Cayman Islands

The Cayman Islands were first sighted by Columbus in 1503, but remained uninhabited until the mid 17th century. The islands came under British control in 1655 when Jamaica was captured from the Spanish and they became part of the British Empire under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Subsequently, the islands were administered as a dependency of Jamaica. The first recorded settlements were on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac between 1666 and 1671. The first democratic elections took place in 1831 and slavery was abolished in 1835. When Jamaica became independent in 1962 the Cayman Islands opted to remain tied to the UK as a British Crown Colony.

The Cayman Islands are made up of three islands, Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. They are located at the western end of the Greater Antilles in the Caribbean, around 240 km south of Cuba, 740 km south of Miami and 270 km northwest of Jamaica. The largest of the three islands is Grand Cayman with a total land area of 197km2. Cayman Brac is around 140 km northeast of Grand Cayman, but is smaller at 39km2. Little Cayman is the smallest of the three islands, with a land area of 28km2 and is 8 km west of Cayman Brac. Average temperatures vary between 25.5C in winter and 30C in the summer. In 2010 annual rainfall was 153 cm.

The population of the islands was recorded as 54,397 in 2010. The main industries are financial services, tourism and real estate.

Biodiversity

The biodiversity of the Cayman Islands has been relatively well documented. The Kew online Herbarium database has 415 native species and varieties, of which 21 higher plant species are regarded as endemic with a further eight species representing endemic Caymanian varieties. Twenty one species or subspecies of reptiles and amphibians are endemic, including nine snakes. There are currently seven species of bat on the islands, none of which are endemic. The total number of bird species recorded is 222, of which 49 are breeding and 173 are migrants; 17 endemic subspecies are recognised (Sanders 2006). It is thought there may be up to 30 endemic land snail species and a similar number of endemic insect species, with each island, for example having an endemic species of cicada. Of the 48 butterfly taxa , four subspecies are endemic.

During 2010-2011 the Cayman Island authorities submitted 86 invertebrate samples to the Fera identification service for invasive invertebrate plant pests. Thirteen species were recorded for the first time but as these were mainly organisms intercepted on imported plants and produce it is unclear whether they are native. In addition, two species of spider mites (Prostigmata: Tetranychidae), which may belong to undescribed species are still being investigated.

Policy/Strategy background

A draft Nature Conservation Law includes provision for the introduction of “procedures for regulating and controlling wild populations and the import, introduction, possession, transportation and release of exotic or genetically altered specimens.” It also provides for the development of ”criteria for determining whether wild populations or proposed introductions of exotic or genetically altered species might cause harm to any of the natural resources of the Islands and procedures for regulating and controlling such populations and introductions.” Conservation officers can also be given powers to collect “exotic, feral or genetically altered specimens.” The Draft Law also sets out an offence for” any person, not authorised or permitted under this Law, who knowingly imports into or introduces, possesses, transports or releases in any part of the Islands a live or viable specimen of exotic or genetically altered species commits an offence.


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