The National Conservation Council was established under Section 3 of the NCL. The Council's primary function is promoting the conservation and sustainable use of the natural resources and biological diversity of the Cayman Islands.4 The Council also recommends the designation of endangered and threatened species to the Cabinet, proposes new protected areas, issues conservation guidelines, and plays an important role during the EIA process, providing environmental evaluation and approval that is a prerequisite to the licensing of major projects and developments having the potential to adversely impact the environment.
In selecting one or more tracts of coral reef for protected status, the Cabinet must base its decision on consideration of the following criteria:8
After making its selection, the Cabinet must submit a proposal to the Council that includes the following: (a) a description of the area that includes precise coordinates for plotting the boundaries on a map or chart, (b) the reasons why the area fulfills the statutory objectives for protected areas and how the criteria apply, (c)
a description of any protected species or of special concern that inhabit or migrate through the area, and (d) any known conservation challenges associated with the area, as well as
special protective measures that may be required.9 The Council then undertakes a consultative process to consider input from abutting landowners and the practical implications of designating and managing a protected area.
Following consultation with abutters (including objections) and publishing a notice of the proposal in at least two consecutive issues of a Cayman Islands newspaper, the Council submits its findings back to the Cabinet, which may consist of a recommendation to approve, approve with amendments, or reject the designation of the protected area.10 A list of protected marine areas and their boundaries are specified in the First and Second Schedules appended to the Marine Park Regulations.11
The National Conservation Law establishes blanket prohibitions that encompass most forms of damage to coral and other marine life in any Cayman waters--whether or not in a protected conservation zone. Section 34 prohibits the taking or removal of a specimen of any species while using SCUBA gear.25 In addition, Section 34(g) prohibits the introduction of any form of waste, pollutant, or dissolved or solid material (natural or manmade) into Cayman waters, including runoff from land-based sources. Section 34(h) and (i) include prohibitions on cutting, detaching, displacing, or damaging coral; or removing any material from the seabed by hand or through mechanical means.26 Finally, the wearing of gloves while snorkeling or diving is prohibited in order to minimize damage caused by direct contact with corals.27
*Implemented through the Endangered Species (Trade and Transport) Law (2017 Revision)
Abbreviations used above: NCL = National Conservation Law of 2013,
MCR = Marine Conservation Regulations (2004 Revision); MCMPR = Marine Conservation (Marine Parks) Regulations (2007 Revision).
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Legal requirements for non-governmental research and restoration projects
The Governor of the Cayman Islands may designate areas of territorial waters as restricted marine areas, which are subject the management of the Marine Conservation Board and dedicated for the purpose of marine research. The Fourth Schedule of the Marine Conservation Regulations (2004 Revision) provides an official form to be used by Marine Conservation Board the in authorizing research and study projects. It should be noted that a significant amount of marine research is conducted by the Cayman Islands government itself. The National Conservation Law requires that management plans for any protected areas must include plans for the monitoring of and (government) research relating to the natural resources they contain.28
Enforcement of explicit provisions protecting coral reefs
The National Conservation Law mandates the appointment of conservation officers to enforce the Law's provisions.29 Conservation officers have the same the powers as constables (regular police), but may not carry firearms unless they have received written authorization from the Governor.30 Likewise, constables and animal welfare officers have all the same authority as conservation officers to enforce NCL requirements, if called to do so.31
Statutory powers of conservation officers
The Enforcement Section of the Department of Environment is primarily responsible for enforcement of the National Conservation Law, ensuring protection of the Cayman Islands' marine and terrestrial ecosystems. DoE conservation officers spend a large portion of their time patrolling both the marine and terrestrial environment. The NCL authorizes conservation officers to use force that is necessary or the purpose if the officer "suspects on reasonable grounds" that a person is violating or has violated the NCL or one of the related regulations' provisions.32 Without a warrant, an officer with reasonable suspicion may stop and search anyone in any public place, including protected areas.33 Under the same reasonable suspicion standard, a conservation officer may also stop, detain, and search any vehicle or boat believed to be carrying illegally obtained specimens of marine life, noxious substances (poisons or explosives used to catch marine life), or prohibited gear and equipment, such as spear guns, traps, netted cages.34 Officers may also require boat operators, crew, or passengers to produce and allow the copying of permits or other documents.35
If the conservation officer is satisfied that reasonable evidence of an NCL offense exists, he or she may arrest the suspect and seize any specimen, vessel, vehicle, noxious substances, or prohibited gear used in committing of the offense.36 After making an inventory of specimens and other contraband seized, the officer may return living specimens to their natural habitat, retain evidence for use in court, or dispose of the contraband (with a written report to the Council detailing the reasons for the disposal)37
Enforcement by Marine Enforcement Officers
Although the NCL confers police powers on conservation officers, in practice, Marine Enforcement Officers must be called for assistance when conservation officers determine that violations of the law have been committed that require prosecution. These officers prepare case files that the Legal Department will use in prosecuting offenses by gathering evidence and taking statements, as well as provide testimony during court proceedings.38 Marine Enforcement Officers are members of the Joint Marine Unit (JMU), an enforcement body comprised of officers from the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (RCIPS), Customs, and Immigration Departments.39
Sanctions established under the NCL
The National Conservation Law does not provide a schedule of different sanctions for various types of offenses, generally leaving the determination of penalties to the courts. However, the NCL establishes a default liability (upon conviction) of $500,000 Cayman Dollars and/or 4 years of imprisonment for any offenses under the Law for which no punishment is specifically prescribed.40
The National Conservation Law also authorizes courts to issue orders "in addition to any other punishment that may be imposed under [the NCL]" based on the nature of a violation and circumstances surrounding it.
