The Cayman Islands are currently awash in green initiatives, from minimizing single-use plastics to upcycling materials for outdoor enjoyment to hunting lionfish in an effort to help preserve the natural balance of the reef system.
The Cayman Islands, with their sun-drenched landscapes of sand and sea, are a major lure for some two million annual visitors. But in this Caribbean region—which has embraced the urgency of sustainability in the aftermath of devastating recent hurricane seasons—Caymanians have more fully realized that their future relies on maintaining the islands’ exquisite natural treasures.
Even though the Cayman Islands were mercifully spared the brunt of catastrophic blows from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, the autonomous British Overseas Territory is blossoming with a slate of sustainability initiatives. Indeed, in an area of the world that is especially sensitive to climate change and the effects of short-term thinking, the amped-up environmental initiatives of the Cayman Islands have brought them onto a level playing field with regional sustainability leaders. Here are some of the most interesting ways that the islands are going green:
Oneisha Richards, deputy director of tourism for the Cayman Islands Department of Tourism, notes that while a voluntary residential recycling program has been established for some time, efforts on the islands are now far surpassing basic recycling. “Many businesses are banning plastic straws and using fewer plastic bags, instead opting for paper straws and reusable grocery bags,” she notes.
Recently, hotels and resorts on the island, like Cobalt Coast Resort, Compass Point Dive Resort, Little Cayman Beach Resort, Southern Cross Club, and Ocean Frontiers, have been working to eliminate their single-use plastics, too. One hotel has even come up with a unique way of repurposing recycled materials to add to the enjoyment of the outdoors. Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa (in partnership with local businesses West Indies Wine Company and Dart Real Estate) created the Community Bike & Walking Trail, made out of recycled glass, an effort that has diverted millions of glass bottles from landfills.
Beyond reducing and recycling, Cayman Island hotels are incorporating other notable green initiatives, too. One example is the Southern Cross Club, which has been involved in the Cayman Islands Environmental Program for the Tourism Sector (CEPTS) since 2009, when the program was initiated, and was awarded its inaugural Environmental Stewardship Award in 2013. Thanks to its sound environmental practices, including resource (such as energy, water, and material) conservation efforts, it was also one of the first of five resorts in the Cayman Islands to become Green Globe Certified, the premier international certification for sustainability.
Also Green Globe Certified, Little Cayman Beach Resort has converted all of its cleaning chemicals to products that meet Green Seal’s environmental standards for industrial and institutional cleaners. (Green Seal is an ecolabel that indicates transparency and environmental leadership.) It aims to reduce human and aquatic toxicity and reduce smog production potential. The resort also incorporates environmentally sensitive products like Greenware disposable drink cups, which are fully compostable and made from corn.
Compass Point Dive Resort, also Green Globe Certified, has owned an important role in protecting and enhancing the marine environment, too, thanks in part to programs it’s put in place to help educate visitors and locals alike on the islands’ sensitive environmental conditions.
In 2003, the islands’ Department of Tourism set out a Tourism Policy Framework and National Tourism Plan, outlining ongoing Grand Cayman initiatives that included the establishment of environmental protection areas and enhanced marine protection zones. Those efforts were further enhanced by the National Conservation Law, a modern environmental law that passed in 2013, allowing the Cayman Islands to protect and conserve endangered, threatened, and endemic plants and their habitats, as well as the rich variety of local wildlife.
Visitors can learn more about these and other efforts via a visit to the Little Cayman Research Centre (part of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute), which is set in the Bloody Bay Marine Park, a zone that serves to protect local reefs. Tours of the facility showcase sustainable design by Doak Architecture that includes composting toilets, waterless urinals, gray-water gardens, solar-powered hot water and lighting, and pumps that employ renewable power.
In addition, the Cayman Islands have implemented sanctioned lionfish control programs to help minimize the population of this non-native predatory species that destroys Caribbean reefs and devours small fish in large quantities. (Native to the Indo-Pacific, lionfish were introduced to the Caribbean region via home aquarium owners who unwittingly released them into the sea.) Some local dive operators, including Ocean Frontiers and Divetech, even offer lionfish culling excursions for certified divers. These programs have helped lower the number of lionfish predators that are outbreeding, outcompeting, and outliving native fish and other marine species throughout the Cayman Islands.
Part of the efforts to reduce the lionfish population, the Cayman United Lionfish League (CULL) hosts a quarterly lionfish culling tournament, while popular restaurants across the islands—such as VIVO Alternative Restaurant, Tukka Restaurant and Bar, and Eagle Ray’s Dive Bar & Grill—feature fresh lionfish on the menu year-round. With a taste described as a cross between a grouper and a hog snapper, lionfish is prepared in numerous ways, from fish tacos to fried with chips.
Sustainable seafood is another major movement in the Caymans. Launched in 2005, the sustainable seafood education program Cayman Sea Sense is “dedicated to helping restaurants and their customers make informed and environmentally positive seafood choices,” says Richards. The use of a Cayman Sea Sense icon on participating restaurant menus allows consumers to easily select sustainable seafood options as certified by the Cayman Sea Sense team, much like the Seafood Watch program in the United States.
It’s one of many small ways that visitors to the islands can help ensure that their environmental impact is minimized.