Archive for Blue Iguana Recovery Programme
In a world where most news about environmental issues is bad news, it is a huge relief to stumble across a success story. While filming out in the Cayman Islands, LMV has had the good fortune to do some volunteer work for the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme (BIRP), based in the Queen Elizabeth Botanical Park in the dense shrubland of Grand Cayman’s interior.
The Blue Iguana (Cyclura lewisi) is the largest native land animal on the Grand Cayman and is unique to that island. In 1990, a population survey of the lizard revealed around 150 in the wild. This number plummeted 12 years later to between 9 and 24. Invasive species (such as fire ants, rats, cats, and dogs), habitat destruction, and people were to blame. BIRP was established in conjunction with the CI National Trust in 1990, at the time of the first survey. While wild populations of Blue Iguanas were declining, BIRP begun a captive breeding programme in 1995-1996 that aimed to release young iguanas after they had grown big enough to be safe from snakes and cats. This usually takes about two years. The success of this programme has seen wild Blue Iguana populations jump to 637 (according to the most recent survey) with a further 300 still in captivity in BIRP. 12-16 Blues were also shipped off to various zoos in the USA as reserve breeding stock in case BIRP failed. They were given to the zoos of San Diego, Milwaukee County, Texas/Fort Worth and Indianapolis as well as the Shed Aquarium in Chicago. Breeding has not been as successful as on Grand Cayman but both San Diego zoo and the Shed Aquarium have had limited success bringing the total (official) Blue Iguana population outside of the Caymans to around 24.
As numbers are healthier, BIRP are now winding down the practice of collecting wild Blue Iguana eggs to give them a head start by hatching them in captivity. The protected areas around Grand Cayman are being expanded and public outreach aims to educate local people about the need to protect such a unique species. Iguana populations (although not Blue Iguanas) are still in decline on the other islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac and even Blues on Grand Cayman are not completely free from danger. Wild cats and dogs are still a threat and the human development on island has only increased in pace. For now though, BIRP has had resounding success in protecting a unique species from extinction. Please visit their website blueiguana.ky to find out more.
Although having been in the Cayman Islands for a week, LMV director Ed Scott-Clarke is still not sure whether he can stay to complete filming of Plastic Shores. Upon arrival on Tuesday (20th), his passport was seized by immigration and he has yet to have it returned. The main bone of contention seems to be what and who LMV will be filming and the amount of time LMV proposes to stay on the islands. The latter point is understandable, considering the financial status of the islands and the eagerness of many to gain citizenship here.
The Cayman Islands are well-known for diving and sailing holidays, as well as beautiful beaches and smart restaurants. Grand Cayman, the largest of the three islands (the others being Cayman Brac and Little Cayman), also hosts the world’s only population of Blue Iguanas. LMV visited the Blue Iguana Recovery Programme and met up with its head warden John Marotta. The Recovery Programme has been a spectacular success story for conservation, bringing the Blue Iguana back from functional extinction in 2004 to a population nearing 700 today.
John took LMV to a beach set away from the more popular tourist spots where he normally collects vegetation to feed the captive lizards in the programme (the programme makes sure that all food fed to the Blue Iguanas is representative of their natural diet and comes from the Cayman Islands). Whereas all the other beaches LMV has seen on the islands are made up of pristine white sand, this shoreline was more like something from Big Island, Hawai’i on the edge of the Pacific Garbage Patch. The beach was covered in plastic bottles and, according to John, it was comparatively clean due to a recent storm that had cleared most of the debris. 90% of the waste had come from cruise ships, which habitually dump trash as soon as they are out of national waters. Because of the way currents work, most of this washes back up on the Cayman Islands.
The CI government, fortunately (and unlike in the UK), seem to have a comprehensive cleanup strategy for this waste. Of course, as a large part of their economy is based on tourism, this would make sense. This hasn’t stopped some people trying to highlight the problem though. On South Sound Road that loops around the bottom of Grand Cayman, there is a tree covered in shoes and flip-flops. Called the Cayman Shoe Tree, it was started by Canadian electrician Wolfgang Brocklebank and his Swiss girlfriend Giovanna Inselmini to raise awareness for the amount of shoes washed up on the Cayman coastline. People are encouraged to add more shoes they find on the CI shoreline to the living sculpture.