We highlight some, but not all, of the numerous significant and unquantified risks where mitigation strategies could be (i) high cost (ii) unidentified (iii) based on unreliable data or (iv) subject to environmental uncertainty associated with this project.
Berthing facility design
Following the preferred bidder announcement on 29 July 2019, no design has been made public showing numerical data to quantify the direct impact of the footprint, including dredge area, concrete area and location relative to the surrounding marine ecosystems of coral reefs, hard pan and sandy bottom habitat, and historic shipwrecks.
Marine Habitat loss
The 2015 design, which an Environmental Impact Assessment (the ‘EIA’ or ‘Baird Report’) was conducted on, proposed direct dredging involving permanent and irreversible removal of 15 acres of coral reef and total dredging of 32 acres of seabed. A footprint with 20% less dredging directly excavates 12 acres of invaluable marine habitat, 25.6 acres of seabed in total, in addition to indirect lethal and sub-lethal impacts on surrounding reefs.
Lethal and sub-lethal sedimentation from dredging during construction and periodically during operation, as well as cruise ship thrusters during operation, will impact marine ecosystems approximately 220 metres surrounding the immediate dredged area (Baird Non-Technical Summary Section 14, see Figure 14.1). The public needs to have information on the design to see how extensive this indirect negative consequence will be.
Dredging of limestone and coral material creates milky white ‘clouds’ in the water column clearly observable at other port locations around the Caribbean. Cayman is famous for our enviable, over 100 feet visibility, of water clarity. George Town harbour’s breathtaking crystal-clear aquamarine waters are the first view of Grand Cayman for both air and cruise arrivals. This will be lost forever, replaced by a cloudy murky sea we are more familiar with only during Nor’westers (but without the high waves). Are we prepared for this irreversible loss and the immediate disappointment of our visitors?
‘Coral relocation’ or ‘translocation’ for George Town harbour merely includes taking live coral from the surface of ancient marine structures. This complex habitat, with formations reaching up to 3‑4 metres in height off the seabed are the foundation for beautiful tunnel swim-throughs for divers and provides shelter for juvenile species of marine life, making it an integral part of the marine ecosystem. Successful translocation is hugely dependent on uncertain, difficult to predict environmental factors, including increased susceptibility to disease. According to the EIA, attempting to relocate 12 acres of coral colony could cost US$12 million-US$87.4 million, with no guarantee of success, and will not re-create the three-dimensional nature of the current environment.