The interior of Grand Cayman’s East End is not a place that sees many visitors, largely due to the inaccessibility of the land.
One area known as the Salina Reserve was established by a Crown land grant to the National Trust for the Cayman Islands and is protected by legislation.
Measuring more than 600 acres, it gets its name from the traditional place name for a large freshwater wetland in the southern part of the Reserve. According to the National Trust website, 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 Trust notes there are no clear trails through the Reserve, and access is possible only by foot, 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,” it states.
The site made the news in January 2015 due to a large fire that swept through the reserve’s grassland areas, burning close to 200 acres. It was later determined that two rare and threatened life forms making the Salina their home, the Cayman Islands blue iguanas and a rare plant, a small, pink-flowering herb, Agalinis kingsii, were not significantly affected by the fire. A study conducted in 1999 concluded that Agalinis kingsii regrows quickly in zones burned by fire.
“The ‘Salina’ itself, flooded in summer with a lush growth of cutting grass and other sedges, usually dries in the winter,” the Trust states.
“The vegetation becomes brown and crisp, and fire can spread from adjacent farmland or from a lightning strike. In some years, the entire Salina sedge wetland may burn, killing woody vegetation which tries to become established between fires. The sedges grow up again from their persistent roots, as soon as the next year’s rains flood the wetland.”
Along with grasslands, the Salina Reserve is comprised of sedge and buttonwood swamps, dry shrubland and forest.
The wetlands “form the northern margin of the extensive fresh groundwater resources which underlie the East End district,” the Trust states.
“‘Dry cays’ – small islands of higher land within the wetland, support their own distinctive vegetation – and the higher land supports at least three distinct variants of Cayman’s characteristic semi-deciduous dry forest community. So it is that examples of a range of Cayman’s wildlife habitats are protected in perpetuity in this substantial protected area,” it notes.
“Remarkably, an abundant population of … 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.”
The reserve is home to blue iguanas, many of which have been released there as part of the Blue Iguana Recovery Program starting in 1993. They make their homes in small soil pockets within dry thickets, habitat not recently affected by the periodic dry season fires.
“The lack of access to the Reserve due to its unfriendly – and even dangerous – sharp and rocky terrain, is the iguanas’ best protection, providing an effective deterrent to feral dogs and cats,” states the Trust.
“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.”
On its website, the Trust notes that a number of biological surveys carried out in the Reserve have established that the preservation of such an area is probably the best hope for a number of native species which do not adjust to closer contact with a human environment.
At least three 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,” states the Trust.