Part of the active lifestyle of baby boomers is travel. With our careers mainly behind us and our bank accounts (hopefully) in order, many of us are roaming the world. BoomerCafé’s publisher and co-founder David Henderson just roamed to the Cayman Islands, where he found that some of the paradise that has long attracted baby boomers is slowly but surely disappearing.
It’s morning on Grand Cayman Island and all along its famed Seven Mile Beach, hotel staff and work crews are raking up and hauling away tons of dead seagrass that washed ashore during high tide overnight. Until the cleanup is finished, few vacationers dare step over the tangled, icky mess to venture into the water.
Grand Cayman Island has grown fast and become commercialized over the last three decades, driven largely by baby boomers seeking a new and exotic-sounding Caribbean getaway, as well as the super-wealthy taking advantage of Cayman’s reputation as an ironclad offshore tax haven. There are more than 500 financial institutions on Grand Cayman, an impressive number for a spit of land about twice the size of Manhattan. It is a tiny speck in ocean blue.
Seven Mile Beach is Grand Cayman’s only usable sandy beach. Shorelines on the north, east, and south, while picturesque, are jagged rock. Seven Mile Beach is on the western side.
I remember friends telling me years ago — before Grand Cayman was “discovered” — about snorkeling along the magnificent reef a few hundred yards off Seven Mile Beach. They said they’d never experienced anything as beautiful while drifting effortlessly along the surface in a few feet of clear water. But I’m sad to say, those days are mostly gone. Severe damage has been inflicted on the natural reef in recent years by boaters.
The mega-yacht owned by Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen, for example, allegedly tore up approximately 80-percent of the reef’s protected zone in 2015 when its anchor dragged across a sizable area of fragile reef. Allen, an enormously wealthy baby boomer known for throwing lavish parties on his 300-foot yacht, has settled with the government of Grand Cayman Island for causing more than 14,000 square feet of damage to the fragile reef … although he also denied responsibility. Things like that have happened many times, I was told.
After a short drive on a new four-lane highway lined with new strip malls, we found the east side of the island. It’s much less crowded and touristy. This is where the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park is located but even the park is feeling the squeeze. Bulldozers are clear-cutting the jungle up to the park’s border to make room for development.
“Pedro St. James” is an 18th-century three-story Great House with a spectacular vista of the sea and a plantation that have been lovingly restored along the island’s southern coast. It is Grand Cayman’s historic center. Many natives of the island today are descendants of the first settlers of Pedro St. James. From that early family grew a sizable number of the island’s population. The visitors center features an historical documentary film about the site and the island. It’s one of the best I have ever seen.
I’m not sure whether anyone knows when the massive commercial development of tiny Grand Cayman will cease or how much of the island’s nature will survive. Growth today appears to be unbridled, and unzoned … which is odd for such a tiny place in the Caribbean that’s susceptible to the full force of hurricanes. The highest spot on Grand Cayman is just 60 feet above the sea. The island was mostly swamped in 2004 by the ten-foot waves of Hurricane Ivan.
The people who have always lived on Grand Cayman are the intrinsic beauty of the island. They are friendly, caring, gracious people, many of whom work two and three jobs to make ends meet in the island’s staggeringly expensive environment. They are Grand Cayman’s treasure. The question is, what sort of island will be left to their children and grandchildren.