Cayman’s Blues get room to roam

Cayman’s endangered Blue Iguanas will have more room to roam, thanks to a commitment by the Cayman Islands Government.

The government has just formally committed to protecting almost 200 acres of Crown land in the east interior of Grand Cayman, through a 99-year peppercorn lease to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.

The decision by Cabinet is linked to a European Union grant to the National Trust, for managing this area to conserve Grand Cayman Blue Iguanas in the wild, along with their unique shrubland habitat. The grant also focuses on developing sustainable, low-impact nature tourism, education and recreation with a visitor centre and trail system.

Minister of Tourism and Environment, the Hon Charles Clifford, wishes the conservation effort every success.

‘The preservation of our indigenous Blue Iguana is important to our country and I am grateful Cabinet was able to allocate an appropriate piece of property to the National Trust to assist them in their efforts to save the Blue Iguanas. I also want to thank the European Union for their grant which makes this project possible. The grant along with the allocation of the land by Cabinet provides a tremendous boost to the National Trust’s efforts to establish a viable population of Blue Iguanas in their natural habitat,’ said Mr. Clifford.

According to Blue Iguana Recovery Programme Director, Fred Burton, the land is a vital piece to future protection of the Blue Iguana.

‘This is the breakthrough we have been working towards for years. With this new protected area secured and available for iguana releases, we are now in sight of the kind of success that is all too rare in the world today. The Grand Cayman Blue Iguana really can be saved from extinction, and in a few more years the Cayman Islands may be able to boast that they have achieved just that,’ said Mr. Burton.

According to Ms Gina Petrie-Ebanks, director of the Department of Environment, the lease will fulfil a vital role in the recovery of the Blue Iguana.

‘Without a protected area for the iguanas, the captive breeding programme has no real context and meaning. The whole point is to establish an unmanaged wild population,’ she said.

The newly protected area is almost all pristine dry shrubland, a wild rocky landscape with views over the generally low native vegetation. This is an environment that Blue Iguanas thrive in. It also supports a range of endangered plants, several of which, like the Grand Cayman Blue Iguana, are totally unique to the Cayman Islands.

The Trust must now acquire access to the land, and a Protected Area Planning Team will commence work on the overall land use plan, including site location for the visitor centre and layout of the trail system.

However, according to Ms Petrie-Ebanks, there is still one concern about the land.

‘There is a road corridor that will either have to be repositioned or removed for the reserve to go ahead,’ said Ms Petrie-Ebanks.

This planned extension to the East-West Arterial Highway, which was reported on in the 13 January edition of the Caymanian Compass, will also intersect the historic Mastic Trail should it ever go ahead.

In 2008 the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme began rearing over 100 hatchling Blue Iguanas, trusting that a new protected area would be established in time to release them in 2010. Now a release site is guaranteed, these young iguanas do indeed have a future, and another hundred or more Blue Iguanas will hopefully be hatched in 2009, for release in 2011.

Even though the future of the species looks more secure than ever, it will take years of hard work to bring the Blue Iguana back from the brink.

For more information on the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme, contact Fred Burton at [email protected].