I’ve been here nearly a month now, and one of the perks of living on an island in the middle of the Atlantic is the abundance of wildlife you can see, either through snorkeling, scuba diving or in some cases, simply through knowing the best places to go (or at least, being with and talking to people who know).
In a previous blog post I already mentioned I managed to spot a beautiful, enormous sea turtle just off the shore at Spotts Beach. That was pretty spectacular but nothing compared to my first weekend here, when I was invited onto a party boat to celebrate my new colleague’s boyfriend’s birthday. First stop on the boat cruise – a place called Stingray City, named (obviously) for the abundance of Stingrays that gather there. The old story goes that fishermen used to clean their catches in this area, and the rays would swarm to feed on the free scraps. Even though the fishermen no longer come, the rays still do and have become quite a tourist attraction.
When we pulled up to Stingray City there were already about 8 boats there, it was a busy Sunday afternoon with everybody off work and holiday makers still enjoying the tail end of the summer break. From the boat you could see the rays, dozens of them swimming around between the legs of all the people – it was a pretty amazing thing to watch. We didn’t waste any time jumping in the water to join them.
The boat drivers would lift the rays into our arms so we could hold them, and apparently it’s good luck to kiss them so myself and Mr Ray had a cheeky peck! They feel so weird, like a wet mushroom, but warm. I was nervous at first – the Steve Irwin incident has stayed with me even though it was 10 years ago and a total freak event – but they really are gorgeous, gentle creatures. I loved the whole experience, and even got a back massage from one of them!
After Stingray City, we headed further up the coast to Starfish point, a busy little cove full of starfish (surprisingly) and more tourists. We were told not to lift the starfish out of the water as it can damage them but we could hold them under the water. They felt firmer than I’d imagined, almost not real like they were made of rock. We didn’t stay long, but it was a lovely pit stop for quarter of an hour or so.
Outside of the water though, there’s plenty of wildlife to explore on land. Grand Cayman is the native home of the Blue Iguana – an endangered species that has been saved from the brink of extinction in recent years; their numbers fell to around 15 in 2003 and the breeding effort was significantly increased. Blue Iguanas can only be found on Grand Cayman, and the majority of them live in the Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park on the North Side of the island, out towards Rum Point. On one of my days off I thought it was the perfect time to explore this rainforest-esque haven.
When I visited the park the breeding iguanas (which made up a large chunk of the total population of blue igunanas) were being kept captive in pens due to a large amount of killings by stray dogs and cats. However on my wander around I did spot a pretty large guy in one of the pens, too far away to take a decent picture though. He looked happy enough, wandering around and soaking in the sun. Still, I moved on – and later got up close and personal with a smaller blue iguana wandering the road. If I’d felt braver I probably could have stroked him but with signs up all over the park warning of biting iguanas taking people’s fingers, the urge passed quickly. Still I got some great photos.
I saw so many local birds I lost count, but the ones that stuck out were the bright Green Cayman Parrot (endemic to the Cayman Islands), the West Indian Woodpeckers and the West Indian Whistling ducks, which were particularly adorable with their high pitched squeaky whistles.
There aren’t many in the way of native mammals on Cayman, other than the Central American Agouti which is a rat-type creature, about the size of a large rabbit. I was warned that although they are quite common in the Botanical Park, they are very shy and rarely seen, but that didn’t stop me looking. I must have gotten lucky, as I was just about to head back to the car when I spotted one running into the bushes! I wasn’t fast enough to snap a photo but I saw it clearly, comparing it to the wikipedia photo when I got home it was definitely an agouti. Hopefully people will believe me!