Geography & Wildlife
Between the agoutis, the endemic blue iguanas and the abundant bird and plant life - you're sure to be impressed with the flora and fauna the Cayman Islands has to offer.
Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands, and is about 76 square miles and approximately 22 miles long by four miles wide. The Island’s famous North Sound, a shallow reef surrounded by clear aquamarine water, is about 35 square miles and is abundant with marine life and stunning coral. Although Grand Cayman is a low lying island with wetlands filled with diverse bird and marine life, there is an exceptional dry-wood forest called the Mastic Reserve & Trail (one of the few remaining in Grand Cayman) towards the eastern part of the Island.
Cayman Brac, the second largest of the Cayman Islands, has a 140 foot bluff. Being the Island’s most striking feature, it is known to eco lovers for its numerous hiking trails, caves and rock climbing hotspots. Little Cayman, the smallest and least developed of the Cayman Islands is a sleepy little island teeming with vibrant marine life.
While the diving on Little Cayman is renowned all around the world, the Island’s Booby Pond Nature Reserve (a site with international designation) is known to avid birders around world. Cayman Resident also has good recommendations on what to do on this Robinson Crusoe hideaway plus where to stay!
Read on to find out the actual depth of Cayman’s very own “abyss” plus how close the Islands are to the Oriente Transform Fault.
Geologically speaking, The Cayman Islands are actually the tops of seamount pinnacles reaching up from the Cayman Trench – one of the deepest sections of ocean in the world. The Cayman Ridge stretches from the Sierra Maestra mountain range in Cuba to the Gulf of Honduras. This ridge forms the northern margin of the Cayman Trench, which is 100 miles wide and reaches depths of around 25,000 feet.
The Islands’ position near the Oriente Transform Fault and the mid-Cayman rise means that the three islands are separate uplifted fault blocks that were pushed up by friction between the North American and the Caribbean tectonic plates.
According to the research of geologist Brian Jones, each island appears to have a granodiorite foundation, which is succeeded by a cap of basalt and an uppermost layer composed of carbonates. These carbonates were created by living organisms such as corals, algae and shells and were laid down during sea level changes over the past 30 million years.
Hidden away under the jagged crust of Grand Cayman’s East End and the craggy cliffs of the Bluff in Cayman Brac, lie beautiful and mysterious mineral deposits called Caymanite. These rock strata are found only in the Cayman Islands and are well disguised by the surrounding limestone.
Caymanite has layers of colours in earth tones, created by the different metallic contents of each strata. These rock strata are found only in the Cayman Islands and are well disguised by the surrounding limestone. The hardness of Caymanite challenges any who works on it, but when cut and polished, the stone has radiant hues and can be transformed into unique jewellery and carvings.
There is a permanent Caymanite display at the Cayman Islands National Museum and pieces can also be bought at Artifacts, Pure Art Gallery and other jewellery shops.
Cayman is world-renowned for its marine life, but there is much to see on land as well. Over 650 different species of plants have been recorded and the forests are far more diverse than those found in more temperate northerly latitudes.
Two of the best places to see the flora and fauna of Grand Cayman are the Botanic Park, where you’ll spot lots of the endangered Blue Iguana, and the Mastic Trail. Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are also particularly popular with bird watchers. Little Cayman has a major breeding ground for a species of cormorant, called the Red-footed Booby. Cayman also has a colourful native green parrot that can be heard chattering in almond trees on all three islands, especially at sunset.
Frogs, lizards and green iguanas are common around houses, especially those backing onto the bush. Bats can be seen at night (and are completely harmless). Large, edible land crabs crawl across roads after heavy rains. The agouti (known locally as rabbit) is shy and rarely seen.
Fresh water ponds attract migrating birds and are filled with hicatees (a species of aquatic tortoise) and tiny minnows. About half of Cayman is covered in wetland, so there are large areas of mangrove wilderness. The mangroves are an essential breeding ground for fish and birds and their protection is a major project of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.
Before the Mosquito Research and Control Unit (MRCU) was established in 1965, mosquito numbers were legendary. Reports were made of livestock being suffocated during the night and people did not venture outdoors without a smoke-pot to drive off the mosquitoes. Then, Dr. Marco Giglioli came to Cayman and manipulated water levels of the wetland areas to control the pests by physical means. Giglioli promoted the use of a species of fish in the swamps that are particularly voracious predators of mosquito larvae. The methods introduced by Giglioli, including aerial spraying, have controlled the mosquitoes successfully but resistance to insecticide is a growing concern, so MRCU has had to take additional measures. The Aedes aegypti mosquito, a non-native species in the Cayman Islands, is the predominant carrier of viruses, including dengue, chikungunya and Zika.
In July of 2016, genetically modified male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, that were altered by biotech company Oxitec to include a ‘self limiting gene’, were released in West Bay. Oxitec’s method is environmentally safe, species-specific and has no side-effects. Once set free and they mate with females in the wild, their offspring dies before reaching maturity, thus crashing the Aedes aegypti population.
In 2017, researchers’ findings indicated that the project had been successful, and a 62% suppression rate of the Aeges aegypti population was observed in the release area, compared to that of the control area.
In August 2018, it was announced that the MCRU will begin developing a mosquito eradication plan, expected to begin rolling-out in 2019.