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Letter to the Editor: Support for Cruise Port

The Environmental Impact of the Cruise Berthing Facility – The Facts

The beauty of the Cayman Islands is due to our unique climate, our geography, our white sand beaches, and the mystery that lies close to our shores beneath the water; our coral reefs. As a nation we understand the value of these treasures and we have always worked to protect them.

Recently, those claiming the moniker of environmentalists have taken it upon themselves to assert that the proposed new cruise berthing piers will hurt the environment and what makes Cayman attractive to visitors. Their claims are false on many levels, so let’s set the record straight.

Building a new cruise berthing facility is actually the more environmentally conscientious move for the Cayman Islands. Look at safety. With a pier, safety is increased for all vessels. They will pull in and out of the channels in a standard operating procedure, leaving less chance for accidents as when they are anchored.  Removing the need to anchor both cargo and cruise ships will also reduce the chance of reef damage from anchoring activities in the harbour.  The alternative would continue to degrade the harbour marine environment as it has for the past 40 years.  Since the Rhapsody in 1984 we have had 16 major maritime grounds and incidents.  The cargo and cruise berthing facility will greatly diminish the chances of reoccurrences of these maritime accidents in the harbour.

Fuel consumption and emissions are subjects you haven’t heard the tender operators and the “environmentalists” who are in concert with them mention. And for good reason; they are actually burning fuel and spewing exhaust at a very high rate. With the new docks, diesel fuel consumption and the carbon footprint of tendering will be eliminated. That’s great environmental news! By building the docks, we would eliminate some 30,000 - 60,000 pounds of tender produced carbon exhaust (Co2) per cruise ship per day. Take a deep breath as you think about that.

 Exhaust is not only from the tender boats, but also from the cruise ships that are required to keep their engines running while being tendered. Adding up the emissions from multiple ships in port we are easily talking about a 1,000,000 pounds of (Co2) carbon per day. However, with berthing those engines can be turned off, only the generators for hotel services would be required. That is good for the air quality and the water in George Town.

Cayman’s future as a port of call on the cruise companies’ itineraries also hinges on issues related to fuel consumption.  As the cruise industry builds larger ships – floating cities – these ships burn an enormous amount of fuel while under way. When docked, ships significantly reduce their fuel consumption. Having berthing facilities available for these ships is not only an environmental consideration, but also a serious cost one for the industry.  In ports, such as Cayman, where we only offer tendering, the cruise ships have to anchor and propulsion and thruster capacity have to be available at all times.  This represents additional expense for the cruise lines, making Cayman a very unattractive port of call from a business perspective.

The assertion that Cayman is going to destroy the dive industry by building a pier is another misleading exaggeration. With 365 dive sites around Cayman – one for every day of the year – only three dive sites will be impacted by the 15-acre footprint of the new docks. Baird Consulting, hired by DOE, evaluated the environmental impact on this footprint.  They did an analytical study of the proposed dredging footprint.  In fact, the Benthic Habitat study went significantly further by surveying the seabed and precisely quantifying the marine habitat in that area.  Having this actual data enabled Baird to more accurately assess the impact.  They have assessed coral relocation as being a viable option.  This more detailed research also clarified the impact area as 6.9 acres, not 15 acres, with only about 2 acres of live coral being affected.

The DOE has not made it a priority to share these findings, and correct the misinformation that they released based on Baird’s initial findings.  For example, the corrected reports show significantly reduced environmental impact from bow thruster plume – in fact this was overstated by 1500% - completely debunking the initial misnomer of a ‘death of plume’ promoted by the tender operators in concert with the environmentalists. The studies have been done. The record is clear. The facts about the impact on the environment support the current proposed berthing location over all others.

The DOE is also on record in a 2014 documentary that the coral has deteriorated 80% in the past 40 years. In the public admission of the DOE, the marine resource is under huge stress from a number of causes, which do not relate to cruise ships and are continuing to deteriorate rapidly regionally and elsewhere in the world. To go even further, these three dive sites in George Town harbour are not safe to dive or snorkel most days out of the year, due to the tenders driving over them to ferry guests back and forth to the anchored cruise ships. No diving is allowed as regulated by the Port Authority on cruise ship days and cargo ship days due to commercial shipping and tendering traffic.

Stay-over tourists and all those looking to feel some sand beneath their toes need not worry about the impact of the cruise berthing facility on 7 Mile Beach – because there is no threat. The EIA by Baird states that the current proposal will not pose have a significant impact on this pristine swath of land. The consultants further repeat this in their response to public comments which can be found on the DOE website. Opponents can continue to try to create roadblocks and call for more and more studies, but the facts are not going to change, 7 Mile Beach is safe.

We are running out of time to upgrade our cargo capacity. This is not just an environmental issue – but a humanitarian one as well. The commercial cargo port has been in its present position for centuries -  long before the DOE and marine parks were even imagined. As an Island nation our cargo port is the lifeline of our existence as a country.  The extensive reports and research have shown that the proposed cruise berthing facility presents the most environmentally sensitive option for upgrading the cargo port.

Stabilizing Cayman’s position in the cruise business; securing existing employment and growing jobs; developing new economic opportunities; upgrading Cayman’s infrastructure for the future; preparing for changes in technology and industry in the cruise and cargo businesses; protecting the environment and thinking about conservation in a new way – these are all reasons to build the new cruise berthing facility.

The economic benefits to a new cruise berthing facility are undeniably substantial for the country. The environmental impacts have been studied and made transparent – let’s choose progress and protection over fear and obstruction. It’s time to build both the cargo and cruise berthing facility for the future of Cayman.


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14 Oct, 2015 11:12 AM

This letter is agenda driven and very misleading. How exactly do the Co2 emissions from the ships affect the island? They don't. It does save the cruise ships money in fuel though. On a global scale it is commendable to help reduce emissions but not at the expense of our coral reefs. Also please provide a reference to a single large scale coral transplantation that has been successful...oh that's right there are none, because it has never been done. There are several failures you can reference though! Your letter, just like the proposed berthing plan, is driven by one thing; the bottom line, profit, $$$.

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A. Colin Panton

14 Oct, 2015 08:37 AM

Will Northwesters affect berthing?56ei1

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Jonathon Barnes

13 Oct, 2015 11:24 AM

Very interesting read.

I had never really thought about the impact of those large ship engines running constantly but that makes a lot of sense. We could be doing much more damage to our environment by not having a dock than if we were to have one and they cut back on having to keep the ships up all day. I'm guessing those tender boats are on the older side too and that is a lot of diesel burning all over the harbour.

Seven Mile is safe, We cut back on carbon emissions, take away anchor damage and accidents, the amount of coral is way less than they originally said and the turbidity plumes are 15 times less....This becomes an easier decision every day.

I see on another site that Carnival committed to $50 Million in funding so this project looks better for Cayman all the time.

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