Conservation, Customer Service and Tourism Awards; 2017 is off to a Good Start at the Southern Cross Club


So far, 2017 has been a remarkable year for the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman. First, the online travel site named the resort to its top 25 in the Caribbean in two categories based on customer reviews: Best Hotel for Service and Best for Romance. Adding to the awards, administrations manager Neil van Niekerk was named an “Emerging Hero in Tourism” by the Cayman Islands government, and resort owner Peter Hillenbrand was recognized for his “Long Service to Cayman Tourism.”


Neil van Niekerk (center) receiving recognition an “Emerging Pioneer” for tourism of the Cayman Islands.

Hillenbrand has also received a lifetime achievement award from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association for taking a run-down resort 40 years ago making it one of Cayman’s best. With a stunning location, distinct personality and outstanding service, the Southern Cross Club keeps its guests returning year after year for its barefoot elegance.

“The Southern Cross Club is the proudest achievement in my life,” said Hillenbrand. “But here are many people who also work hard to make the resort the success.”


Peter Hillenbrand receiving his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hon. Moses Kirkconnell, Minister for Tourism

 Peter Hillenbrand credits resort staff with high standards in customer service and a shared mission to preserve Little Cayman’s natural environment, which guests love. This commitment to conservation is the reason he offers the resort and his own home every winter to the Grouper Moon Project, an on-going effort to protect the last known healthy and growing Nassau Grouper spawning aggregation site in the Caribbean.The Cayman Islands Department of Environment and the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF), a non-profit that aims to protect marine life through research and education, have been monitoring and studying the annual aggregation of groupers at a site off the West end of Little Cayman where they come to spawn. The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) joined the effort in 2011 and now provides financial aid plus an educational platform to create awareness. Without the help and participation of the Southern Cross Club and the entire Little Cayman community, the important work being done by these scientists could not happen.

“We came perilously close to losing the aggregation site in 2001,” said Hillenbrand, who is an active team member. “Today, the project is a model for the importance of protection, fishing regulation, and the science it takes to teach us what we need to do to manage sustainable fisheries.”


Sir Richard Branson preparing for a dive at the Grouper spawning site in Little Cayman. He was invited by Dr. Guy Harvey, (left) to come observe the Grouper Moon Project. Lauren Keil, Foundation Manager of Unite BVI is shown next to Sir Richard and Holly Branson is behind her father.

This February, entrepreneur, and philanthropist Sir Richard Branson made two dives at the aggregation site at the invitation of Dr. Guy Harvey of the GHOF. Sir Richard maintains a home in the British Virgin Islands, and because the Nassau Grouper is critically endangered across the Caribbean, Dr. Harvey wanted him to see the successful conservation work being done in Little Cayman.

 “We had the great pleasure of diving in the spawning site and seeing the remarkable spectacle for ourselves. To me it was one of the top 20 wonders of the world,” wrote Sir Richard in his blog about the experience. “I’ve come back to the BVI determined to see if there’s’ any chance of reinvigorating groupers here.”Education and awareness are key components of the Grouper Moon Project. The idea of exporting the Grouper Moon Project to the British Virgin Islands and reviving historical spawning sites there is an exciting prospect.

“This year we witnessed the recruitment of many 6-year-olds which suggest that a large number of the juveniles we saw five years ago — we filmed them in the back reef and around Owen Island — survived to adulthood!” said Dr. Harvey. “This highlights the importance of a dedicated long term monitoring and protection effort.”

“There are no accessible places like Little Cayman left in the Caribbean,” said Peter Hillenbrand. “What she is, and what she means to those of us who love her, is precious beyond compare. There is nothing more important than caring for our planet, our earth, our marine resources.”

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About Author

The Cayman Bottom Times is news collaboration by five leading dive operators to promote the superb diving of the Cayman Islands, and keep the diving public informed of important developments and events. Divetech, Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports and Sunset house in Grand Cayman, and the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman, all members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, represent more than 100 years of solid experience in a destination that is recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving. With a unique combination of deep wall and shallow reef diving, several wrecks, and world-famous Stingray City, the Cayman Islands has cemented its place as the top diving destination in the Caribbean. Offering diverse and wide-ranging dive programs on both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, the members of this dive group represent the best Cayman has to offer; Divetech (, Ocean Frontiers (, Red Sail Sports Grand Cayman (, Sunset House ( and the Southern Cross Club ( For more information on The Cayman Bottom Times contact Adela Gonzales White at or call (941) 350-8735.

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