The Caymans Islands is a an overseas territory of the United Kingdom with about 52,000 people, most of whom live in the capitol, George Town on Grand Cayman (seen in the image above at the southwest end of the island.)
The Cayman Islands were colonized from Jamaica by the British during the 18th and 19th centuries and were administered by Jamaica after 1863.
In 1959, the islands became a territory within the Federation of the West Indies. When the Federation dissolved in 1962, the Cayman Islands chose to remain a British dependency.
Grand Cayman is the largest of the group at 35 kilometers (km) long and up to 14 km wide, however, there is a large lagoon in the northern section that gives the island an irregular shape, as if a giant bite has been taken out of the northwestern end. Grand Cayman's 7-mile beach is on the western side of the island. With exotic coral reefs off its shores, Grand Cayman is a mecca for divers.
Cayman Brac is the tallest island in the group, rising to a height of 43 meters (m) on the eastern end where sheer cliffs drop into the sea.
Little Cayman is the smallest of the three islands, at only 14 km long and a maximum height of merely 12 m above sea level.
The lesser islands are located about 130 km northwest of Grand Cayman, and lie 7 km apart.
All three islands were uplifted from the ocean floor approximately 10 million years ago and have apparently never been connected to adjacent land masses.
The Cayman Islands are susceptible to hurricanes (July to November).
With no direct taxation, the islands are a thriving offshore financial center, but tourism accounts for about 70% of GDP. The Caymanians enjoy a standard of living roughly equal to that of Switzerland.
The human populations of the three islands differ considerably with fewer than 100 on Little Cayman and less than 2,000 on Cayman Brac. This is reflected in the varying degrees to which the islands' environments have been changed. Little Cayman is the least disturbed of the group, with almost all of the interior untouched as of 1980. In contrast, the rapid development of Grand Cayman has resulted in degradation and alteration of most of the natural habitats. Clearing of natural woodland and thicket for roads, housing, tourism and agriculture continue to be the most significant pressures on this ecoregion.
Location: Caribbean, three-island group (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, Little Cayman) in Caribbean Sea, 240 km south of Cuba and 268 km northwest of Jamaica
|Little Cayman, as viewed from the air. Source: Wikimedia Commons.|
Geographic Coordinates: 19 30 N, 80 30 W
Area: 264 sq km
Coastline: 160 km
Natural Hazards: hurricanes (July to November)
Terrain: low-lying limestone base surrounded by coral reefs. The highest point is The Bluff on Cayman Brac (43 m).
Climate: tropical marine; warm, rainy summers (May to October) and cool, relatively dry winters (November to April)
Ecology and Biodiversity
The Cayman Islands support two distinct types of vegetation: evergreen thicket and woodland, and seasonal swamp.
The endemic flora and fauna of this ecoregion are regionally important for biodiversity conservation. Notable are numerous orchids and cacti and animals such as the Cayman Brac Parrot and the Cayman islands dwarf boa. The status of the dry forests and degree of disturbance and alteration are directly related to human population size on each of the three islands. Clearing of natural woodland for roads, housing, tourism, and agriculture continue to be the most significant pressures on the dry forests of this ecoregion.
Evergreen thicket dominates the eastern sections of Grand Cayman, and is found on the northern slope of Little Cayman and on higher ground on Cayman Brac. The thicket has a discontinuous, two-storeyed canopy with occasional emergents.
The Critically Endangered Lesser Caymans iguana is native to two islands: Cayman Brac and Little Cayman. This captive specimen was photographed in Hope Gardens, Kingston, Jamaica. Source: Tim Ross/Wikimedia Commons. The National Trust, a statutory, non-governmental organization, overseas important natural areas such as the Salina Reserve and the Brac Parrot Reserve. The Trust owns more than 310 hectares of natural woodland and bluff habitat on Grand Cayman and has initiated a captive breeding program for the blue Grand Cayman iguana, which is listed as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Trust is also conducting research programs assessing the status of the threatened rock iguana and the native parrots. Despite these initiatives, there is a continued need for increased species management, predator control, and habitat preservation.
