More than six percent of Cayman’s total land area is now protected under the National Conservation Law.
The Department of Environment hopes to grow that number to 20%, in line with international recommendations.
“I think there has been pretty good progress, and we are looking to keep going,” said DOE Terrestrial Resources Unit Manager Fred Burton.
Mr. Burton said with 3,477 acres now designated as public protected areas, and another 634 acres of protected areas pending, Cayman is seeing the payoff from years of work behind the scenes.
“It finally came through, just actually a couple weeks ago,” said Mr. Burton.
He said $5 million out of the $6 million allocated for protected land purchases in 2017 has been spent.
“Mostly buying land on Cayman Brac for a whole new set of protected areas,” said Mr. Burton. “The Hemmington forest area on Cayman Brac and the beginnings of what we hope will become the Lighthouse National Park in the east end of Cayman Brac,” said Mr. Burton.
Despite having no new funding allocated for protected land purchases in the 2018/2019 budget, Mr. Burton said the aim is to expand the percentage of protected lands from 6.3% to 20%, an international benchmark.
He told Cayman 27 protected areas generally enjoy widespread community support.
“The less you have of a finite resource, the more valuable and it becomes in peoples minds,” said Mr. Burton. “We have a true cross-section of the community responding to these things, 90, 97% of people are actually positively in support of us doing this.”
He said when the National Trust’s roughly 3,300 acres of dry forest and mangrove wetlands are taken into account, more than 11% of Cayman lands have some protection.
“They are not protected under the National Conservation Law because it is separate legislation, and we do hope one day that we can bring these things into sort of a cohesive National Protected Area system,” said Mr. Burton.
With the National Conservation Law marking its fifth anniversary Wednesday (12 December,) Mr. Burton told Cayman the much-needed law is beginning to serve its purpose in protecting lands in perpetuity.
“That is what the environmental protection find was set up to do, the money is there, let’s go ahead and anything that is really worth preserving and that people agree is worth preserving that isn’t running against private interests in a serious way, let’s do it,” said Mr. Burton.
Mr. Burton said the nominations period for protected lands will re-open on an annual basis.
He said submissions are evaluated and prioritized according to a scoring system designed to look for the best conservation bang for the buck.