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Blog Home > Archive (January, 2019)

The blue iguana is a beautiful and important animal native to the Cayman Islands. The blue iguanas, or blues, were once faced with extinction, but are now on their way back to a stable, healthy population. We were lucky enough to get some insights into how the blue iguanas are being revitalized from Nick Ebanks. Nick is the Operations Manager of the Blue Iguana Recovery, which is an initiative of The National Trust for the Cayman Islands. The recovery itself is located on the grounds of Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park on the north side of the island, about a 45 minute drive from the condos.

The Blue Iguana Recovery Program was founded in 1990 as an effort to save the critically endangered species, whose population was down to only 30. The facility cares for and monitors blue iguanas, aids in the breeding process, strategically releases ready iguanas into the wild, and works with research institutions to help ensure genetic diversity within the wild population. In July 2018, the program hit a huge milestone when the wild population reached 1,000 blues. Though the program has successfully saved the blue iguanas from extinction, the work isn’t over. The ultimate goal is for the blues to be able to naturally breed and support themselves in the wild, thus eliminating the need for the program altogether. Nick says, “If we lose our jobs—perfect. That’s the goal.”


The very photogenic Peter

As Nick showed us around the rescue, I asked him a few questions about himself. Nick is a native Caymanian from West Bay. Though he didn’t always expect to be a conservationist, he’s grown to deeply appreciate and respect all forms of living creatures. After a period of time working with bats, he began volunteering at the iguana rescue around four years ago. After getting plenty of on-the-job experience, he worked all the way up to his operations manager position today. When asked what he likes most about his job, he said he really enjoys spending time outdoors, and working with great, like-minded people who are all very dedicated to taking care of the iguanas. He said conservation is very fulfilling and meaningful work, plus it’s an added bonus to be free from the restrictions that come along with an office job.

As we looked around, one of Nick’s coworkers, warden Alberto, joined us. Alberto showed us the “main attraction” blue iguana, Peter. Peter was born in 2003 to wild parents, but he liked to hang around Botanic Park so much that he basically adopted the staff himself! The program recruited Peter as an educational animal since he is so friendly—he enjoys being picked up by Alberto to be shown to visitors and isn’t bothered at all by attention. As I soon learned, Alberto himself is also a bit of a park star. He has a huge heart for the iguanas and is a beloved tour guide, so I’d highly recommend you request him if you stop by!


Alberto and Nick 

In addition to meeting a few of these sweet iguanas, the best thing about the tour was learning all about the animals from Nick. The iguanas blue color can change due to their environment, the sun, their food, and mood. It’s also a great indicator of overall health, so the staff monitors each iguana's color every day. One of the neatest things I saw while visiting was a small territorial spat between two roaming iguanas, Shreddy and Orro. Nick explained that Orro tread a little too closely on Shreddy’s territory, then pointed out how Orro took up a submissive posture and her color turned more light blue as a show of, “Hey, I know you’re top iguana, it’s all good here.” It was very cool to see up close!

As you might have guessed, Nick’s passion for animals and the Cayman wilderness extends beyond just his day job. At home he is fostering a dog named Vinny. He also tries to spend as much time as possible outdoors, doing everything from climbing, exploring, and observing native birds and insects to getting in a game of ultimate frisbee. “I like to keep it nice and simple—busy and simple,” he says. Once he reaches the goal of the blue iguanas being able to sustain themselves in the wild, he'd like to work with revitalizing native bird populations.


A beautiful blue enjoying basking in the sun in Botanic Park

I highly recommend you come visit the blues yourself the next time you’re on island and say hi to Nick, Alberto, and Peter. You can catch one of two daily tours given, Monday through Saturday, or you can schedule a private tour. Then you should see if you can spot some of the roaming blues in Botanic Park! Check out their website for more information about tour times.

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I was so excited when I first heard about the "Explorer Passport" created by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.  I've been visiting Cayman for about 5 years, and was surprised to discover that I'd been to less than half of the places included in the passport. There are some points of interest that I hadn't even heard of which goes to show there is always something new to discover on this island.

The passport is an awesome activity booklet that the National Trust created to promote the cultural, historical and natural wonders of the island. It has 39 points of interest inside and comes with a poster-map and stickers to place on each location as you visit them.

The booklet describes the significance of each attraction and has extra tips for things to do, try or look for at each place. You'll find yourself eager to go to each spot so you can proudly put another sticker on your map. Kids will love the stickers and fun activities, and adults—you will love developing a deep sense of connection to the island as you learn more about what makes it so special; and who are we kidding, you will love the stickers, too!

The fun doesn't stop with the stickers and the map either. There are extra tips in the booklet which are presented as 3 things to check off at every place. The tips give even more reason to visit each attraction and made me want to revisit most of the places I had already been so I could experience something I missed the first time. For instance, one of the points of interest is Boggy Sand Road; the book explains that the street is lined with historic homes and the extra tips ask if you've seen:

  • Gingerbread fretwork (each district was known for its unique style)
  • Zinc roofs and expansive verandas
  • Traditional sand yards trimmed with conch shells

Although I've been to this sweet street before, I didn't know to look for these things that are culturally significant to the island. It made me want to go back and check off each item and read more about the traditional architecture in Cayman. 

The map even includes some culturally important places that few locals know about. While I was taking pictures of Miss Lassie's House, another place in the passport, a jogger approached on what seemed like her daily route. She saw me taking photos of the house and then saw the house. She stopped, pulled out her phone and took a couple of snapshots of the place saying she had never noticed it before. It's amazing what you miss when you're not looking for something.

There's so much joy in the "hunt," and taking your passport along on an island road-trip makes for easy exploring. A lot of the attractions are free and you can drive up to several of them anytime (even on Sundays when many island shops and attractions are closed).

So grab the passport and hit the road for some adventure. I suggest taking the day as it comes. Just pick a place on the map and go! Since some of the attractions are "off the beaten path" you'll discover a lot of things along the way, too. For instance, my husband and I found Dart Park by The National Trust—one of the stops on the map. At Dart Park you'll find super cool trees, an iron-shore full of fossils and little hermit crabs. It wasn't on the map, but we wouldn't have discovered it if we hadn't pulled in to see the Trust. We also happened upon a stretch of highway that followed the southern coastline just past Miss Lassie's House. Somehow in the five years I'd been frequenting Cayman we always bypassed that stretch of coastal highway and it was really pretty. I was so glad we found it.

Some of my favorite spots on the map have been Spotts Beach (for the sea turtles!), Crystal Caves and Heritage Beach. Honestly, I've enjoyed visiting them all, but I don't want to spoil any more of the fun for you.

Pick up your very own "Explorer Passport" at the National Trust and start discovering Cayman like never before. The packet only costs $10 KYD, and you'll have a blast checking off each location. Enjoy, and let us know when you've checked off all 39!

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