid and other species at the site which are found only there and on the brink of extinction.
During the past fiscal year the Trust has managed to purchase 118 acres of land in the Mastic Reserve, a further 23 acres for the Salina Reserve and two critical acres in Little Cayman to add to the holdings on the Salt Rocks Nature Trail. But over the last three years the Trust has lost around $100,000 over the last three years from its annual grant from government and depends more than ever on the community. It has around 600 members making annual donations but needs to desperately increase its membership not only to raise the much needed cash but to have more people be more aware about the real threats Cayman’s environment faces.
Reid warned that without greater and more consistent financial support the Trust will struggle to even survive and if it cannot continue then all of the work it has done so far will be lost. In addition, it is the ownership of certain lands by the Trust as a part-funded government entity that enables the Cayman government to comply at all with its many international obligations regarding the environment. As a result of the land it owns and more importantly protects, the Trust ensures the country is at least partially compliant with treaties such as the conventions covering wetlands, bio-diversity, fragile eco-systems and the environmental charter.
The future, however, is precarious, not just for the Trust but the lands and species it protects.
Reid noted that if the Trust cannot carry on doing its work in the continued absence of a conservation law and even with it, the natural and historic environment of the Cayman Islands will be lost to the bulldozer.
“For everything we have done in the past to mean anything we have to survive,” she added. “We aim to have 10% of Cayman’s land protected by 2020, which wouldn’t be difficult. If government gave us the wetlands in Little Cayman, for instance, then we would almost be on target,” Reid said.
In the meantime, however, the Trust is calling on the community to help them “Conserve Cayman” with a new campaign where people can donate to help purchase specific land. The organisation is also trying to recruit more members to join the fight to save the environment. With annual individual membership only $30 a year, Christine McTaggart, the Trust’s general manager, said they have made it as easy as possible for new members as they can now sign up and pay on-line.
“Given the current economic circumstance and the competition from other causes, people don’t see the work of the Trust as pressing – but it is; it is critical, especially in the face of increasing development,” she said.
For more information and to sign up as a trust member go to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.
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