Island History

Little Cayman History

Columbus discovered the islands in May 1503 when severe winds pushed his ships off course. He noted that the sea was full of turtles, so the islands were originally named Las Tortugas. Around 1540, the name Caymanas – derived from the Carib word for marine crocodile – was applied.

The first settlement was on Little Cayman when turtle fishermen set up fishing camps in the 1600s. Following a raid by a Spanish privateer it was abandoned in 1671 and not re-settled until 1833 when a few families established Blossom Village. By the early 1900s, several hundred people lived on Little Cayman, exporting phosphate ore, coconuts and marine rope.

During the 20th century, Caymanians turned to the sea for their livelihood and became outstanding sailors and fishermen famed for their independent spirit. Many Caymanian men joined the U.S. Merchant Marine and earned reputations as some of the finest ship’s captains and seamen in the world.

The Cayman Islands opted to remain a British Crown Colony when Jamaica voted for independence in 1962.

Old Caribbean Map

Little Cayman’s Geology & Wildlife

The three islands are an outcropping of the Cayman Ridge, a submarine mountain range that extends west from the Sierra Maestra mountain range in Cuba. All three islands are low lying and are composed of limestone and consolidated coral.

Little Cayman is the smallest of the three islands – just one mile by ten and the highest point is only 40 feet in elevation.  Our undeveloped coastline is full of lagoons, mangrove forests, secluded beaches and salt ponds.

Little Cayman saw few visitors until recent times and this lack of human impact has allowed the wildlife, reefs and marine life to flourish. With a resident population of less than 170 people, most of Little Cayman still remains uninhabited. Conversely, Little Cayman’s indigenous Rock Iguana population is estimated at 2,000. The iguana has the right of way and signs painted by local artists were erected in 1995 cautioning motorists to watch out for them along the main coastal road.

Little Cayman is one of the region’s most important birding areas and the 260-acre Booby Pond Reserve is a RAMSAR site (a wetland of international importance). The The Booby Pond Nature Reserve protects the largest colony of Red-footed Booby birds in the Caribbean – 5000 pairs. Best viewing times are the early morning, as the boobies leave the colony to fish far out at sea, and just before dusk as they are pursued by the waiting frigate birds. Spectacular chases result, as one or two frigate birds harass a booby until it releases part of its fish catch in order to escape.

The Sister Islands of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac provide a stop off for thousands of birds on their seasonal migration to warmer climates in the West Indies, Central and South America. Island birds include Loggerhead Kingbird, Bananaquit, Thick-billed Vireo, Vitelline Warbler and Zenaida dove. Many species of Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, West Indian Whistling-duck and Black-necked Stilt also nest on the Cayman Islands.

For more information about the Sister Islands, please visit the museums of Little Cayman and Cayman Brac during your visit.

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