Caymanians’ love of nature, coupled with an inherent sensibility and economic vision, has set an international standard in establishing policy for eco-tourism development. In the Cayman Islands today, it is virtually impossible to engage in diving and watersports without first having been exposed to the rules governing them, a strategy that works to the benefit of both visitor and environment.
Through the years, Caymanians have embraced every aspect of ecotourism. By preserving their water, land and wide variety of marine life, they are in turn preserving their heritage. The efforts of volunteers, two decades of farsighted legislation, and a government committed to education and ecology…Caymanians have a lifeline to the future.
Ecoadventures provides exhilarating outdoor adventure (kayaking, mountain biking, carving or Mastic trail tours). Explore Cayman leads small groups with a friendly guide with many years of natural experience.
Cayman Kayaks offers guided tours into the shallow waters of Cayman's pristine wetlands to observe its diverse fish, sponge and invertebrates population.
The National Trust was established by a law that protects biological diversity, public access (visual and physical) to the sea, and selected traditional footpaths throughout the islands; in addition it acquires and maintains structures of outstanding historical or cultural significance for which ongoing funding is assured, and facilitates the preservation of historic and cultural sites. The National Trust offices in George Town also serve as an archive for everything from national symbols to the traditional wattle and daub method of construction (green wood and plaster), restored sites, cemeteries and much more. The Trust Projects extend to all three islands and safeguard the most beautiful, delicate sites of the destination.
Taking care of the destination’s precious resources is a way of life on the Sister Islands. Planned development has to date minimized human intrusion on wildlife habitats. Government attitudes are environmentally proactive, with protective legislation enacted and enforced since the 1970s and major new marine and terrestrial conservation laws are also presently being enacted. 35-nature and heritage tourism trails have been designated by Nature Cayman on both Little Cayman and Cayman Brac. Each trail and heritage site is marked on a walking map taking visitors through wetlands, forest trails, near historic sites and a variety of fauna and flora.
- Fort George, on the waterfront in George Town is an archaeological survey. What remains of the original wall and structure are preserved in an historic park.
- Salina Reserve, inland on the North Coast, is held as a nature reserve. A combination of woodlands and wetlands, the 650-acre reserve offers nesting sites for parrots, caves of bat roosts, several acres suitable for rare blue iguana habitat, and great plant diversity including a major population of rare, indigenous pink-flowering herb, Agalinis Kingslii.
- The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, opened by her majesty the Queen in 1994, offers a place of magnificence with its breathtaking displays of native flora and fauna. It makes the terrestrial environment of the Cayman Islands accessible, understandable and promotes conservation values. The park won an eco-tourism award from the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Islands magazine and BWIA.
Housed at QEII Botanic Park, the National Trust’s Blue Iguana Recovery Programme is working to pull the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, an indigenous species, back from the brink of extinction. With only 10-25 of the original population left in the wild, it is difficult to overstate the achievement of the Programme, with its successful hatching of some 87 youngsters in 2005, and steps being taken to restore the population in the wild. Given the ongoing success of this Programme, the establishment of a protected area of suitable iguana habitat is being sought to ensure the survival of these unique, colorful and charismatic creatures.
- The Governor Michael Gore Bird Sanctuary was created at the freshwater Spotts-Newland Pond. At least 60 species have been sighted there, and it is the only known nesting site of the Least Bittern and the Purple Gallinule!
- Pedro St. James - The Government of the Cayman Islands has spent millions to procure what remained of the island-nation’s most historic structure - Pedro St. James. Following hurricanes, fires, abandonment and remodeling attempts, this is the oldest surviving stone structure in the Cayman Islands. Built in 1780, Pedro St. James has been every thing from a private residence to a public building to a commercial enterprise. Pedro St. James serves as the focal point of Cayman heritage. Caymanians take great pride that the decision to form the first elected parliament in the Cayman Islands was made during a public meeting at Pedro St. James on December 5, 1831.
The Government’s Historic Sites Committee, including both public and private sectors, has overseen this historically accurate restoration project. Pedro’s main house is at the centre of a 7.65 acre landscaped park and woodland sitting atop the 30 ft. Great Pedro Bluff. Interactive displays in the multi-media theatre orient visitors to the history, lifestyle and economics of 18th and early 19th century at Pedro. The restoration of Pedro St. James is an expensive and on-going effort of the Government in an effort to preserve Caymanian heritage.
