One of the principal aims of the National Trust for the Cayman Islands is to try to safeguard the survival of the diversity of wild plants and animals in the three islands.
The Trust’s Land Reserves Programme was set up to acquire land that is ecologically important.
The Salina Reserve, an inland area in north-eastern Grand Cayman, is a particularly crucial part of this Programme.
The Salina is the traditional place name for a large fresh water wetland in the southern part of the Reserve.
The area dries in the winter leaving a crust of dried algae which resembles the crust on salt-producing Salinas in other parts of the West Indies.
The Reserve was established in 1988 by Crown land grant to the Trust, so placing the property under the strong protective legislation available through the National Trust for the Cayman Islands Law, 1987.
The Salina Reserve is one of the Trust’s largest nature reserve, with an area of approximately 625 acres comprising sedge and buttonwood swamps, dry shrubland and forest in an intricate mosaic. There are no clear trails through the Reserve, and access is only possible by foot, either navigating with few landmarks through dense forest and extremely rugged terrain, or across extensive flooded wetlands. This has meant that the Reserve has been left fairly isolated and is still very much undisturbed.
A number of biological surveys have been carried out in the Reserve, which have established, beyond doubt, that the preservation of such an area is probably the best hope for a number of native species which do not adapt to closer contact with a human environment.
For example, it has been discovered that at least three different types of bat roost in caves on a high forested ridge in the Reserve: the Brazilian Free-tailed Bat, the Jamaican Fruit-eating Bat and the Big-eared Bat.
Parrots and Bald Pates (White-crowned pigeons) nest in the old growth dry forest, and many rare hardwood trees flourish there too.
Because there is such a diversity of habitats within the Reserve, the overall diversity of animal and plant life is very high. Remarkably, an abundant population of a small, pink-flowering herb, Agalinis kingsii, has been found growing in the margins of the sedge swamps. This plant is unique to Grand Cayman, and this is the only large population known anywhere.
One focus of attention in the Salina Reserve has been the controlled release of some of the Trust’s captive bred Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas. The area was surveyed for suitable habitat in 1992, and in 1993 trial releases of radio-tagged, sterile hybrid iguanas took place. Survival rates were encouragingly high and the animals adapted to the wild with surprisingly few problems. By the winter of 1993, it was clear that releasing captive bred iguanas was a viable technique and the Reserve offered at least the bare essentials for their long-term survival, albeit in only small soil pockets within dry thickets.
The lack of access to the Reserve due to its unfriendly – and even dangerous – sharp and rocky terrain is the iguana’s best protection, providing an effective deterrent to feral dogs and cats. The Reserve thus functions as a bastion for endangered species as well as a major component of the Trust’s evolving system of nature reserves.
For more information on the Trust’s various historic and natural sites, please visit our website, particularly the Information Sheets drop-down menu on the bottom left. Photos provided by Courtney Platt and Frank Roulstone.
Grow Cayman Plants and encourage Cayman Wildlife! For more information, to share your knowledge or if you would like to get involved with the many activities in the National Trust’s Know Your Islands Program, please visit www.nationaltrust.org.ky, www.caymanwildlife.org or call 949-0121.
Last week’s answer: When a shark loses a tooth, a new tooth grows in to replace it.
Some species of sharks have been known to shed as many as 50,000 teeth during their lifetime!
Trivia question: What is the name of the small, pink-flowering herb unique to Grand Cayman found growing in the margins of the sedge and saw grass wetland in the Trust’s Salina Reserve?
Look for the answer in next week’s feature!
The weekly column from the National Trust is submitted by Marnie Laing, Education Programs Manager at the Trust. The Trust can be contacted at 949-0121 or via email at [email protected]