Kayakers paddle back 70 years

Three people took a trip back in time last month when they travelled by kayak to a secluded lagoon off North Sound.

In fact, it could be said they went back 70 years and more as they searched for two specific plants in a place no longer named on local maps. Not only did they find the plants and rare butterflies, they may also have confirmed a place name in danger of being lost to history.

As related in a press release from the National Trust for the Cayman Islands, Tom Watling led Jessica Coni and James Macfee into the lagoon, looking for Glasswort and Sea Pusley.

Mr. Watling knew he had seen the plants there before; as the owner and operator of Cayman Kayaks, he leads eco-tours into the area regularly. On this trip, he was double-checking for Ann Stafford, who was curious to know if he had seen the two plants side by side.

This was important, Mrs. Stafford indicated, because Glasswort (Salicornia perennis) is the larval host plant of the tiny Grand Cayman Pygmy Blue Butterfly. Sea Pusley (Sesuvium portulacastrum) has pink flowers that provide nectar for the adult butterfly

Not only did the kayakers find the plants, they also saw four Pygmy Blues, 70 years after the endemic butterflies were first recorded by explorers Gerald Thompson and C. B. Lewis.

The plants plus the butterflies plus the location have led Mrs. Stafford to conclude that the secluded lagoon is what used to be known as English Sound.

Mrs. Stafford’s interest was kindled because she and entomologist Richard Askew are working on a book scheduled for publication this year, Butterflies of the Cayman Islands.

‘We have been searching for English Sound, the type locality of our Pygmy Blue butterfly and its very specific habitat. We have not been able to reach it by land. We think that Lewis and Thompson accessed this very shallow lagoon, where Black Mangrove and the minute butterfly’s larval and nectar plants grow, by small boat,’ she said.

Mr. Watling confirmed to her that the water was very shallow.

Lewis and Thompson’s discovery of the Pygmy Blue took place in June 1938, but identification of specimens was delayed by the outbreak of World War II, Mrs. Stafford reported. It was documented in 1943 as follows: ‘This tiny butterfly is indeed limited in its distribution for it was not found outside of an area of about fifty square yards, on the edge of a secluded lagoon, known as English Sound, lying to the east of and off of the Great Sound.’

The Great Sound is now known as North Sound.

‘English Sound was named after T. M. Savage English, a naturalist who resided in North Side from 1912-1914 and made observations, which were published in the Handbook of Jamaica for 1912 and Kew Bulletin 1913,’ Mrs. Stafford found.

‘I am very happy that Tom and his friends found not only the habitat, but also the butterflies,’ she said.

Colonies of the Pygmy Blue have since been found in other areas of Grand Cayman.

The English Sound location is about a half-hour trip from Cayman Kayaks’ base near the Kaibo in North Side, Mr. Watling said. He offers both morning and afternoon excursions, but requires reservations, which can be made by phoning 926-4467.

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