- The Mastic Trail in Grand Cayman is also under the National Trust’s protection. This reserve protects part of the largest contiguous area of untouched, old growth dry forest remaining on the island. This area represents some of the last remaining examples of the Caribbean’s dry, subtropical forest, which have been the target of particularly intense deforestation throughout the West Indies. The area is home to an assortment of animals and plants unique to the Cayman Islands, and also to large populations of trees which have vanished from more accessible places through logging in the 18th – 19th centuries.
The Mastic Trail is two miles long and the guided walk takes approximately two and a half to three hours. Walkers experience a fascinating exploration deep into Cayman’s wild interior, in an area where the woodland has been evolving undisturbed for the last two million years. Special tours for small school groups and other local organizations are also available by arrangement. The Trust received worldwide public recognition when in 1995 Islands magazine chose the Mastic Trail as a finalist in its annual Ecotourism competition.
The National Trust manages a 180-acre parrot reserve on the Bluff for the indigenous Cayman Brac parrot . It also operates single-species conservation programmes for both the Brac parrot and the native Grand Cayman parrot - both are sub species of the Cuban parrot.
Booby Pond Reserve is Little Cayman’s most important wildlife habitat. The National Trust’s ownership of two-thirds of this reserve ensures that the area cannot be disturbed or threatened by commercial development as Little Cayman grows. The 204-acre site is comprised of a saltwater pond and surrounding mangrove habitat. This area is one of the largest breeding colonies of red-footed boobies in the Western Hemisphere (home to an estimated 5,000 nesting pairs), a magnificent frigate bird colony and a large heronry. Boobies mate for life and nest from February through July in the mangrove trees.
The Trust also operates a conservation program for the blue iguana on Grand Cayman and the indigenous iguana on Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.
The Cayman Islands dive industry is respected throughout the international community for its dedication to, and strict standards of conservation. A united effort of the members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA), Cayman National Watersports Association (CNWA) and the Sisters Islands Tourism Association (SITA) has educated thousands of visiting divers each year by briefing them on local marine parks laws, enforcing a 'look but don't touch' policy toward marine life, and using only dive sites marked by permanent boat moorings to prevent anchor damage to fragile coral ecosystems. Members take a pro-active approach by trying to prevent any form of diver or snorkeller damage and by encouraging divers to practice good buoyancy skills, thus preventing collision with fragile coral. Around the three islands, designated Marine Park Zones are clearly marked, and laws are listed on government posted signs in public waterfront access areas at beaches and boat launches.
Timeline for Environmental Regulations
1957 - Small dive operations in the Cayman Islands, spearheaded by Bob Soto, the pioneer who brought the concept of recreational diving to the Caribbean in 1957, made serious divers aware of the Cayman Islands' vast natural resources.
1970s - Facilities, business and interest in diving grew, making it obvious that marine life and its habitat would require protection for future generations of divers.
1978 - Bob Soto led a campaign to increase awareness of the potential depletion of Cayman Islands' marine resources.
1979 - The government responded by passing the Marine Conservation Law, which created the framework for protecting the marine environment, and by establishing a Marine Conservation Board to administer the law.
1982 - The Cayman Islands Watersports Operators Association (CIWOA) was established and today a majority of operators from the CIWOA are either members of the newly formed CITA or SITA. Fifty-seven dive and watersport operator members actively assist the Government's Department of the Environment in enforcing the marine conservation laws as well as protecting the fragile reef systems and marine life within territorial waters.
1986 - The Department of the Environment initiated one of the most important environmental accomplishments in the past two decades. The enactment of the Marine Parks Law created four types of environmental zone designations on all three islands. The four zones are the Marine Park Zone, Replenishment Zone, Environmental Zone, and No Diving Zone.
1987 - A law establishing the National Trust dramatically extended the conservation and preservation efforts.
1993 - The government strengthened the Marine Conservation Act of 1986 by amending it and raising the maximum fine for any vessel convicted of illegal dumping of waste in Cayman Islands' territorial waters to international standards, up to US $625,000.
Information provided by Cayman Islands Department of Tourism.