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Little Cayman Marine parks nominated for UNESCO list

Little Cayman’s coral reefs may soon join the ranks of some of the world’s most iconic cultural and natural sites, including Egypt’s pyramids, India’s Taj Mahal, and Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow Mountains. The island’s marine parks have been shortlisted for UNESCO World Heritage status, which recognizes places of outstanding natural or cultural value.

The marine protected areas, such as the famous Bloody Bay Wall, are home to some of the healthiest and most diverse coral reef ecosystems in the world. They were among the five sites added to a UK government shortlist of seven areas thought to have the best chance of succeeding. This is a rare opportunity for inclusion as the list is updated only every 10 years.

UNESCO – the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization headquartered in Paris – will review the final applications over the next 12 months and make its decision. Achieving UNESCO World Heritage Status would put Little Cayman’s reefs on a pedestal with just 1,157 places in the world designated as having a special significance for humanity, such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the pyramids in Egypt.

Part of the application process includes demonstrating how the site will be protected. Cayman’s new Marine Parks legislation, which designates 75% of Little Cayman’s coastal waters as no-fishing zones, was a key part of the application. Protections for Booby Pond and Tarpon Lake, inland areas of natural beauty, also enhanced the application. However, the lack of any protection for the rest of the island means the application was restricted to the marine parks and protected areas, rather than the island as a whole.

Peter Hillenbrand, co-founder and board member of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute and secretary of the Little Cayman District of the National Trust, said the announcement from the UK government was a “big step” that could help achieve global recognition for the value of Little Cayman’s marine ecosystems and the work being done to protect them. He hopes UNESCO status could be a catalyst for even greater efforts to preserve Little Cayman, which he sees as the “jewel” of the Cayman Islands.

The UK and its Overseas Territories currently include 33 areas designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, such as prehistoric monument Stonehenge and the Tower of London. There are relatively few natural sites within the UK that have the designation; therefore, Hillenbrand thinks that Little Cayman’s application will stand a good chance. In a press release issued Monday, the UK Department of Culture Media and Sport also listed York’s historic city centre, an Iron Age settlement in the Shetland Islands in Scotland, and the East Atlantic Flyway, a migratory bird route over western parts of Europe, on its ‘tentative list’.