Courts may order the following additional measures:41
- Prohibiting the offender from engaging in acts or activities that may result in the continuation or repetition of the offense;
- Suspending or permanently revoking licences or permits held by the offender;
- Directing the offender to undertake actions to remedy or avoid environmental harm caused by the offense;
- Directing the offender to partially or fully compensate the government for the cost of any remedial or preventative action;
- Directing the offender to perform community service in a protected area or to further the conservation of a protected species;
- Directing the offender to post a bond or pay funds to the court to guarantee compliance with a court order; and
- Forfeiting any illegally-obtained specimen and any vehicle, vessel, noxious substance, or gear used in the offense;
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4. Coastal zone development and environmental impact assessment (EIA)
Preventing, minimizing, and mitigating impacts from land-based sources of pollutants and other issues arising from coastal development that might adversely affect coral reefs are addressed through the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process. In the Cayman Islands, EIA requirements are outlined briefly in Section 43 of the National Conservation Law and the procedural process defined in greater detail in the DOE's Directive for Environmental Impact Assessments ("Directive") that was published in 2016.42
The NCL mandates that every entity proposing to undertake any activity that "would be likely to have an adverse effect on the environment generally or on any natural resource" must consult with, apply for, and obtain the approval of the Natural Resources Council, taking into account the Council's views, before any government body can issue a permit or license.43 This requirement applies whether the adverse effect on a protected area or the critical habitat of a protected species would be direct or indirect.44 The NCL further provides that the Council has discretion to require that an environmental impact assessment be carried out for the proposed development activity.45
In the event that the Council determines that adverse impacts can be satisfactorily mitigated, the activity proponent must agree to conditions (environmental mitigation and management requirements) that the Council considers reasonable.46 The authority that approves or denies authorization for the project (the Central Planning Authority or Development Control Board) may not approve an activity if the adverse impacts cannot be properly mitigated and must incorporate the Council's conditions into the permit or license it issues.47
The NCL provides that all documents that relate to an EIA must be available to the public for inspection and review.48 Section 43 also states that the proponent of a proposed activity is responsible for the costs of (ongoing, periodic) inspections to monitor the activity, as well as the costs of restoring any environmental damage that occurs.49 The Natural Resources Council may require the proponent to provide a performance bond or an escrow account to ensure coverage for these costs, taking into account the applicant's past record of compliance with the law and the estimated costs of monitoring the proposed project.50
The Directive for Environmental Impact Assessments provides a procedural flow chart for the EIA process. Environmental threats such as silt, erosion, wastewater, sewage, and other harmful substances from construction and development activities in the coastal zone are project- and site-specific are not addressed in the Directive, but the document prescribes detailed steps for the EIA process.51
While a detailed description of each EIA step is beyond the scope of this country profile, it is important to note the criteria that trigger the legal requirement for conducting an EIA. Schedule 1 of the Directive provides four lists of criteria to be considered in the screening process (determining whether an EIA should be required for an activity).52 The first list consists of 18 categories of human activities (e.g., construction of coastal resorts) that are automatically subject to the screening process. In addition, Schedule 1 contains three other sets of criteria:
The second set of screening criteria lists Characteristics of development
that must be considered with respect to:
- The size of the development;
- The cumulation with other development;
- The use of natural resources;
- The production of waste;
- Pollution and nuisances; and
- The risk of accidents, having regard in particular to substances or technologies used.53
The third set of criteria, Location of development, lists factors for consideration that include (a) the existing land use;
(b) the relative abundance, quality and regenerative capacity of natural resources in the area; and (c) the absorption capacity of the natural environment, paying particular attention to criteria such as the type of ecosystem prevalent on the site, whether the site has protected status, or the population density. The fourth set of criteria, Characteristics of the potential impact, include the following criteria: (a) the geographical area of the impact and size of the affected population, (b) the magnitude and complexity of the impact, (c) the probability of the impact, and (d) the duration, frequency and reversibility of the impact.
