Public consultations on mangrove conservation in the Cayman Islands

Grand Cayman mangroves. Image via Cayman Islands Department of Environment

As World Mangrove Day 2018 draws to a close, our final piece of mangrove-related news for the day comes from the Cayman Islands, where several proposals intended to strengthen protection for mangrove ecosystems have been presented to the public for review and feedback.

These include three new protected area nominations.  Two of these are in Grand Cayman’s  Central Mangrove Wetland:

The Central Mangrove Wetland has long been recognized as a vital environmental asset for the Cayman Islands, providing natural services of substantial social and economic value. These services include providing nutrient flows into the North Sound ecosystem which supports productivity of fish stocks. Fish and lobster stocks, in turn, benefit greatly from resulting nursery conditions among the submerged roots of the mangrove fringes. Evapotranspiration from the mangrove forest plays a role in rainfall patterns, important to farmers and gardeners, while the mangroves and their underlying cap rock contain and elevate rain-fed fresh groundwater resources in adjacent agricultural land. The mangrove ecosystem is laying down peat as sea level gradually rises, buffering inland areas from flooding and simultaneously storing carbon from the atmosphere. Recreational and commercial kayak and slow boat tours explore the Central MangroveWetland margins and creeks. An array of endangered and economically important species depends, at least in part, on the Central Mangrove Wetland and the resources it provides.

The other is in the Western Mangrove area, also on Grand Cayman:

This nomination consolidates and expands the western Crown mangrove cays protected area designated in 2017. The remaining areas of mangrove and associated shallow seagrass beds along the North Sound side of the Seven Mile Beach corridor are greatly reduced and fragmented due to expanding human habitation. The ever increasing importance of what remains of these habitats includes provision of precious fish nursery habitat, exporting nutrients into the North Sound, filtration of water and protection against storm waves.

Designation of three small areas of un-dredged shallow water marine habitat to join the existing protected cays into a smaller number of cohesive protected area zones is proposed. This seeks to define protected area boundaries in a situation where mangrove cays are constantly changing as growth and storm damage events interact.

Much more information on these protected area nominations is available at the Cayman Islands Department of Environment website and the public consultation period lasts until August 12, 2018.

There is also a proposed species conservation plan for mangroves:

Mangroves are also threatened by modern sea level rise. For thousands of years, the mangroves have been laying down peat that has kept pace with the rise in sea level.  With climate change, sea level rise now appears to be accelerating, and the mangroves may not be able to keep up. If they submerge too deeply, they die.

For these reasons, the National Red List status of the mangroves is edging into the endangered zone. Red Mangrove is “Near Threatened”. Buttonwood and White Mangrove are “Vulnerable”.  Black Mangrove is already “Endangered.”

This Conservation Plan seeks to moderate the ongoing loss of mangrove in the Cayman Islands. It proposes the use of the National Conservation Law to establish additional protected areas in key mangrove sites, and gives protection to all mangroves in their natural setting with necessary exceptions made for a wide range of economically important activities.

The main effect this Conservation Plan will have is to raise the level of protection on mangroves which are not currently approved for development. Clearing mangroves in the absence of valid and current planning permission, for example, will constitute a violation of the National Conservation Law and could carry severe penalties.

The proposed Cayman Islands Mangrove Conservation Plan has also been posted on the Department of Environment’s website, and feedback and comments can be submitted up until September 3, 2018

For more information see Caymanian media reports on the public consultation process: Mangrove Conservation Plan headed for public consultation and Public support needed for mangroves.

[Image: via Cayman Islands Department of Environment]

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