The eight Protected Areas in the Cayman Islands cover just over 8,000 hectares, equivalent to 31% of the islands’ land area. In 1989 the government gave 257 ha of land (Salina Reserve) to the National Trust. In December 1991 ownership of a 40 hectares woodland site on Cayman Brac, important as a nesting area for the Cayman Brac Parrot, was transferred to the National Trust by The Nature Conservancy (USA) and is now titled Brac Parrot Reserve. See: Protected areas of Cayman Islands
Grand Cayman. Source: TheBrac.com
- Common coral reef fishes of the Cayman Islands
People and Society
Population: 52,560 (July 2012 est.)
Ethnic Groups: mixed 40%, white 20%, black 20%, expatriates of various ethnic groups 20%
0-14 years: 19% (male 4,924/female 4,858)
15-64 years: 71.1% (male 17,766/female 18,743)
65 years and over: 9.9% (male 2,401/female 2,692) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 2.239% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 12.21 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 5.19 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: 15.37 migrant(s)/1,000 population. Note: The cayman Isalnds are a major destination for Cubans trying to migrate to the US (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 80.8 years
male: 78.12 years
female: 83.51 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 1.87 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: English (official) 95%, Spanish 3.2%, other 1.8% (1999 census)
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): 98% (1970 est.)
Urbanization: 100% of total population (2010)
The Cayman Islands remained largely uninhabited until the 17th century. A variety of people settled on the islands, including pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, deserters from Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica, and slaves. The majority of Caymanians are of African and British descent, with considerable interracial mixing.
Great Britain took formal control of the Cayman Islands, along with Jamaica, under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Following several unsuccessful attempts, permanent settlement of the islands began in the 1730s. The Cayman Islands historically have been popular as a tax-exempt destination. One legend has it that Caymanians in 1788 rescued the crews of a Jamaican merchant ship convoy which had struck a reef at Gun Bay and that the Caymanians were rewarded with King George III's promise to never again impose any tax.
The Cayman Islands, initially administered as a dependency of Jamaica, became an independent colony in 1959; they now are a largely self-governing British Overseas Territory.
The Cayman Islands' physical isolation under early British colonial rule allowed the development of an indigenous set of administrative and legal traditions, which were codified into a Constitution in 1959. Although still a British Overseas Territory, the islands today are self-governed in nearly all respects. The Constitution, or the Cayman Islands Constitution Order 2009, that governs the islands came into effect on November 6, 2009.
The Cayman Islands' political system is stable, bolstered by a tradition of restrained civil governance, sustained economic prosperity, and its relative isolation from foreign policy concerns. Public discussion revolves around public sector expenditure and social services, the pace of additional economic development, and the status of the large foreign national community on the islands.
The Cayman Islands form a British Overseas Territory with a large measure of self-government. Under the 2009 Constitution, the islands are administered by a government that is headed by a Governor, a Legislative Assembly, and a Cabinet. The Governor is recruited from the U.K. Government Service, serves as the British government administrator, and retains responsibility for the civil service, defense, external affairs, and internal security.
The Governor also chairs the Cabinet and appoints to the Cabinet the Chief Secretary, the Attorney General, and the Financial Secretary, while the Legislative Assembly elects the Cabinet's other five members. Unlike other Caribbean Overseas Territories there is no Chief Minister but a Premier (formerly called the Leader of Government Business). The Premier is an elected politician, while the Chief Secretary is the most senior civil servant. Currently, the Premier is also the Minister of Financial Services, Tourism, and Development.
Responsibility for defense and external affairs resides with the United Kingdom; however, the Chief Secretary has responsibility for the Portfolio of Internal and External affairs, and the Cayman Government may negotiate certain bilateral matters directly with foreign governments. The elected members of the Cabinet divide the remaining administrative portfolios.
