Cayman a nature haven

The nature tourism that the Department of Tourism is so actively promoting has found a helping, loud European voice, in the form of one of the most widely read broadsheets in the UK, the Daily Telegraph.

An article on the Cayman Islands appeared on the Saturday 10 December Daily Telegraph, with a million readers.

The article talks about the stunning natural habitat, wildlife and history of the Cayman Islands, as well as some of the attractions, including Boatswain’s Beach, Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, walking trails and spectacular diving.

The Department of Tourism has pointed out that since the article spreads over two pages, its advertising value is worth more than $205,000.

The article, titled Beyond the Banks, by Peter Hughes, points out the Cayman Islands presence at the British Birdwatching Fair. ‘And then, amid all the tackle to set twitchers twitching, on stand 93 was the Cayman Islands. Here was a migrant that had surely been blown off course,’ it said.

It continues, ‘Beach, yes, and off-shore banking; swimming with stingrays and the shops, condos and hotels or a sort of Florida in waiting, but the Caymans and ‘avitourism’, as the jargon has it, would seem strictly for the birds’.

But the writer goes on to embrace some of the compelling evidence: ‘the red-footed booby and West Indian whistling duck, the vitelline warbler and thick-billed vireo, plus the national bird, the rose-throated parrot, and all the rest of the 222 species that have been recorded on the islands’.

Natural heritage

The article goes on to speak about safeguarding national heritage and drawing tourists for reasons beyond the beaches. ‘As tourism competition mounts and today’s travellers look beyond sun, sea and sand for their holiday satisfactions, a number of Caribbean countries are beginning to turn to their flora and fauna to extend their appeal.’

The article focuses on the Mastic Trail, ‘a 200-year-old track that picks its way across the island through woodland hardly disturbed for two million years’.

On a tour with Geddes Hislop’s Silver Thatch Excursions, the author describes climbing ‘the mountain’, reaching 60ft above sea level.

‘As we hiked from the wetland near the coast, Geddes told me how a three foot change in elevation was enough to cause a change in vegetation. There are more than 500 species of plant in the area, some extremely rare.’

The journalist mentions viewing the yellow-faced grassquit, the smallest native bird, and describes passing through forest of black mangrove and ironwood trees.

‘We listened to the call of the West Indian woodpecker and the yellow warbler and watched as a stripe-headed tanager snacked at an orchid. A few steps further on a parrot was gorging itself on a mango. ‘All West Indian parrots are basically green,’ Geddes explained. ‘The other colours tell you which island they come from. They’re like flags.’ The one we were watching, the dapper little Cayman or rose-throated parrot, seemed to bear all seven colours of the Cayman Islands flag.’

Blue iguanas

The author goes on to describe his other wildlife encounters in the Cayman Islands, including three blue iguanas at the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, before pointing out that a few years ago they were nearly extinct.

‘I met one on the tarmac path. It was about 2.5 foot long and might have been moulded from Action Man plastic. The body was a dull khaki with baggy canvas leggings but its head had been sprayed Air Force blue.’

Cayman Brac also posed some wild encounters. ‘I found fruit bats dangling from a ceiling of a cave on Cayman Brac; I watched frigate birds, graceful as high performance gliders, wheeling above the high cliffs where the brown booby breeds at the island’s East point.’

Back on Grand Cayman, green turtles ‘by the thousand’ were experienced at the Cayman Turtle Farm, with a note on some of the Boatswain’s Beach forthcoming attractions.

Diving delights

The final part of the article dives beneath the waters of the Cayman Islands.

‘The most famous part of the Caymans’ natural environment lies below the sea. For divers the islands have been rated one of the top destinations in the world since the Second World War.’

He goes on to describe the thrill of diving off a 6,000ft drop such as Bloody Bay Wall, Little Cayman ‘as tummy-turning as hang-gliding on the lip of a canyon’.

Mr. Hughes goes on to give more underwater options in the form of submarines and semi-subs, describing in detail what it is like on board the Bubble Sub.

The end of the article points to satisfaction at discovering this new take on tourism.

‘It has taken time, and the need to invigorate the Caribbean holiday, but countries such as the Cayman Islands are discovering a dimension they have long neglected. They are also finding people like Geddes Hislop to share it with us.’

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