Get close to nature at Grand Cayman’s environmental attractions, and learn more about how the island values its native plants and animals.
Grand Cayman has long made coral reef preservation a priority, but the island’s role as steward of the environment doesn’t stop there. Grand Cayman’s turtle farm has raised and released over 30,000 sea turtles into the sea—helping to replenish a dwindling population. The island’s botanical gardens preserve native plants and provide sanctuary for the legendary blue iguana, of which there are only about 250 left in the world. Stingray City attracts undersea wildlife to one protected ocean location where snorkelers can have a hands-on experience without causing stress to the animals. Even Jean-Michel Cousteau, an explorer and environmentalist, visits a kids’ camp, focused on learning about and preserving the environment.
One is never too young to start being an ambassador for the Earth. As a naturalist pointed out to me, encouraging children to interact with the environment when they’re young helps them make future decisions about the environment that will benefit society. Visitors of all ages can learn stewardship from the many conservation attractions on Grand Cayman. Here are some highlights:
I could spend the better part of a day at the Boatswain’s Beach Turtle Farm viewing the behavior of enormous breeding turtles, watching my daughter delicately handle young ones in the touch tanks, hiking the nature trails or snorkeling in a lagoon filled with colorful marine life and a beautiful synthetic reef. The 23-acre farm, home to over 11,000 green sea turtles, is full of visitor delights and also houses a world-class research facility that is focused on the preservation of sea turtles. The Cayman Islands’ preservation efforts go well beyond its borders. In addition to the thousands of turtles bred and released into the nearby ocean, the Turtle Farm also sent 150 Kemp’s Ridley turtles, one of the most endangered species, to their Mexico home in order to help save them from near extinction.
The Boatswain’s Beach Turtle Farm is a 10-minute drive from Seven Mile beach. If you time it right, you can see turtle feedings at 11:30 a.m. or 3:30 p.m. www.boatswainsbeach.ky
Stingray City is the most famous shallow snorkeling site in the world. A sandy location in the waters off Grand Cayman, Stingray City attracts dozens of huge stingrays that are gentle enough to be touched. The stingrays are accustomed to humans, because they have frequented the area for over a decade in the hopes of nabbing seafood scraps from visitors’ hands. I’ve visited the location on numerous occasions. A stingray’s hungry touch felt like nothing more than a small vacuum cleaner sucking out of my hand. At 3 years old, my youngest daughter could not get enough of the mild creatures. The experience allows visitors to interact and better appreciate stingrays and other ocean creatures, just like going on a safari in the sea. Numerous tour operators offer trips to Stingray City, where visitors can snorkel, dive, or simply wade in the water with the animals.
The Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park, a 30-minute drive from Grand Cayman’s capital, George Town, is a bit of a misnomer in terms of its name. Yes, the 65-acre park has some gardens, but what is far more prevalent are the beautiful, tranquil wooded areas that feature plants, trees and animals that are indigenous to the Cayman Islands. Visit early in the morning when it’s coolest, and hike the Woodland Trail for just under a mile through swampy areas, canopies of mahogany trees, and protected habitats for blue iguanas and bird species like the Caribbean Dove. The trail is estimated to contain more than 50 percent of the native flora of the Cayman Islands.
Along the way, check out the blue iguana habitat—captive breeding grounds where reptiles that were near extinction two decades ago are now residing in the park. Also worth exploring is the park’s pretty wetlands area, a haven for the threatened West Indian Whistling Duck among other species. www.botanic-park.ky
“Everything is connected,” says Jean-Michel Cousteau in regards to the environment. “One person, one child, can make a difference.” And so the marine explorer, activist and son of Jacques Cousteau, created the Ambassadors of the Environment youth program at the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman to help teach children how to make a difference. Through the eco-adventure program, naturalists teach visitors how everything in nature is connected. Children experience reef discovery labs where they can view microscopic marine life, enjoy kayak tours to explore mangroves that are the “nurseries of the sea” for fish, and even learn about videography to make underwater movies like Cousteau, among other fun and educational activities. www.ritzcarlton.com/grandcayman