Cayman Islands nature & wildlife
The Cayman Islands are famously a destination for scuba diving and snorkelling, their clear seas a living aquarium home to vibrantly coloured tropical fish and inquisitive stingrays. Underwater naturalists come to the islands to see populations of large Nassau Grouper, and the islands are one of the few remaining areas in the Caribbean where they are known to spawn.
Brightly coloured schools of numerous Snapper species, Parrotfish, Blennies, Barracuda, Butterflyfish and Moray Eels live in and around the reefs.
Large shimmering Silver Tarpon can be easily seen close inshore at many of the snorkelling sites, as well as Electric Blue Angelfish and several types of Nudibranch – colourful sea slugs that live on the coral. Lucky divers may even see a group of majestic Eagle Rays flying along the reef wall.
The beauty of the marine environment in the Cayman Islands is enhanced by lack of pollution, the proximity of deep water close offshore and a lack of rivers running into the sea which reduces the amount of slit and sediment that could otherwise cloud the waters.
This is one of the factors that contributes to Cayman having some of the healthiest coral reefs left in the Caribbean, and it’s why Little Cayman is home to the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (http://www.reefresearch.org/
Government regulations have been in place for many years so that all three islands have designated areas where fishing is restricted or forbidden. This allows for the replenishment and preservation of the marine environment. These regulations also prohibit the taking of certain species at all times, and aim to prevent damage being done to the fragile structure of the coral reefs and imposes limits on the size of various fish species that can be caught legally.
The islands may be small, but even on land they offer a surprising amount of nature and wildlife. Habitats of evergreen thickets and woodland as well as mangrove and seasonal swamp are home to many birds and insects, and cave systems shelter several species of bats. In winter the islands are a stop-over for many species of migratory birds including Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers and Indigo Buntings and more than two dozen species of Warblers that come from North America. Tree species that are commonly found on the islands include the magnificent Silver Thatch – the islands’ national palm tree, which has evolved to tolerate the salt rich spray from the sea. Other notable trees include the Seagrape, West Indian Cedars, Tamarinds and hardwoods including Mahogany and Mastic Trees.
Visitors to any of the three islands are likely to spot iguanas – most commonly the Green Iguanas (Iguana iguana) which are not native to the islands but are thriving.
Cayman’s own, unique, and critically endangered Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) has been brought back from the brink of extinction thanks to conservation efforts and a breeding programme which can be visited at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park on Grand Cayman.
Another way to get close to the natural treasures of Cayman is to take the two mile Mastic Trail which goes through several different natural habitats including Black Mangrove wetland, palm forest and dry forest. In June you may be lucky enough to spot Cayman’s national flower - the endemic wild Banana Orchid (Myrmecophila thomsoniana). Native Cayman parrots (Amazona leucocephala caymanensis) and Caribbean doves can also be seen on the trail. Grand Cayman is also home to the very rare Ghost Orchid (Dendrophylax fawcettii).
The Mastic Trail is also a good place to look out for butterflies with about sixty species found on the islands, of which five are found only here - including one of the smallest butterflies in the world – the Cayman Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis thompsoni). The Pygmy Blue was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 2002.
On Cayman Brac there are areas of the island with a decidedly wild feel, home to mysterious caves and thick forest. The terrain is very rugged in parts and should be explored with good strong shoes and plenty of sun protection and water.
Several large caves – once used as hurricane shelters by residents – are accessible on foot and some of Cayman’s nine bat species can sometimes be seen clinging to the roofs. The middle of the island is home to the National Trust Parrot Reserve which is the best place to spot the Cayman Brac Parrot (Amazona leucocephala hesterna). Found only on the Brac this small parrot is a sub-species of the Cuban parrot, but it has the smallest range of any parrot in the world. Small groups, or family flocks can be heard whistling in the trees, though they can be elusive to spot.
A visit to Cayman’s highest point, the Bluff on Cayman Brac (41 metres) is a chance to see nesting brown boobies which can be approached quite closely with care, and an opportunity to see the rugged cliffscape surrounded by open ocean stretching to the horizon.
Little Cayman has several good bird-watching sites as well as the Booby Pond nature reserve home to the western hemisphere’s largest breeding colony of Red-Footed Boobies.
Cayman Islands bird watching
Cayman Islands marine life
Responsible Travel would like to thank the Cayman Islands tourist board for their sponsorship of this guide