In today’s blog we’re hearing from Sustainable Cayman, a non-profit group for sustainability and conservation located in the Cayman Islands. The RSPB are working with Sustainable Cayman to provide support and advice in their campaign to save a vital mangrove wetland from destruction in Grand Cayman, a UK Overseas Territory.

Grand Cayman’s last untouched wilderness and largest continuous mangrove wetland in the Caribbean is in danger, and so are the animals and people that depend on it. Learn why mangroves are so important, why we need to protect them and how you can help.

At only 22 miles long and about 8 miles wide, Grand Cayman is home to the Central Mangrove Wetland. A vital ecosystem spanning over 30% of the island’s entire land area at approximately 4,327 football pitches (35km2). Mangroves and other plants of the Central Mangrove Wetland form habitat for thousands of birds and other wildlife.

Aerial view of the Central Mangrove Wetland. © @CaymanIslandsMangroveRangers

Mangroves support life on land and at sea
Mangrove trees are unique because they can grow in salty environments. They fringe the coasts of tropical and subtropical countries and form inland habitats far from the shore.

Mangroves serve important and varied functions in wetland ecosystems. For example, the branching roots of red mangroves act as a nursery for marine life. When these animals grow up, they move into deeper waters.

The coastal and inland mangroves on Grand Cayman are hugely important in supporting life on land and in the sea.

Rare and endemic birds use the mangroves
The Central Mangrove Wetland hosts a high level of biodiversity and meets the criteria to be an internationally recognised Important Bird Area for its value to local and migratory birds.

The Central Mangrove Wetland is the main breeding site for the Near Threatened West Indian whistling duck and the endemic, Near Threatened Grand Cayman bullfinch and Cayman parrot, both of which rely heavily on the Central Mangrove Wetland(1).

Cayman parrots. © @wildlifecayman

Mangroves regulate extreme weather events
The Central Mangrove Wetland also provides what are called ‘ecosystem services’ to Cayman’s citizens by protecting people and infrastructure from storm surges, reducing coastal erosion, filtering water, absorbing and storing more carbon than tropical rainforests, and maintaining local weather systems(2). For example, it is estimated that 40% of the rainfall in the central and western districts of the island is formed by the Central Mangrove Wetland(3).

Mangroves provide climate resilience
The healthy functioning of this ecosystem has huge implications for the welfare and livelihoods of our people, which are at risk due to the impacts of climate change. Sea level rise, more intense storms, and drier conditions are predicted(4) for our islands. These impacts are, slowly but surely, altering social and economic life.

Recognising the Central Mangrove Wetland as critical national infrastructure and protecting it would ensure a level of resilience to these changes as they unfold.

Mangrove deforestation
If all was well and good, we would have nothing to talk about here today. This is unfortunately not the case. Since 1976, about 69% of the mangroves on the west side of Grand Cayman have been deforested for development(5). The Central Mangrove Wetland is vulnerable to a similar fate because only 26%(2) of its area is considered ‘protected’.

Threatened by road development
The Central Mangrove Wetland is mostly in a natural state but there are multiple growing threats. Quarries, agriculture, and residential and commercial developments have been nipping at its boundary.

One of the most prominent threats at this time is a 10-mile-long road extension called the East-West Arterial (EWA) that is planned to cut through the southern portion of the wetlands. This proposed road could dam rainwater flowing across the land and into the Central Mangrove Wetland, starving the wetlands of water(5). Nutrient dispersal into the North Sound marine ecosystem could become disrupted, and marine life would suffer. As planned, the proposed road would sever the Mastic Trail, a historic and ecologically valuable trail on Grand Cayman, and potentially damage the health of an Important Bird Area called Meagre Pond; both of which are owned and protected by the National Trust for the Cayman Islands.

It is estimated that a minimum of 174 acres of the Central Mangrove Wetland would be deforested(5) to make way for this road, and history teaches us that where roads go, development follows, fragmenting habitats and displacing wildlife. The objectives of National Roads Authority for this project(6), as well as the objectives of our current Government, confirm these predications; they intend to expand development into eastern districts of Grand Cayman(7), which is where the Central Mangrove Wetland lives.

Drone footage of the route of the proposed road gives scale to the devastating impact this could have on Grand Cayman’s last untouched wilderness.

The value of the Central Mangrove Wetland to Grand Cayman’s wildlife and to its climate resilience to Caymanians is arguably priceless. This complex, natural ecosystem is connected to so many aspects of Cayman’s economy, culture, and environmental conditions. Simply put, the loss of the Central Mangrove Wetland would change the fate of our only home.

Mangrove vegetation. © @willowdalephotography.

Action needed now
We are experiencing a biodiversity and climate crisis. The last thing any country should be doing is destroying their critical natural habitats. With the global conventions on the climate (COP27) and biodiversity (COP15) centre stage, we urge the Cayman Islands Government to make the 30x30 pledge, to protect 30% of our land and 30% of our ocean by 2030, starting with the Central Mangrove Wetland.

Mangrove wetlands are invaluable to the biodiversity of the Cayman Islands. By protecting biodiversity, we also strengthen our islands’ against climate change.

West Indian whistling ducks. © @wildlifecayman

What can we do?
The RSPB is providing support and advice to Sustainable Cayman as part of its programme of capacity building in the beautiful and wildlife-rich UK Overseas Territories of the Caribbean.

We ask that you help us amplify the need for legislative protections on the Central Mangrove Wetland by following Sustainable Cayman’s social media channels, sharing and commenting on their posts:

1) Important Bird Areas (2015). Available at:
2) Ecosystem Services (2014). Available at:
3) National Trust for the Cayman Islands (2020). Available at:,air%20and%20clear%20blue%20water
4) Climate Change Policy (2011). Available at:
5) Jurn et al. (2018). Available at:
6) Case for the E-W Expansion (n.d.). Available at:
7) Cayman News Service (2022). Available at:

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