Earlier this year I visited the Cayman Islands and spent just over a week photographing the islands’ varied wildlife. These small specks of land in the northwest Caribbean formed millions of years ago and were gradually populated by castaways. Over huge periods of time, these animals and plants evolved into a host of unique species, perhaps the most iconic being the Grand Cayman blue iguana…
Blue iguanas could be the most charismatic reptiles I’ve ever come across! Big males grow up to five-feet long and can be implausibly blue. They have evolved in a world without predatory mammals and as a result have no natural fear of man. If you approach one, it will usually regard you suspiciously with a knowing red eye and if you get too close it will give you a bout or two of vigorous head-nodding to let you know who’s boss!
Unfortunately, the blue iguanas’ nonchalance has played a significant role in the species’ downfall. The iguanas have no fear of the feral rats, cats and dogs that appeared alongside man, and as a result the young are easily picked off. Combine this with a propensity for basking on warm roads and ongoing habitat destruction, and you can see why the Grand Cayman blue iguana was once one of the most endangered creatures on Earth (a census in 2003 estimated that the total wild population was in the range of just 5 to 15 individuals).
However, the outlook for the iguanas is positive; the Blue Iguana Recovery Program is an inspirational conservation initiative. The program is centered around an ambitious captive breeding program which ensures genetic diversity is maintained and that young iguanas are raised in safety until they are large enough to deal with rats and cats. The program is also working to ensure that adequate iguana habitat is protected, so that the young iguanas can be released back into the wild. The Program is now only a few years away from reaching its initial target of 1,000 iguanas living in the wild. If you would like to find out more about the iguanas and the conservation efforts, I thoroughly recommend The Little Blue Book written by Fred Burton, founder and director of the Recovery Program.
In addition to the iguanas, I found myself photographing many other interesting creatures during my time on the islands. High on the intinerary for many tourists is a trip to “Stingray City”. This is a shallow sandbar where southern stingrays congregate. In the past, fishermen used to clean their catch here and this is what initially encouraged the stingrays to congregate. Now the tourists have taken over, feeding the stingrays chunks of chopped-up squid by hand. On jumping into the water, I was instantly mobbed by a dozen gigantic stingrays… it was a bizarre experience!
The Cayman Islands also make for a good birding destination. The islands attract many nesting seabirds and are a stop-off point for birds migrating between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The islands are also home to several interesting permanent residents including two unique sub-species of Cuban Amazon parrot. Photographing these parrots proved to be rather infuriating! On Grand Cayman they are not hard to see as they often fly overhead or sit on top of high trees squawking noisily. However, finding one low enough for a good shot took some perseverance and certainly tested my patience! Eventually I managed to get the shot above on the Mastic Trail, a beautiful forest walk that cuts straight through the wild heart of Grand Cayman Island.
No visit to Grand Cayman is complete without a stop at the beautiful Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park. Here I enjoyed wandering down peaceful walkways shaded by palms, keeping an eye-out for the resident iguanas and focusing my macro lens on rare Grand Cayman Ghost Orchids.
Having explored Grand Cayman, I moved on to the two “Sister Islands” – first a night on Cayman Brac and then a couple of nights on Little Cayman.
Cayman Brac is very different from the other two islands; its spine consists of a prominent limestone bluff which runs the length of the island and terminates in some impressive 43m-high cliffs on the East coast. Naturally, these cliffs made a tempting target for my only sunrise on the island. On top of the cliffs is a colony of brown boobies. Much to my delight, I found a couple of nesting pairs and enjoyed photographing the big, fluffy, white chicks!
Little Cayman is the quietest of the three islands – it has a population of just 150 people. Here another iguana can be found, the Sister Isles Rock Iguana. On this island, iguanas rule – they outnumber humans by more than 10 to 1! The island is also home to a large breeding colony of red-footed boobies. Piratical frigatebirds patrol the coastline between the colony and the open ocean, waiting to steal food from the boobies as they return to their nests. Watching the wheeling antics of these birds as they engaged in aerial battles provided me with a good excuse to spend a few moments sitting on the beach!
To see more photographs of the islands’ wildlife, please check out my Cayman Islands gallery.
Win a Luxury Wildlife Holiday for Two in the Cayman Islands!
I have partnered with the Cayman Islands, Wildlife Worldwide and responsibletravel.com to bring you another awesome holiday giveaway! This is your chance to win an amazing 7-day trip for two to experience the wildlife of the Cayman Islands for yourself!
Here’s what’s included in the prize:
- International flights from London
- 7 nights accommodation – 5 nights on Grand Cayman and 2 nights Little Cayman
- Domestic flights to and from Little Cayman
- 5-day car hire on Grand Cayman
- Visit to the Botanic Park
- Guided Mastic Trail walk
- Your choice of a kayak tour or visit to Stingray City
The competition deadline is 28th February 2013. Please note that this giveaway is open to participants worldwide but only flights from London are included (therefore, if you live outside the UK, you will need to make your own arrangements for getting to London or the Cayman Islands).