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Cayman islands

Last edited: Feb 7, 2022, 3:41 PM

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.

Map of cayman islands

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.

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.

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.

Invasive species and biosecurity

A total of 264 non-native species (marine and terrestrial) was recorded for the Cayman Islands by the RSPB Stocktake (Churchyard et al 2014).

Taxon

Total species

Non-native species

Invertebrates

1992

2

Vertebrates

611

19

Plants

854

243

Problems with invasive non-native species

In the Cayman Islands there are a range of non-native species which are causing ecological problems.

The green iguana (Iguana iguana) was originally imported as a pet to the Cayman Islands at least 30 years ago. The population exploded in the wake of Hurricane Ivan in 2004 when cages were smashed and many escaped into the wild. Green iguanas eat vegetation and impact agriculture and horticulture. They are a nuisance for hoteliers and householders through fouling swimming pools and attacking ornamental plants. They also impact infrastructure by climbing telegraph poles and shorting powerlines, with additional costs from fitting poles with metal sleeves to prevent iguanas from climbing. Finally, they hybridise with the endangered native Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi).

Surveys undertaken by Fera in 2018 during two short visits found 106 potential agricultural, horticultural and environmental plant pests. Nine species of insect were recorded for the first time from the Cayman Islands. Examples of invasive alien species with the potential to have a significant impact include the green iguana (Iguana iguana), lobate lac scale (Paratachardina pseudolobata), croton scale (Phalacrococcus howertoni) and Sri Lankan weevil (Myllocerus undecimpustulatus undatus). The green iguana damages a wide range of crops and ornamentals. One direct cost due to the iguanas is the fitting of metal sheaths around the base of tree trunks and telegraph/electricity poles to prevent the iguanas climbing up and eating the foliage or causing electrical short circuits. Large populations of Lobate lac scale have been associated with the decline and mortality of the native red birch (Bursera simaruba), for example along the Mastic Trail, and has been recorded from many other native plants. Croton scale is a destructive pest of a range of tree fruit crops and some ornamentals, especially croton (Codiaeum variegatum). Sri Lankan weevil is a recent arrival and the adult beetles have caused complete defoliation and dieback of a hibiscus hedge and minor damage to Acalypha wilkesiana plants at Camana Bay in Grand Cayman.

As well as agricultural pests, invertebrates include a species of fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) which are predators of other invertebrates. They can also affect some vertebrate species such as small native lizards and native iguanas, through egg predation or by invading their nests. Cats, dogs and predatory rats are also an issue for the native iguanas (three sub-species of Cyclura nubilis) as they are very efficient at predating the iguanas and their nests. When looking at plants there are also some non-native species which are competing against the native species (Varham 2006).

Non-native ant Solenopsis invicta; Native iguana Cyclura nubilis; Telegraph poles fitted with metal sleeves to stop introduced green iguana from climbing.

L-R: Non-native ant Solenopsis invicta; Native iguana Cyclura nubilis; Telegraph poles fitted with metal sleeves to stop introduced green iguana from climbing.

The invasive Red Lionfish Pterois volitans was first recorded from the Cayman Islands in 2008 from a dive site in Little Cayman and since then many others have been removed from Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Lionfish are voracious predators which impact native reef fish, and also threaten tourism through their aggressive behaviour and venomous spines. 

Priority invasive non-native species and actions

In 2018 the Cayman Islands Government estimated that there were 1.3 to 1.6 million green iguanas on Grand Cayman, and the Department of Environment initiated an ambitious culling programme. The Cayman Island government invested £8.6 million to control them using a programme of registered local cullers receiving a bounty of £4.75 per reptile killed. In 2019 a total of 1.1 million iguanas were culled, and the budget was confirmed for 2020.

Biosecurity

In 2017 a biosecurity gap analysis (PDF) was completed. Overall, biosecurity capacity was considered reasonable. The plant health and animal health aspects are particularly strong, with less capacity to prevent and manage invasive species in the environmental sector. Border controls are good, with high risk material such as live animals and plant material and cut flowers receiving 100% inspection. The Cayman Islands is an active member of the Caribbean Plant Health Directors (CPHD) Forum and benefits from the regional approach to plant health issues being addressed by the CPHD.

In 2018 a pathway analysis (PDF) was completed. There are two international airports, Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac, with a small airstrip on Little Cayman for local flights. The majority of international flights enter through Owen Roberts International Airport on Grand Cayman. Most Cayman flights depart from the southern and eastern United States. Within the region, there are direct flights from Jamaica, the Bahamas and Cuba. There are no inter-island ferry services in the Cayman Islands.