The 18-seat unicameral Legislative Assembly is presided over by an independent speaker. Elections are held at the discretion of the Governor at least every 4 years. Members of the Assembly may introduce bills, which, if passed, are then approved, returned, or disallowed by the Governor. The U.K. Government also reserves the right to disallow bills approved by the Governor.
Dependency Status/Government Type: overseas territory of the UK/parliamentary democracy
Capital: George Town - 32,000 (2009)
Administrative divisions: 8 districts; Creek, Eastern, Midland, South Town, Spot Bay, Stake Bay, West End, Western
Legal System: The four-tiered judicial system is based on English common law and colonial and local statutes. The Cayman Islands Court of Appeal is the highest court on the islands, but Her Majesty's Privy Council sitting in London may hear a final appeal. Accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction; and accepts International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction.
Natural Resources: fish, climate and beaches that foster tourism
arable land: 3.85%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 96.15% (2005)
International finance and tourism are considered the Cayman Islands' "twin pillars" of economic development. It is estimated that financial services represent 40% and tourism between 30%-40% of gross domestic product.
With no direct taxation, the islands are a thriving offshore financial center. More than 93,000 companies were registered in the Cayman Islands as of 2008, including almost 300 banks, 800 insurers, and 10,000 mutual funds. A stock exchange was opened in 1997.
Tourism is also a mainstay, accounting for about 70% of GDP and 75% of foreign currency earnings. The tourist industry is aimed at the luxury market and caters mainly to visitors from North America. Total tourist arrivals exceeded 1.9 million in 2008, with about half from the US.
About 90% of the islands' food and consumer goods must be imported.
The Caymanians enjoy a standard of living roughly equal to that of Switzerland.
The Cayman Islands economy suffered the effects of the 2009 global recession, which severely damaged the territory’s financial sector. The economy continues to recover, and in the first 9 months of 2011, real GDP grew at an estimated annualized rate of 1.2 percent, following sharp declines in 2009 and 2010. The government has also sought new ways of retaining international businesses and their employees; in February 2010, Premier McKeeva Bush announced that the government would offer foreigners the opportunity to purchase permanent residency in the Cayman Islands for $1 million. Tourism to the Cayman Islands also took a hit due to the global recession, falling in 2009. Tourism numbers increased in 2010, but they remained slightly below those of 2008. Although Caymanians enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, about 90% of the islands' food and consumer goods must be imported.
From the earliest settlement of the Cayman Islands, economic activity was hindered by isolation and a limited natural resource base. The harvesting of sea turtles to resupply passing sailing ships was the first major economic activity on the islands, but local stocks were depleted by the 1790s. Agriculture, while sufficient to support the small early settler population, has always been limited by the scarcity of available land.
The advent of modern transportation and telecommunications in the 1950s led to the emergence of international finance and tourism in the Cayman Islands. As of December 2010, the banking sector had $1.73 trillion in assets. There were approximately 250 banks, 150 active trust licenses, 730 captive insurance companies, nine money service businesses, and more than 85,000 companies licensed or registered in the Cayman Islands. According to the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority (CIMA), at the end of 2010 there were approximately 9,000 registered mutual funds, of which 435 were administered and 133 were licensed. Forty of the world's largest banks are present in the Cayman Islands. Unspoiled beaches, duty-free shopping, scuba diving, and deep-sea fishing draw almost a million visitors to the islands each year.
Education is compulsory to the age of 16 and is free to all Caymanian children. Schools follow the British educational system. The government operates 10 primary, one special education, and two high schools. In addition, there is a university and a law school.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $2.25 billion (2008 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $2.25 billion (2008 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $43,800 (2004 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 49.1% (2011 est.)
Agricultural products: vegetables, fruit; livestock; turtle farming
Industries: tourism, banking, insurance and finance, construction, construction materials, furniture
Currency: Caymanian dollars (KYD)