It’s no secret that the Cayman Islands are notorious for spectacular scuba diving, but why do the Cayman Islands differ from many other beautiful countries lying across the Caribbean wonderland?
The Cayman Islands are a British Overseas Territory in the centre of the Caribbean Sea, comprised of three islands. Grand Cayman, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac sit on the Cayman ridge which spreads along the seafloor from Cuba to the Bay of Honduras. The Cayman Islands have the perfect components to create dive sites even the most seasoned diver will enjoy. There is very little run-off from rivers and agriculture, so visibility is exceptionally astounding, and close to shore some of the reefs drop off into the abyss, meaning megafauna encounters are common! Now the Cayman Islands have over 365 dive sites, one for each day of the year.
There is a plethora of dive sites on Grand Cayman, providing opportunities for all levels of divers to explore. Popular dive sites include the Kittiwake wreck, and Stingray City as mentioned in National Geographic. Stingray City is perhaps one of the best shallow dives in the whole world, as soon as you enter the water you are surrounded by many prehistoric-looking southern stingrays! In the past the sandbar was used by fishermen to discard unwanted fish, the fishermen have moved on but the stingrays remain.
The Cayman Turtle Centre is a conservation centre that raises the endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) to farm turtle meat to take the pressure off wild populations. Eating turtle is a tradition in the Caymans dating back hundreds of years. Whatever side of the argument you’re on about eating turtles, you can’t argue with the choice of farming over hunting.
The sister islands are much smaller than Grand Cayman, both lying roughly east to west. Little Cayman offers popular dive destinations, Bloody Bay and Jackson’s Bight. The north side of Little Cayman offers depths as shallow as 6m, which descend down into the deep blue further than you or I could venture. Cayman Brac is popular with nature lovers, and here you can find the only Russian warship (M/V Captain Keith Tibbetts) in the western hemisphere accessible to divers. Other interesting sites are Cemetery Wall and Wilderness Wall, both walls with a high diversity of hard and soft corals.
Dive tourism is a highly valued source of income for Caymanians, which means the importance of conservation is understood and generally respected across the islands. Marine conservation law was first instigated in 1979, and since then over 250 mooring buoys have been installed to reduce anchor damage, and a series of regulated zones have been established. Some zones are established to give species such as conch and lobster time to recover, no taking of any marine life in other zones, and no diving zones, just to name a few.
Lionfish (Pterois volitans, Pteriois miles) are venomous fishes native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, and although they are beautiful they will eat anything that fits in their mouth. These predators were introduced into the Western Atlantic and Caribbean most likely through the aquarium trade. The Cayman Islands government have regular lionfish cullers that spend their days killing as many of these pests as possible. In addition to regular lionfish culling, there are culling tournaments that take place. Dive shops, scientists, locals and tourists get together to tackle the lionfish problem, and turn the problem into a huge barbeque. On Little Cayman there is a lionfish hotline, if you can report the last location of the fish, a skilled and trained team will be deployed the find and eliminate the target!
The eco-friendly islands understand the importance of the sea and services provided, and have invested an incredible amount of money and resources into marine protection. The Cayman Islands are leading the way in marine protection, and setting a prime example for other countries to follow.