Monday, November 12, 2007

Irony of technology

I don't want to be OS evangelizing or political...

Nor do I really use You Tube much at all...

But I stumbled across this one in a technology article, and it has a certain irony to it:

Overall, it is inevitable that our computers will evolve and have different UI's than they have today. However, the consumer still gets to decide if he wants it or not. Thanks, but if we have room for something the size of a chest freezer, its going to be a chest freezer!

Other ironies in technology include those optional 'hands free' cellphone interfaces on new cars: a couple of years ago, I passed on one as it simply wasn't anywhere near worth the $1800 asking price for the feature. I'm still trying to figure out why it cost so much. I see the same thing happening today with navigation systems for automobiles: you can easily pay well over a Grand for one built into the dashboard from the OEM, or you can add an automotive GPS later yourself that sits on top of the dash from Garmin starting at only $200. Anyone care to explain why it costs so much to (figuratively) toss it into a reserved empty hole in a dashboard?


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Cayman Condo Development to Destroy a Coral Reef?

Its always hard to balance development versus the environment. However, some cases are more clearcut than others.

On Cayman Brac (in the Cayman Islands, BWI), there's a construction project that's been proposed to build a condo development on a relatively narrow piece of land that's on the windward side of the island and which lacks any protective fringing reef.

Its called the Crystal Azure Beach Resort.

Earlier this summer, when Hurricane Dean passed 100 miles (!) offshore, this side of the island was (as is usual for all hurricanes) pounded with ~20ft seas. Coral and rock rubble was thrown all the way out to the southside road. Hurricane Ivan (2004) also missed the Brac by 100 miles, so its damage was more similar to Dean. The rubble that currently fills the specific property in question was mostly deposited there by Hurricane Gilbert in 1988; you should be able to still look for Gilbert's rubble off the shoulder on the far side (bluffside) of the road.

Here's a house on a lot around a mile to the east of the Crystal Azure property. The shore topography here is IMO actually better than CA's, as there's a slight fringing reef out front and it is on higher elevation:

(Photo is Copyright © 2004 H. Huntzinger)

This photo was taken shortly after Hurricane Ivan in 2004 - - a storm that passed roughly 90 miles offshore of Cayman Brac. See all of that rubble around the foundation that's up to within ~9 inches of the building's windowsills?

I've seen a photograph of this same house after it survived Gilbert's near-direct hit. Its interior was FILLED UP to the windowsills with rubble. Yup, 2-3 feet worth of rock, inside.

Needless to say, building on the Brac's southside when there's no protective fringing reef is an exercise in repairing and rebuilding after every major storm ... and don't believe the claims that they only get hit a few times per century: the above damage was from the second of three Named Hurricanes that passed ~100 miles offshore just in this decade so far (the other was CAT-I Hurricane Lily in 2002).

I really hope that the potential buyers of this resort have done their homework before deciding if to invest or not.

In any event, the original 'Artist's Renderings' of the property included a boat dock. Yes, a boat dock on a windward shore where there this no protected anchorage of any form. Courtesy of the Wayback Machine, we can see it in this photo, on the righthand side. And if you compare it to the photo on the CaymanNetNews article (link above), see that the image has since been cropped.

So its probably not a great building site, but what's the deal about destroying a coral reef?

The CaymanNetNews article states:

"James Fox, Director of Strategy and Operations for Cayman Brac’s Crystal Azure Beach Resort said that the company’s engineer has been seeking approval to go ahead with the manmade swimming cove for quite sometime now. It is expected that the application and supporting environmental impact study will be reviewed and approved by this week....The manmade cove is designed to transform 100 feet of beachfront into the best beach experience on the island,” he said."

So a 100ft manmade groin will somehow create a beach that's better than the existing sandy beach that exists elsewhere on the same island that's behind a ~1 mile long natural fringing reef?

Plus, the problem is that this isn't dropping a rock onto a nice sandy bottom: this region is hardpan with small coral heads near shore, progressively passing through hard/soft coral further out and then classical spur and groove coral formations further offshore. As such, to build will require some degree of coral reef habitat destruction no matter what.

As such, the question is: are the Caymanians willing to destroy coral reef habitat in the name of development? And how much coral reef habitat destruction do they consider acceptable?

Well, the answer to that is that it depends.

First factor to consider: over on the north side, there's a commercial pier thats used to load crushed rock fill into barges that gets shipped over to Grand Cayman, and it there have been "industrial accidents" which have dumped stone on coral reefs that are within the boundaries of official Marine Park, resulting in their death.

Question is: has this business been fined? Ordered to clean it up? Well....a better question to ask is "who owns that company?" IMO, if it was foreign owned instead of by a local influential Caymanian family...nod, nod, wink, wink.

Second factor to consider: the Divi Tiara Beach Hotel, owned by Divi Resorts, shut down in 2006 and is up for sale. The property is deeper (water to road) and not only does it have a protective fringing reef offshore, it has a protected anchorage between the reef and shore. This area is known on the maps as Dick Sessenger's Bay, and is well known as the absolute best anchorage (and some argue as best beach) on the entire island. As such, a far better development site ... and one that doesn't require any environmental assessment because it is both pre-existing and natural ... already exists.

Other factors to consider: exist too. For example, what will really happen to the Caribbean real estate market when Cuba finally opens up and doubles the availability of waterfront acreage?

And maybe, the area offshore is somehow utterly denuded of life, unlike the areas that are all around it. Afterall, being that it is to windward, its not a particularly easy location to go in for a casual inspection by snorkel.

So the question remains: will the Cayman authorities approve dumping rock onto an area with coral habitat?

We will continue to watch and see what happens.