Proposed cruise docks threaten Grand Cayman corals, tourism

A popular vacation spot is threatening coral reefs.

The Grand Cayman Islands, home to some of the most beautiful corals in the Caribbean – is the current target spot for its government, now in the planning process to dredge the surrounding sea floor in order to build permanent cruise ship piers at Grand Cayman, in the George Town Harbor not far from Seven Mile Beach.

According to the Grand Cayman Islands Department of Tourism website, currently, there are no cruise ship berthing facilities. “However, up to four cruise ships can anchor in one of four designated anchorages in Grand Cayman,” the website reads. “The tender ride from the ship to the terminal is generally about 5 minutes, excluding loading and disembarking time.”

The tender ride means passengers take a small boat from the cruise ship to an island. To remedy this traveling inconvenience, the Cayman Islands Government announced last fall that it would press on with the cruise port facility.

Grand Cayman Islands at risk for damaged corals and sea level rise with new berthing facility propositions.

The location of the proposed berthing facility as announced by the Grand Cayman Islands government (Click for full screen).

According to an article from Cayman News Service, “…The premier, as had been suspected, made the announcement that despite the massive environmental damage expected, government still wants to press on. He said that the business case was ‘favourable,’ though the updated review has not been made public. He said that Cayman was the only Caribbean destination that did not have cruise piers and if it was to retain the cruise business it had developed over the last forty years, it needed a dock.”

Multi-million dollar cruise lines, including Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean, will use the piers to help generate more cruise tourism for the Grand Cayman Islands, despite the British Overseas Territory’s annual $9 million in tourism. Building these piers will serve as a convenience for the tourists who don’t want to take a five-minute boat ride from the cruise ship to an island.

However, dredging this large portion of a coral reef will mean further damage to the corals, which are already threatened by rising ocean temperatures and divers who touch the corals while on vacation. In an environmental statement from Baird and TEM written for the Ministry of District Administration Tourism & Transport and The Port Authority of the Cayman Islands, other environmental concerns also include increased erosion and wave action along the George Town Waterfront and pollution from runoff and other emissions.

Meanwhile, socio-economic impact means reduced snorkel business due to diminished water quality and coral reef health during construction, among others.

In an attempt to halt the dredging plan, Sea Save Foundation, a Malibu-based non-profit founded by ocean conservationist, underwater photographer and producer Georgienne Bradley, raised awareness of the dredging plan last July. In addition, they created a petition to the Minister of Environment of the Grand Cayman Islands.

Because large cruise ship lines own certain islands, their request to build piers for convenience and passenger experience is foreseeable. However, according to Bradley, completion of this dredging will only mean dead corals, which received the brunt of dredging, as well as damaged corals in greater risk of death that received the after-effects.

“Recent scientific studies show that silt and other dredging byproducts will lower resistance and make corals 50% more vulnerable to disease,” Bradley writes in an article for The Huffington Post. “So the corals that are not directly killed by the dredging and cruise ship traffic will be at higher risk of death.”

With this conflict between environment and economy, conservationists like Bradley say the destruction of corals is also the destruction of tourism income. The Grand Cayman Islands is home to coral reefs that attract divers and snorkels far and wide.

Current damage prediction can be found on Sea Save Foundation’s website, with information on climate change, project assessment and more. In the meantime, the petition started by Sea Save Foundation is the current form of protest. To view or sign the petition, click here.