The Cayman Islands: an underwater adventure

With some of the world’s finest and most accessible coral reefs, the Cayman Islands offer spectacular encounters with wildlife that are undimmed by the damage caused by Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

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The perfect destination
 
The Caymans are a great introduction to Caribbean wildlife – who could complain about birding from a hammock? The islands’ Government and tourist board have woken up to the potential of eco-tourism, which can only be good for the Caymans’ future.
 
My only regret was at the end of my scuba trip when I tried to climb back onto the jetty. “Hey Steve,” I called out, “could you hold my flippers?” He looked disappointed – but shared the four-pack with me later.
 
 
FERGUS' TOP FIVE SPECIES TO SEE
 
Blue iguana
 
  • Where: The rare blue iguana is found only on Grand Cayman. The island’s largest native land animal, it grows to 150cm in length and 11kg in weight. Little Cayman and Cayman Brac hold large populations of wild rock iguanas, which reach a comparable size.
  • How: Visit QEII Botanic Garden to see blue iguanas. The hotter and sunnier it is, the bluer the animals will appear – and the more active they will be. For rock iguanas, hire a bicycle and explore any quiet sideroads on the smaller islands. But be careful – iguanas have the right of way on the smaller islands and woe betide anyone who runs over one of these talisman species.
 Barrel sponge
 
  • Where: Barrel sponges are found in tropical waters at depths of 15 to 40 metres. On the Caymans, look for them at the Wall. These mighty examples grow just 1.5cm a year and may be well over 100 years old. Other animals take refuge from predators within the sponges’ bowl-like interiors – often big enough to fit an adult human. Cayman laws prohibit you from touching or damaging these organisms.
  • How: You’ll need to have passed your PADI open water diving course, which will enable you to reach the depths where these extraordinary creatures live.
Southern stingray
 
  • Where: Relatively common all around the islands, though the closest encounters can be enjoyed at Stingray City in the North Sound of Grand Cayman.
  • How: Young stingrays can be found while snorkelling in areas such as under the jetty at Rum Point. For their sake as well as yours, be careful not to tread on them. You can only visit Stingray City through one of the organised boat tours, such as Captain Marvin’s half-day trip to the sandbar, which includes a snorkel through the famous Coral Gardens. No one has been stung for as long as these trips have been running, so it's quite safe. 
Green turtle
 
  • Where: Adults are regularly encountered around the coast, particularly over the coral reefs. Nesting on beaches across the Caribbean, the green turtle favours the famous Seven Mile Beach on Grand Cayman – which isn’t too clever as this is also a favourite tourist beach. Numbers of breeding females have declined in recent years, and the bright lights of the many beachside hotels jeopardise the survival of hatchling turtles, distracting them from the safety of the sea.
  • How: You are quite likely to see green turtles on deeper dives, though close encounters can be had at the Cayman Turtle Farm, which operates a captive-breeding programme. Call 001 345 949 3894 or visit here.
Red-footed booby
 
  • Where: A recent survey counted 20,000 of these birds (which closely resemble our own Atlantic gannets) in the colony at Booby Pond Reserve on Little Cayman, a third of the species’ entire Caribbean and Atlantic population. They leave the island to travel hundreds of kilometres each day in search of squid and small fish. The healthy population living here indicates that the seas around the Cayman Islands are highly productive.
  • How: The boobies fly from Little Cayman at dawn and return full of fish in the late afternoon, when they are attacked by magnificent frigatebirds. Sit on the beach by Little Cayman Beach Resort and watch the action. You can also find brown boobies on Cayman Brac, where they nest on small cliffs.
 
ESSENTIAL TRAVEL INFORMATION 
 
Getting there
 
Diving
 
  • Cobalt Coast on Grand Cayman offers a range of diving and watersport activities including Stingray City dive trips from US$50 (£27) or Resort or Discover Scuba Diving Courses from US$100 (£54) – including all equipment, dive, etc.
  • Little Cayman Beach Resort offers a Two Tank Boat Dive daily for US$75 (£40), with a daily Three Tank Boat Dive costing US$90 (£48) daily. 

 

Fergus took this trip while he was features editor of BBC Wildlife. He is now the editor of BBC Countryfile magazine, and his role has been taken over by Ben. To meet Ben and the rest of the team click here

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