Following a consideration of the criteria listed in Schedule 1, the National Conservation Council issues a Screening Opinion or delegates this function to the Department of Environment (under Section 3 (13) of the NCL).54 If the Screening Opinion indicates that the EIA process is required, the EIA process begins and the scoping phase is initiated.55
Enforcement of coastal zone development and EIA requirements
Section 42 of the NCL authorizes the National Conservation Council, at its discretion, to establish a schedule of inspections of approved projects (such as coastal resort and industrial developments). The inspections, which are to be carried out "by or on behalf of" the Director, are for the purpose of ensuring compliance with the conditions imposed when approving each project. The language of the NCL indicates that the inspections apply only to the construction phase, not for continuing operations after the construction has been completed.56
Although the inspections referred to in § 42 address compliance during the construction phase, the Directive also calls for the creation of Environmental Management Plans (EMPs) during the culmination of the EIA process. EMPs contain ongoing management and monitoring practices that are to be carried out during the useful life of a project. The Directive specifies that approved EMPs should clearly state (as enforceable conditions), inter alia, standards or guidelines to be used and thresholds to be adhered to, self-monitoring methods, and reporting frequency.57
It is not clear from the Directive how these ongoing commitments are to be externally monitored and enforced. Nevertheless, the Directive does call for EMPs to clearly specify actions to be taken in the event of noncompliance with any obligations they contain, including work stoppages, remediation of impacts, and revocation of permits.58 The NCL also includes provisions that may provide a recourse in cases of noncompliance with EMP procedures. Under Section 37 of the NCL, the Director may seek an injunction from a court if a person has committed or is about to commit an offense or to compel a violator to undertake corrective actions.59 Finally, Section 38 establishes general liability for any person who violates the NCL to a fine of up to $500,000 Cayman Dollars and/or to imprisonment for four years.60
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5. Other legislative provisions: land-based and marine pollution
Other pieces of legislation that are relevant to the pollution of coastal waters include:
- Development and Planning Law
- Water Authority Law, and its 2017 amendment
- Water Sector Regulation Law, 2017 (No. 16 of 2017) and its 2017 amendment
- Wastewater Collection and Treatment Law, 2011 (No. 3 of 2011) and its 2017 amendment
- Merchant Shipping Law (2016 Revision)
- Port Regulations (most recently amended in 2013)
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6. Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) to which the Cayman Islands is subject as an autonomous British Overseas Territory (United Kingdom as signatory)
| Title of Convention || Ratification or|
| Cartagena Convention||24 Feb. 1986|
| Protocol Concerning Oil Spill (Oil Spill Protocol to the Cartagena Convention)||28 Feb. 1986 |
| Protocol Concerning Pollution From Land Based Sources And Activities in the Wider Caribbean Region (LBS Protocol to the Cartagena Convention) ||— |
| Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife in the Wider Caribbean Region (SPAW Protocol to the Cartagena Convention) ||— |
| Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety to the Convention on Biological Diversity ||6 Sep 2002|
|Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants ||17 Jan 2005|
| United Nations Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous waste and their disposal (Basel Convention) ||7 Feb 1994|
|Rotterdam Convention ||17 Jun 2004|
|Vienna Convention || 15 May 1987|
|Montreal Protocol ||16 Dec 1988|
|Aarhus Convention || 23 Feb 2005|
| Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) ||9 Mar 1993 |
| UN Convention on Biological Diversity || 3 Jun 1994|
| United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ||8 Dec 1993|
| Kyoto Protocol ||31 May 2002 |
| Paris Agreement ||18 Nov 2016 |
| The United Nations Convention on Wetlands (RAMSAR Convention) ||5 Jan 1976|
| Minamata Convention on Mercury||23 Mar 2018|
| United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS) ||25 Jul 1997|
| UN Convention to Combat Desertification ||18 Oct 1996|
Source: InforMEA, United Kingdom, https://www.informea.org/en/countries/UK/parties.
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1. The National Conservation Law of 2013 (NCL) repealed and replaced the Marine Conservation Law (MCL) in 2013, consolidating topics encompassed by the MCL provisions with provisions concerning the environment generally, pollution control, and the EIA process.
2. Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), About DOE, http://doe.ky/about-us/about-us/.
3. The National Conservation Board has assumed many functions formerly assigned to the Marine Conservation Board.
4. National Conservation Council, Manual of Policies and Procedures, 3 December 2014, https://conservation.ky/council-manual/.
