Brac examines green iguana invasion

A meeting held on the Brac this week on the green iguana problem gave residents the opportunity to learn more about the status of the invasive reptiles on their island.

The meeting on Monday, Oct. 17, at the Aston Rutty Centre was organized by the Department of Environment.

“This meeting was part of our continued effort of trying to control the green iguanas in the Cayman Islands, from the point of a biosecurity issue,” said Department of Environment research officer Jane Haakonsson.

Speakers addressed a number of topics, including the population boom of the iguanas in Grand Cayman and the numbers behind it, what’s taking place with regard to the control effort, and the results so far.

On Little Cayman, the Green Iguana B Gonna team has been hunting the invasive species. The team’s Mike Vallee did a presentation on the work that Iguana B Gonna has been doing, as well as the importance of community response and awareness.

The meeting wrapped up with information on how to spot the difference between green iguanas and native iguanas, and what to do if a green iguana is spotted.

“The Brac has free-roaming Sister Islands iguanas, and what was very encouraging was that all the locals we spoke to were very aware that one kind of iguana is for us to protect, and one kind is for us to eradicate.”

“We hope to set up a formalized response team on the Brac. As it stands, all of our terrestrial officers are on Grand Cayman, so we are hoping to replicate the successful project we have going on Little Cayman, where local residents have come together and done a great job of tackling the green iguana problem as a community,” said Ms. Haakonsson.

“It is working very well on Little Cayman. They have done a great job through the Green Iguana B Gonna project, and we brought the coordinators Ed Houlcroft and Mike Vallee to the meeting to share their experience and expertise, and to drum up community support.”

The visit to the Brac proved eye-opening as well: When the team went searching for green iguanas, they caught nine in just one outing, an unexpectedly high number.

“This was on the north side, up by Dixon’s Road, and we caught seven hatchlings and two adults, which means breeding is going on, which is not a good sign,” said Ms. Haakonsson.

The team recorded GPS coordinates of all the green iguanas that have been caught or spotted to use for reference over time and to track their advancement.

“As part of the Brac visit, we also knocked on doors to let people know about the presence of greens and to ask the community to be on the lookout for them and record where they were spotted,” said Ms. Haakonsson. “The Brac has free-roaming Sister Islands iguanas, and what was very encouraging was that all the locals we spoke to were very aware that one kind of iguana is for us to protect, and one kind is for us to eradicate.”

She noted the importance of striking early in the Brac to avoid a situation like Grand Cayman is experiencing, where there are approximately 500,000 green iguanas.

“We are trying to do damage control on the Sister Islands, not only by enlisting the community, but also by educating the Port Authority on this issue, as we know they are arriving on containers,” she said.

“It is a much bigger problem on the Brac than Little Cayman due to increased traffic and containers that are on the island. If someone was there to inspect containers on arrival, we would be much better off.”

Brac residents and visitors are being asked to be vigilant.

“If you find one, give our hotline a call, keep your eye on it, if you can catch it, catch it, but only if you can do it safely, and if you dispatch it, do it humanely,” advised Ms. Haakonsson.

“Do not try to run over an iguana, as you may accidentally kill a native iguana.”
Overall, Ms. Haakonsson said, the team was encouraged by the meeting outcome.

“In terms of community action, we got a good response,” said Ms. Haakonsson.

“We have some dedicated volunteers on the Brac, including Bonnie Scott Edwards and Keino Daley, who expressed interest in heading up the community eradication efforts, as well as two DOE officers, marine parks officer Robert Walton and marine conservation officer Erbin Tibbetts, who is licenced to use a rifle.”

If a green iguana is spotted, Brac residents are asked to call the green iguana hotline at 917-7744.