Blue Iguana Recovery Program

Botanic Park under threat?

Apr 16th, 2013 | By | Category: Blue in the News, Blues in the Local Press

Cayman News Service

Botanic Park under threat

Posted on Tue, 10/23/2012 – 17:54 in Science and Nature

(CNS): The Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park in Frank Sound is the latest important natural resource on Grand Cayman to be threatened by development. Despite significant concerns raised by the Department of Environment and the National Trust among others, the Central Planning Authority has over the last six years given planning permission to Eagle Assets Investments Ltd to develop various lots surrounding the park in what is emerging as a proposed mixed use development. The DoE has warned that this will not only fundamentally alter the aspect of the park but it will threaten its entire future along with the extensive flora and fauna inside it, including the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme.

Following a freedom of information request by CNS to various government departments including planning, lands and survey and the DoE, a significant number of documents were released that reveal the concerns the government’s environment experts have had for some time and that the government, which is a 50% owner of the park along with the National Trust, has failed to object to the threatening development as it is entitled to do as an immediate neighbour.

According to the DoE’s technical review committee, which is persistently ignored by the CPA, the accumulative applications by the developer equate to the potential development of around 535 acres of land and that a Planned Area Development (PAD) application should have been submitted to planning along with a comprehensive environmental impact assessment.

In a memo at the beginning of October relating to the latest application to the CPA by the developer, which is for a golf course backing onto the Botanic Park and still under consideration, the DoE said it was concerned about the cumulative impact of the development and a lack of consideration within the context of the other Eagle Asset development parcels.

The DoE pointed to the encirclement of the Botanic Park through the series of development applications, which have been strongly resisted by the department due to the significant adverse impact on the blue iguanas. Nevertheless, all of the applications, modifications and changes considered by the CPA to date have been granted, posing a significant threat to the future of the important conservation and tourist facility.

“The current application parcel is land occupied by individuals from the free-roaming population of blue iguanas which originates from the Park,” the DoE warned in its comments to the CPA on the latest application for a golf course. “Removal of this habitat would directly impact this population. The potential introduction of roadways and associated cars would make this area significantly less inhabitable for the iguanas.”

The comments come at the same time as the recent news that the hard work of the director of the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, Fred Burton, had achieved a significant milestone. In the latest publication of the ICUN red list the blues were re-classified from ‘critically endangered’ to ‘endangered’ as a result of the increase in their numbers in the wild.

In addition, the DoE pointed out that the Botanic Park is part of an official important bird habitat, providing sanctuary to the Vitelline warbler, Caribbean Elaenia, Yucatan Vireo and Thickbilled vireo.  “The potential loss off surrounding vegetation and ingress of invasive species would severely compromise the Park’s IBA status,” the DoE warned.

The government environmental experts also noted that the design of the winding trails which extend through the Botanic Park combined with the undeveloped land beyond its boundaries contribute to its great feeling of size despite being on only 60 acres. But if the vegetation bordering the Park was removed, it would become highly susceptible to edge effects.

“The future of the Park will be compromised by development in such close proximity, particularly as vegetative buffers between development sites and the Park are already being eroded, “ the DoE stated. “The DoE recommends that this application should either be held in abeyance pending a comprehensive PAD application and EIA, or refused on the grounds of prematurity.”

In addition to the memo sent by the DoE to planning, the director also attempted to galvanize the Lands and Survey Department to also object on behalf of the park as a neighbour, but that did not happen.

In submissions made to the CPA in July by the DoE, which were ignored, the department pointed out that the effect of this development would be to turn the Botanic Park, which is currently surrounded by wilderness, into an “urban park”, fundamentally altering its characteristics. The experts warned that the development would damage the aesthetics and would be visible to those visiting the park as they walk within its boundaries.

In short, the experts said, development so close to the park would be highly undesirable and they recommended that government use money from the environmental protection fund to buy the land. Instead, however, the CPA granted the application.

While the DoE would be expected to have genuine concerns about the development, they were not alone. The Water Authority also raised concerns about the plans for lakes to be excavated on the site, which the developer has said would supply fill for the development. The authority, however, warned that the project is very close to the North Side water lens, which could be compromised by the planned lakes and other elements of the proposed development.

With the opening of the Clifton Hunter High School and the proposed medical tourism project by Dr Devi Shetty, there has been an expectation that the hitherto less developed eastern districts would be subject to great attention from developers. However, the decision to allow this project so close to the park, and in particular the part of the park associated with the blue iguana project, is likely to raise very real concerns among the increasing number of local environmental activists.

It should also raise questions in the community about the CPA’s continued failure to factor in conservation and environmental considerations when making decisions about planning applications.

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