5. National Conservation Law § 2, Interpretation.
6. National Concervation Law, § 7
7. National Conservation Law, § 8(1)(b).
8. National Conservation Law, § 8(2).
9. National Conservation Law, § 9(1).
10. National Conservation Law, § 9(9).
11. Marine Park Regulations, (2004 Revision), First and Second Schedules; Note; Although the Marine Conservation Law was repealed and replaced by the National Conservation Law of 2013, Section 52(c) of the NCL states that "(3) Where anything done under or for the purposes of the Marine Conservation Law (2013 Revision) would cease to have effect by virtue of the repeal of that Law it shall have effect as if it had been done under and for the purposes of this Law."
12. National Conservation Law, § 10(1).
13. National Conservation Law, § 10(2).
14. National Conservation Law, § 11(1).
15. Marine Conservation (Marine Parks) Regulations (2007 Revision) (MCMPR) § 3.
16. MCMPR, Part II - Marine Parks
17. MCMPR § 4.
18. MCMPR § 5; Section 5(4) includes special provisions for Bloody Bay-Jackson Point at Little Cayman.
19. MCMPR § 6.
20. MCMPR § 7.
21. MCMPR § 8 and Fifth Schedule.
22. Fn 2.6] The Marine Park Regulations impose certain restrictions on visitors to these areas and their boats. In particular, anchoring a vessel or entering the water (swimming, snorkeling, or diving) is prohibited within Environmental Zones.
23. Fn 2.7 "n Marine Park Zones, anchoring is permitted if the vessel is under sixty feet in length and the anchor and anchor line lie on sand at least 20 feet from coral structures"
24. 2.8, "Regulations specifically make it an offense to damage coral as a result of improperly set anchors or chains"
25. NCL § 34(b).
26. Fn4, Section 34(h) and (i) include prohibitions on cutting, detaching, displacing, or damaging coral; or removing any material from the seabed by hand or through mechanical means.
27. National Conservation Law, § 34(k).
28. National Conservation Law, Schedule Three, (3)(e).
29. National Conservation Law, § 25(1).
30. National Conservation Law, § 25(2) and (4).
31. National Conservation Law, § 25(3).
32. National Conservation Law, § 26(1).
33. National Conservation Law, § 26(1)(a).
34. National Conservation Law, § 26(1)(b).
35. National Conservation Law, § 26(1)(c).
36. National Conservation Law, § 26(2).
37. National Conservation Law, § 27.
38. Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), About DOE, http://doe.ky/about-us/about-us/.
39. Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, website, Joint Marine Unit (JMU), https://www.rcips.ky/border-protection-marine
40. National Conservation Law, § 38(1); note that later amendments to the NCL or reulations enacted thereunder may prescribe other sanctions.
41. National Conservation Law, § 38(2).
42. Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), 2016, Directive for Environmental Impact Assessments, http://doe.ky/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Gazette-EIA-Directive-29-June-16.pdf.
43. National Conservation Law, §41(3) and (4).]
44. National Conservation Law, §41(4).
45. National Conservation Law, § 41(4).
46. National Conservation Law, §41(5).
47. National Conservation Law, §41(5).
48. National Conservation Law, §43(3).
49. National Conservation Law, §43(4).
51. Directive for Environmental Impact Assessments
52. Directive, Activities Considered for Environmental Impact Assessment, http://doe.ky/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Gazette-EIA-Directive-29-June-16.pdf.
53. Directive, Criteria from the Screening section of the Directive for Environmental Impact Assessments.
54. The Directive states that "[f]ollowing a consideration of the criteria listed in Schedule 1, the National Conservation Council issues a Screening Opinion or delegates this function to the Department of Environment (under section 3 (13)&qupt; of the NCL.
55. The Environmental Assessment Board (EAB), a subcommittee of the National Conservation Council, is then responsible for evaluating the characteristics of the project proposal and identifying all of the types of considerations that must be included in the EIA process. The Environmental Assessment Board includes the scoping requirements in a Scoping Opinion.
56. The National Conservation Law, § 42(2)(a) and (b) state that Quot;the the Central Planning Authority or the Development Control Board shall not issue a certificate of completion pursuant to the Development and Planning Law (2011 Revision) in respect of the proposed action until the Council has certified that the conditions imposed pursuant to section 41(5)(a) have been complied with." It further states that "an entity, other than the Central Planning Authority and the Development Control Board, which has authority to give final approval in respect of the proposed action shall not give such final approval until the Council has certified as specified in paragraph (a)."
57. Directve, Schedule 3, Information for inclusion in environmental management plans.
59. National Conservation Law, § 37(1).
60. National Conservation Law, § 38.
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