(CMR) The Department of Environment has advised against the wholescale clearing of lands to build a high school in Cayman Brac as the location for the proposed new school is within an area that is an important Cayman Brac Parrot habitat.
The Ministry of Education submitted an application for two workers’ accommodation buildings, a high school with a gymnasium, sports courts, and fencing (6 ft- 8 ft) at Major Donald Drive & Sunshine Drive.
The DoE has recommended that the Ministry of Education retain as much native vegetation as possible and incorporate it into the landscaping scheme at the proposed site for the new high school.
“It is vital that construction is undertaken sensitively so that only the development footprint is impacted by construction activities,” the DoE recommended, according to the agenda for a meeting of the Development Control Board held on Monday, 11 September.
According to the agenda, the DoE pointed out that the Cayman Brac Parrot is a subspecies of parrot which is found nowhere else in the world.
The DoE explained that the site is partially man-modified and a primary habitat. It further explained that Primary habitat is in severe decline and becoming a scarce and highly threatened resource as a result of land conversion for human activities.
The proposed accommodation block has been set within a man-modified area that appears to have been mostly cleared and is of limited ecological value. The new school is within a partially man-modified area with extensive regrowth, the Department stated.
The agenda further stated that the Cayman Brac Parrot is distinct from the Grand Cayman Parrot and is a Part 1 Schedule 1 Protected Species under the National Conservation Act (2013), meaning that it is protected at all times. The Cayman Brac Parrot is frugivorous but also forages on young leaves and flowers. It is a cavity nester and breeds only in mature dry forests (such as the primary forest that covers much of the site). They require large, hollowed-out spaces in trees to nest. This means they are dependent on a limited supply of existing cavities in forest trees to make their nests.
DoE advises that wholescale clearing of sites removes the possibility of any vegetation providing continued parrot habitat, nesting sites and food. These parrots are an important part of Cayman Brac’s natural and cultural history, and together with the Grand Cayman Parrot, these birds serve as a symbol of national pride and natural resource conservation.
Parrots are a resilient species, but their small habitat range, combined with climate change pressures and the increasing conversion of land for human uses, means that the long-term future of these birds depends on the ability to preserve these old-growth forests and build sustainably, the DoE added.
The Department said this further reiterates the importance of reserving land clearing until development is imminent. It further advised that the Ministry of Education should retain as much native vegetation as possible and incorporate it into the landscaping scheme.
The DoE also called for best management practices to be adhered to during construction to reduce impacts on the environment. Land clearing should be limited as much as possible to the development footprint and should not be undertaken until development is imminent to allow the habitat to function for as long as possible, the DoE stated.
In addition, it wants control measures put in place to address pollution from expanded polystyrene (EPS) beads on construction sites, for example, those used in insulating concrete forms (ICF). Polystyrene is not biodegradable, and the EPS beads can be consumed by wildlife when they enter the food chain. These beads are very difficult to remove once they enter the environment, and they do not naturally break down.