Cargo arrives by both ship and plane. Within the region, cargo is flown in from Jamaica and Cuba, as well as Honduras and Florida, USA. Within the Cayman Islands, a tug-towed barge carries containerized freight between the three Cayman Islands.

Horizon scanning was carried out in 2019, identifying a total of 23 new invasive species of concern which have the potential to arrive within the next 5 – 10 years; read a report on the horizon scanning (PDF).  

Projects

The Department of Environment (DoE) has taken the stand that the Lionfish must be removed. They offer training courses, and licenses for individuals to cull them (external link).

The National Trust for the Cayman Islands leads projects to protect the endemic Blue iguana (Cyclura lewisi) and Sister Islands Rock iguana Cyclura nubila caymanensis).

Drawing on commitments made under the Environment Charter, Overseas Territories Environment Programme (OTEP),   six OTEP funded projects (external link) were delivered in total between 2004 and 2012.

The Cayman Islands have received a number of Darwin Initiative funded projects, listed below. Read the project reports (external link):

  • Upgrade and revision of reef survey resource (DPLUS004)
  • Seed conservation in the Caribbean UKOTs (DPLUS006)
  • Coral nursery project in Little Cayman: enhancing resilience and natural capacity of coral reefs in the UKOTs (DPLUS010)
  • Promoting the creation and appropriate management of protected areas in Anguilla and the Cayman Islands (DPLUS013)
  • Socioeconomic aspects of turtle conservation in the Cayman Islands (DPLUS019)
  • Sustainable management of threatened keystone predators to enhance reef resilience (DPLUS036)
  • Assessment, protection and actions for important seabird populations in the Cayman Islands (DPLUS044)
  • Protecting herbivorous fish to conserve Cayman Island coral reef biodiversity (DPLUS061)
  • Transitioning the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme to sustain conservation success (DPLUS087)
  • Regional-scale marine conservation through multi-territory tracking of frigatebirds (DPLUS097)

The project ‘Tackling invasive non-native species in the UK Overseas Territories’ was implemented between 2016 and 2020 to strengthen biosecurity in the OTs, funded by the UK government Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF). The Cayman Islands benefitted from a number of activities to strengthen its biosecurity, including: pathway analysis, horizon scanning, pathway action planning, access to online learning, and technical support. Read further details.

Useful information

Information for visitors

Before travelling please ensure all items are clean, free from organic materials such as mud, faeces, seeds and invertebrates:

  • Check your footwear, outdoor clothing and day packs to make sure they are clean and free from weed seeds, mud, invertebrates and plant material. If possible we recommend that you travel with new outdoor clothing and equipment. Shake out or vacuum all the compartments and pockets before you pack.
  • If you have been camping, check that your tent and other equipment is clean, dry and free of dirt and invertebrates such as ants and spiders. Shake it out before you pack it up for travel and ensure no soil remains on tent pegs.
  • If you have been hiking, visiting a wilderness area, farm or zoo, make sure your footwear and clothes are clean and free from seeds, mud and faeces. Check boot soles for mud between the treads, Velcro fastenings for seeds and plant material, and shake out or vacuum pockets to remove any dirt and plant material.
  • If you are carrying golf, fishing or other sports and outdoor equipment with you, make sure they are clean, dry and free from dirt and any live creatures.

Information on plant health (plant imports) external link.

Contact

Department of Environment

Cayman Islands Environmental Centre,

580 North Sound Rd,

George Town,

Grand Cayman

Tel: +345 949-8469

Email: doe@gov.ky

Documents

  • Barnsley, S., Cary, E., Pienkowski, M. and Wensink, C.(Eds) (2016).  Review of performance by 2016 of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies in implementing the 2001 Environment Charters or their equivalents and moving towards the Aichi Targets and Sustainable Development Targets. UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, April 2016.
  • Churchyard, T., Eaton, M., Hall, J., Millett, J., Farr, A., Cuthbert, R. and Stringer, C.  (2014). The UK’s wildlife overseas: a stocktake of nature in our Overseas Territories.  Sandy, UK: RSPB.
  • Edgar, P. (2010). The Amphibians and reptiles of the UK Overseas Territories, Crown Dependencies and Sovereign Base Areas: Species Inventory and Overview of Conservation and Research Priorities. Bournemouth, UK: Amphibian and Reptile Conservation.
  • Proctor, D. and Fleming, L. V., eds. (1999). Biodiversity: the UK Overseas Territories. Peterborough, UK: JNCC.
  • Sanders, S. M., ed. (2006). Important Bird Areas in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories. Sandy, UK: RSPB.
  • Varnham, K. (2006). Non-native species in UK Overseas Territories: a review. Peterborough, UK: JNCC Report No. 372.

Websites