Little Cayman’s Mike Vallee is committed to protecting Cayman’s environment, both on land and at sea. These days, along with fellow Little Cayman resident Ed Houlcroft, Mr. Vallee’s current focus is on eradicating a certain wily invader that has successfully made itself at home on Grand Cayman with the launch of a new program called Green Iguana B’Gonna.
Respected for his work with Little Cayman’s native Sister Islands rock iguanas, Mr. Vallee said he noticed in 2012 that a few Common Iguanas, commonly referred to as green iguanas, had made their way to Little Cayman. Concerned by the invaders’ potential threat to the very rare and threatened rock iguanas, over the next two years, he caught and humanely dispatched the 20 or so greens he spotted.
“Most people have never seen a green iguana on Little Cayman,” said Mr. Vallee. “That is a good thing – we are trying to keep it that way. The iguanas that are reported immediately are usually captured.”
Mr. Vallee said that it is possible to control and possibly eradicate all green iguanas in Little Cayman. At this point, with so few green iguanas on little Cayman, there is very little direct threat to the few thousand local iguanas.
As it happened, his efforts dovetailed with the National Trust’s plan to address the much more serious invasion of greens on Grand Cayman.
“This is a great example of how a little push can have a profound result,” said the National Trust for the Cayman Islands’ Environmental Programs Manager Paul Watler.
“This project spun off of an EU-funded grant, which funded a regional effort for overseas territories to examine methods for dealing with invasive alien species,” he said. “As a result of an assessment on Little Cayman, the community got very concerned about becoming overrun by green iguanas. So much so, that they pooled together donations to do something positive to curb the population.”
Mr. Vallee’s group uses both old-fashioned and sophisticated techniques to track and capture the invasive greens, which include group nighttime searches of trees with high-powered flashlights, setting up cameras with time-lapse video, and kayaking Little Cayman’s ponds.
“As there are few of them for now, it’s a little like looking for a needle in a haystack,” said Mr. Vallee. “We appreciate the public letting us know when they think they’ve spotted one and we have the resources at hand to set up surveillance so we can nip the green iguana invasion in the bud.”
While most of the greens that have been caught have been young and not of breeding age, the group recently captured a large female carrying 30 eggs.
“I would call that a big win for Green Iguana B’Gonna,” he said.
Mr. Vallee noted that one of the biggest concerns is the invaders’ high reproduction rates. An adult green iguana can produce over 10 times the number of offspring that Sister Islands rock iguanas put out every year.
“Overpopulation on such a small island is a major concern,” he continued. “Once these prolific aliens start producing [as early as 18 months compared to three to five years for local iguanas], it will snowball fast on such a small island.”
An established green iguana population may also cause habitat destruction for not only iguanas, but for bird species and plants.
He also noted there is also the potential for new disease that Little Cayman’s native plants and animals will not tolerate.
“As many Grand Cayman residents know, green iguanas are also quite the garden pest,” he said.
“Eating people’s prized crops, as well as burrowing into sea walls, defecating in pools, getting caught up in power lines, the list can go on for days.”
Mr. Vallee said establishing consistency in the way any new greens are handled is one of his goals, as is building community awareness and involvement.
Mr. Vallee feels the response has been extremely favorable and declares things are going well so far.
At the moment, input from the public is highly encouraged to help with the program’s continued success.
“We would like to thank the Little Cayman community, the National Trust for the Cayman Islands and the Department of Environment’s terrestrial research unit for all the support we have had,” he said.
Once the program is well-established, Mr. Vallee said, he hopes to expand to Cayman Brac, where green iguanas are now also being spotted.
“We have the experience of having an eradication program in place before they become a true pest as they are in Grand Cayman, and hopefully can apply what we’ve learned to Cayman Brac as well.”
Mr. Watler noted that even though the grant-funded project ends this year, Mr. Vallee and Mr. Houlcroft have the resources they need for this program to continue.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep the project going for another few years, just to keep the green iguana population from brimming over, until a serious national strategy can be brought to bear,” he added.
Report green iguana sightings on Little Cayman to Mr. Vallee or Mr. Houlcroft at [email protected]
Green iguanas are an invasive species that has successfully colonized Grand Cayman. However, they are still a rarity in Little Cayman. A new program is aiming to eradicate them from the island before they become a major pest.