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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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Christopher Columbus Condos is excited to announce that we’re working to become the first development on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lighting throughout the property.

A combined effort between CCC and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), owner Keith Holloway is overseeing installation of the new lighting. “The native turtle population is a true treasure of the Cayman Islands. We have had nesting turtles on our property and have safeguarded the nests and hatchlings through the years.” We’re thrilled to add new lighting to our list of ways to help out the turtles.

What is turtle-friendly lighting?

Turtle nesting season occurs yearly between May and September, and hatchlings appear between July and November. Momma turtles come up onto the beach to lay their eggs, and then after 50–60 days, the hatchlings emerge and begin their journey back to the ocean.

When baby turtles hatch, they use the light of the moon to help navigate them to the ocean. Bright, blue-spectrum lighting on buildings can mimic the lighting of the moon, disorienting the hatchlings into dangerous places like further up the beach, nearby properties, or even roads. LED lights sit more on the orange end of the light spectrum, which doesn’t bother or confuse turtle hatchlings.

Due to the endangered status of green, loggerhead, and hawksbill turtles, the DOE is working on an official policy that would require new developments on Seven Mile Beach to implement turtle-friendly lights. These regulations would be based on similar ones enacted along the Florida coastline, which have been incredibly successful and world renowned in helping preserve turtle populations.

Attractive and environmentally friendly

In addition to helping out our turtle friends, LED lighting is also more energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing. The warm lighting creates a cozy, modern atmosphere outside the condos and around the pool. Enjoy watching the stars without distracting bright lights, and don’t worry, you’ll still be able to see to make your way back inside after taking in every second of gorgeous Cayman sunsets on the beach.

As Holloway says, Christopher Columbus is “invested in keeping the property current and modern for the enjoyment of our guests.” New lighting is another improvement that’s been made in recent years, in addition to in-unit wi-fi, enlarged laundry facilities, a roomy oceanside gazebo, and more.

Heads up for turtle nests

If you notice any turtle tracks on our segment on the beach, let a CCC staff member know or call the DOE directly as soon as possible. The DOE will properly secure and tag the nest so the hatchlings can have the best possible chances at survival. Remember, disturbing a turtle nest is against Cayman Islands’ law. If you see anyone harming a turtle or a nest, you should notify CCC staff or the Cayman police.

Since the DOE began monitoring nests on Seven Mile Beach in 1998, nest numbers have increased from just 30 a year to over 300. We hope that our new turtle-friendly lighting can help foster a comfortable and safe environment for many more nests to come!

*Photos courtesy of condo owner Marsha O'Daniel. They were taken in 2014 when the DOE came to CCC's section of the beach to assist some of the turtle hatchlings and allowed lucky viewers a chance to see the baby turtles up close.

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The months of May to November are turtle nesting season here in Grand Cayman. Sea turtles, a symbol of national pride in Cayman, were once abundant here and have since become an endangered species. The average number of nests found during a season is 43 which is down from millions as the Cayman Islands were once the largest rookery for green turtles in the Caribbean. Generally, there are 80-120 eggs per nest. Since 2000, the Department of Environment has been conducting conservation efforts capturing, tagging and releasing turtles to determine population size, migration patterns, growth rates, habitat use and diving behavior. There are four species of Turtles on Grand Cayman: the green sea turtle, hawksbill, loggerhead and leatherback. The green sea turtles and loggerheads are typically the most predominate nesters each year.

The DOE begins to monitor the beaches looking for turtle nests during nesting season. When a nest is discovered on the beach it is marked and sometimes enclosed with rocks or beach chairs for protection. We've been very fortunate at Christopher Columbus Condos to have several nests on our beach over the years. After finding a nest the DOE then monitors them, and when the approximate time for hatching approaches a DOE employee will carefully dig down into the nest to check the hatching progress. There are usually some eggs that have hatched. These baby turtles are put back into the nest and covered up to await the hatching of the rest of the eggs. We generally get an estimated time that the turtles will actually hatch. However, sometimes we will all gather at the beach for days anticipating the big event!

Turtles hatch at night. When the turtles do hatch they literally erupt out of the nest to the great delight of everyone watching! Hundreds of tiny baby turtles pour out of the nest and hopefully head for the ocean. It is such a treat to see this miraculous occurrence. If you are lucky enough to witness this migration to the ocean you won't soon forget it!!

The island community in conjunction with the DOE has taken it upon themselves to be "guardians" of nesting turtles and hatchlings. As recommended by the DOE most beachfront condos and property owners will dim their lights at night during nesting season as the lights can scare female turtles away from the beach (which results in them choosing not to nest). Hatchlings also use the moon and star light that bounces off the ocean as their guide to the sea. When bright artificial light is present they tend to get confused and head towards interior land (where they will most likely not survive). Everyone on the island is encouraged to help with conservation efforts, and most of us take it upon ourselves happily to protect our beloved turtles.

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