(CMR) The Cayman Islands has become the latest Overseas Territory to join the United Kingdom Government’s flagship Blue Belt Programme, helping to expand marine protection efforts across the Caribbean.
The announcement was made today after a two-day workshop where representatives from the Cayman Islands Government Department of Environment (DoE) and Ministry of Sustainability & Climate Resiliency (MSCR), the UK Government’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Marine Management Organisation (MMO), the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC), and stakeholders from across the Cayman Islands’ pelagic marine sector including the Cayman Islands Coast Guard, met to discuss the future ambitions and objectives of the program in the region.
The Cayman Island is known for its incredible biodiversity. Located on the Cayman Ridge and bordered to the south by the Cayman Trench, where the seabed plunges to over 7,000 meters, the islands are surrounded by a narrow coastal shelf that supports spectacular coral reefs. Home to a wide range of marine species, from sea turtles to Lemon sharks, these coral habitats are of huge importance both ecologically and economically.
The first Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Cayman Islands were created almost 40 years ago. Today, nearly half of the Islands’ shallow coastal waters are designated as ‘no take zones’, protected by a network of MPAs that regulate fishing, some boating and water-related activities.
Blue Belt Programme support will include work to protect the wider pelagic marine environment, which faces global and regional threats – from climate change to Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing. Support to the Cayman Islands will include:
-Undertaking a comprehensive review of fishing activity in the region to help inform management strategies.
-Developing satellite surveillance to support enforcement and explore alternative surveillance tools in the region.
-Exploring options for enhanced management of offshore natural resources, potentially including offshore MPAs.
David Rutley, Americas Minister with responsibility for the Overseas Territories, commented:
“The UK is committed to preserving our planet’s most vital resources for the benefit of future generations, and our Blue Belt Programme is one of the most successful and large-scale marine conservation initiatives in the world today.”
“The Cayman Islands are pioneers in protecting the environment, so this collaboration promises to be a gold standard in the sustainable management of our oceans,” Rutley said
Premier and Minister for Sustainability and Climate Resiliency, Hon. Wayne Panton, said, “The Cayman Islands has always been defined by our relationship with the sea. Over the past 40 years, the Cayman Islands Government has worked to develop a comprehensive framework of legislation and policy aimed at safeguarding the sustainable future of our islands’ unique marine and terrestrial environments. Currently, an impressive 48% of our nearshore coastal waters are protected through an enhanced marine protected area network.”
“Even with protections, our unique marine and terrestrial environments are not immune from the threats of invasive, alien species and the impacts of global climate change. Further out at sea, beyond our coral reefs, human impacts of illegal fishing and pollution put our pelagic species and environments at risk,” Premier Panton added.
He explained that the Blue Belt program offers unique opportunities for the Cayman Islands to strengthen governance and management frameworks, better understand and protect its marine biodiversity, manage human impacts on our marine areas, access compliance and enforcement assistance, and build capacity and ocean literacy.
“As part of global programs like the Blue Belt, we protect not just Cayman’s future but the world’s future. Just as our seafaring ancestors were citizens of the world, our youth will be citizens of a more connected global economy and environment, and we must do all that we can to leave them a homeland at least as good as our ancestors left us. The Blue Belt program is one of the ways we will do that and I am proud that Cayman’s participation in the program has now begun,” he added
Her Excellency the Governor Jane Owen said, “The commitment and ambition of Cayman towards conserving our marine environment is wonderful to see. I am delighted that local stakeholders and communities have joined together this week to begin the implementation of the Blue Belt Programme. This will enhance our protection for the incredible biodiversity found in the water around our islands and bring lasting benefits to the marine environment and local communities for future generations”.
The Blue Belt is one of the UK Government’s flagship marine conservation programs and is at the forefront of realizing global ambition to tackle the threats facing the world’s oceans, including overfishing, species extinction, climate change, and marine pollution.The Cayman Islands is the third UK Overseas Territory located in the Caribbean to join the Blue Belt Programme, following the Turks and Caicos Islands in 2022 and Anguilla in 2023. Other Territories in the program are Ascension Island, the British Antarctic Territory, the British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, St Helena, and Tristan da Cunha.
Currently, MPAs across the Territories in the Blue Belt Programme cover over 4 million square kilometers, around 1% of the global ocean, making a major impact in safeguarding precious marine environments and resources, as well as helping to combat global ocean threats. The Programme supports the UK Government’s commitment to ensure that 30% of the world’s oceans are protected by 2030.