Development does not always have to be damaging to the environment. Sustainable development is all about planning future construction to fit in with and prevent further damage to local eco-systems. Last week the Director of the Department of Environment, (DOE) Gina Petrie-Ebanks at a meeting of the Darwin Initiative noted how important it was for the DOE to work hand in hand with Planning to ensure that the Cayman Islands' precious environment is preserved for the future.

In the past, environmental concerns have tended to be ignored to the detriment of the country as a whole.

Dredging, the destruction of mangroves and the over development of beach front have damaged the Cayman Islands’ fragile eco-systems, therefore it is essential that in future, further development is far more carefully considered in light of the country’s natural eco-system — if not for the obvious reasons of protecting the environment but for economic reasons as well.

The Cayman Islands tourist product depends enormously on preserving the beauty of our country, not just within the marine environment that is an essential draw for the diving sector, but on land as well, where visitors and residents as well, expect to see and enjoy pristine beaches and lush diverse tropical scenery. Most industry experts say that the future of the high-end tourist market lies in eco-tourism.

Grand Cayman has already undermined its potential for eco-tourism, with the destruction of so much beach, far too much ocean front condo construction, as well as the damage to mangrove areas. And of course latterly the tourist public relations disaster that is “dolphinariums’. It is essential that we now begin to reverse that trend and start developing a new Grand Cayman that could offer a better tourist product and preserve our environment for the future. Fortunately, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac still have the chance to ensure their future development is controlled and is sustainable. With the Sister Islands poised on the brink of a great economic future, now is the time especially for the Brac to manage its future growth in a sustainable way.

On Grand Cayman it is certain that the authorities must be far more vigilant about what should and should not be allowed when it comes to planning applications. The recent ‘dolphinariums’ fiasco is a clear illustration of how planning is working in isolation from other departments and is not always considering applications in the round or how they relate to one another and the country as a whole. It is imprudent that the Department of Planning managed to give permission to four different applications that could all be potential dolphin attractions, when one alone could cause untold damage to the reputation of these Islands. Moreover, as noted by visiting scientists who spoke at last week’s meeting, the bio-diversity crisis which is affecting many countries in the Caribbean is also having an impact here too; and if we are to save not just the beautiful, precious and critically endangered blue iguana, but other rare flora and fauna that are indigenous to the Cayman Islands each and every future planning application must be considered in the light of environmental issues. We can still build and improve our tourist product with facilities attractions and accommodation. We can also build new business premises as well as new homes for what will be a growing population.

However, we need to do so with far more care and attention, than has happened in the past. Our environment is precious and we can never get back what we have lost.

The beachfronts, the mangroves and the dredged ocean beds are gone forever, but we can stop the abuse of our ecological environment now.