The National Conservation Council is requesting public input on its proposed plan to protect the rare Aegiphila caymanensis shrub, which is unique to Grand Cayman and has been listed as critically endangered.

The plant, which the NCC said has no traditional name due to being extremely rare, is a woody, clambering shrub with soft, downy leaves.

The species is listed as protected under the National Conservation Law, but the NCC is seeking to implement a plan to protect the rare shrub which would ban taking, possessing, purchasing or selling the plant without a permit.

According to the draft conservation plan the Aegiphila caymanensis has only three known locations, comprising a total of 14 specimens.

“Two were left isolated within a recently cleared dry forest in East End, and 10 specimens survive in former farm land near a dry forest ridge in North Side. The other two known specimens are located in West Bay, off Conch Point Road adjacent to a fragment of dry forest,” the plan stated.

Additional specimens are likely to exist in other locations, it said, but given the absence of sightings during past surveys and targeted fieldwork to date, “it is evident that this species is extremely rare, and endangered by habitat loss”.

According to the plan, as a species inhabiting higher ground, Aegiphila caymanensis may not be immediately threatened by rising sea levels, but other direct and indirect impacts of climate change – along with alien invasive plant pests – are among potential threats.

Among the proposed conservation strategies are: protecting its habitat should additional specimens or populations be found in the wild, and artificial propagation and/or seed banking of specimens to maintain a reserve of the species’ genetic diversity so it could be re-established in event of the loss of the wild population.

The Department of Environment, according to the plan, will research and monitor the distribution and health of the shrub and maintain collaborative research arrangements to improve understanding of the status, biology and ecology of this species.

The plan proposes that within six weeks of implementation, all suspected specimens of Aegiphila caymanensis that have already been taken or been artificially propagated from the wild or are otherwise in cultivation, must be brought to the attention of the DoE for granting permission under the NCL, or surrendered for conservation relocation at the department’s discretion.

“Three months after the date this conservation plan comes into effect, the knowing possession of any unpermitted cultivated specimens of Aegiphila caymanensis will be treated as an offence under s.33 (1) of the NCL,” the plan said.

It also proposes banning the export of Aegiphila caymanensis from Grand Cayman to Little Cayman, Cayman Brac or anywhere else in the world without a permit under the NCL.

The public consultation period runs from 20 Nov. to 15 Jan.

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