Publication Date

2017

Abstract

Mangrove forests, which provide critical ecosystem services in tropical and subtropical coastal regions around the world, are increasingly threatened, with total mangrove area declining from 18.8 million hectares to 15.2 million hectares globally between 1980 and 2005. Focusing on the mangrove wetlands of the Cayman Islands, we use GIS spatial analysis to document past trends and project future trends of mangrove clearance, and a near-exhaustive series of 57 interviews with key business and political figures as well as leaders of environmental NGOs to identify the social forces driving these trends. Analysis of the satellite images shows that mangrove loss on Grand Cayman has been dramatic and that mangroves could be extinct by 2097, with potentially dire consequences for the island’s inhabitants. The interviews indicate that the destruction of mangrove forests is primarily attributable to consumption generated by Grand Cayman’s financial sector. The demand for real estate by financial professionals employed on the island along with international investors who come to ‘visit their money’ has resulted in the mangrove forest clearance. These dynamics have persisted due to the alignment of political forces that has emerged in their defense: a state structurally-dependent on development fees for revenues and dependent for political support on landowners. To explain our findings, a political economy approach is put forward, highlighting the shortcomings of both ecological modernization and neo-Marxist theories of social impacts on the environment.

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