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Reimagining Tourism: Sustainable economic development through Maritime Heritage

Local News 13 May, 2024 Follow News

Reimagining Tourism: Sustainable economic development through Maritime Heritage

As Caribbean nations continue to endure the impacts of climate change, tourism, upon which so much of the regional economy is based, must transition from an exploitative and extractive practice to one informed by sustainability, localism, and resilience. One way the Cayman Islands can create a unique, sustainable, and resilient tourism market is by combining its rare and prided maritime heritage with its current sea-based tourism sector, generating opportunity for locals and a diverse tourist experience unseen in the rest of the Caribbean. 

Reimagining Cayman’s cruise ship industry as a sustainable, ethical, and creative economic proposition can be difficult when faced with the industry’s destructive impacts. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that in one day, a typical cruise ship creates 21,000 gallons of sewage, one ton of garbage, 170,000 gallons of wastewater, 6,400 gallons of oily bilge water, and four plastic bottles per customer. Furthermore, the industry’s largest ships demand the construction of a cruise berthing port, yet Cayman’s proposed site is covered in 35 hectares of well-developed, near shore, shallow water reefs. In addition to being valued between $23 and $26 million in yearly revenue, they provide invaluable protection by breaking incoming waves, particularly during storms, and preserving sediment. If the proposed cruise terminal was constructed, the dredging would severely impact the surrounding water quality by releasing sediment which would cause degradation of Cayman’s famously clear, blue waters.

With the seemingly unending list of negative impacts of the cruising industry, it is necessary for Cayman to divest from emission-rich and exploitative industries, if only to maintain its beauty and endure the predicted effects of climate change. So, what do sustainable alternatives to the cruise industry look like for the Cayman Islands? 

The key words are resiliency and localism. Although there is no single path for the sustainable transition of Cayman’s tourism industry, it could begin by reinvigorating our historic seafaring heritage. Older generations learned the ways of ship building and sailing as children, and by passing on this skill to younger Caymanians, a renewed industry of ship building and sailing could return, building a bridge across ages and preserving the craft of which our ancestors were so proud. This could open new educational and collaborative opportunities between other small island nations, as well as new job opportunities for many Caymanians, including those who already have expertise operating within the tourism sector. 

Larger schooners could be utilised as a local form of cruise-type tourism, offering weeklong sails between Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, emphasising our islands crystal-clear waters, highly developed reefs, marine life, and diverse mangrove ecosystems, enticing visitors with our island’s natural beauty. For those looking for a longer trip, Jamaica, Cuba, Nicaragua, or Florida could be further destinations, tracing the historic trade and turtling routes of the Caymanian sailors. Larger schooner cruises could open even further to other Caribbean islands, creating relationships by offering alternative forms of tourism made by the people for the people, as opposed to the corporate enterprises that run the global cruise industry. Trips could also feature cultural preservation elements, indulging tourists in ‘period piece’ type reenactments, with cruises showing off Cayman’s unique foods, dress, and rituals like telling ‘duppy’ stories. For those looking for a shorter adventure, mornings and afternoons could be spent out fishing on a catboat, gliding smoothly over the waves and exploring Cayman’s deep network of mangrove canals. 

For those who prefer land-based activities, Cayman could revitalise its catboat regatta races. The first regatta took place in 1935, with 100 catboats participating. By increasing production of catboats, this could be a tourism marvel as many would come to witness the prowess of a new generation of highly skilled sailors. The races could draw on an international rota of professional sailors seeking to try their hand at catboat racing. Televising the event would bring in more income, as well as potential revenue from the international sports betting industry. Another option for landlubbers could entail workshop classes where visitors learn the craft of local industries such as shipbuilding and thatch rope making. 

While Cayman must embrace change to create resiliency in trying times, this is an opportunity to inspire innovation, influencing other island nations to follow suit in prioritizing the protection of their environment and culture.

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