Cayman Islands

Map of cayman islands

About the territory

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 25.5°C in winter and 30°C in the summer. In 2010 annual rainfall was 153 cm.

The population of the islands was recorded as 65,813 in 2018 (Cayman Islands government statistics). The main industries are financial services, tourism and real estate


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.

Policy and legislation

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.

The Cayman Islands has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the government will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016, read the 2016 review report (external link).

Legislation is considered adequate in terms of biosecurity provisions and the Department of Agriculture (DOA) is the lead agency for regulation of animal and plant health and importation of animals, plants and their products. Importation of plants and animals requires a licence, they must be imported through a specified port, with powers of inspection. Importation of Plants is regulated under the Plants Importation and Exportation law. Both this law and the Animals law are overdue for updating and this is a priority of the DOA.

The Animal Law 2015 restricts the importation of animals (including carcass, dung, bedding, and biological products of any animal) without a licence. Animals from Asia, Africa, Central and South America are banned.

Powers exist with relation to the prevention of spread of diseases for animals and plants (powers of inspection, entry, search, restriction of movement, seizure and destruction). Diseased imported plants and animals can be destroyed. Penalties exist for contravention and release of pests and disease carriers. Internal biosecurity is covered, the legislation specifically refers to sister islands.

A multi-agency national biosecurity policy is in early draft form.

The Cayman Islands is closely involved in regional biosecurity forums such as the Caribbean Plant Health Directors Forum, Caribvet, CARICOM CVO’s and other CARICOM and regional bodies.

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