New book sounds alarm for Cayman plants

| 24/09/2008

(CNS): Forty-seven percent of the Cayman Islands’ native plants are now threatened with extinction, mainly because of the tide of deforestation that is accompanying the incredibly rapid growth of the human population, according to local environmental specialist Frederic J. Burton, whose new book, Threatened Plants of the Cayman Islands – the Red List, will be available in local bookstores in the Cayman Islands from 27 September.

The book highlights the group of plants that are totally unique to the Cayman Islands – plants like Old George, the Ghost Orchid, the Cayman Ironwood tree, and the Grand Cayman Sage. Many are literally on the brink of extinction, and one purpose of this book is to document which ones are endangered, and to what degree.

Burton explained that the conservation status of any plant (or any living thing) is normally defined by an international standard known as the Red List, which is what he uses in the book. Working from an estimate of the current population size, the generation time, land area occupied, rates of habitat loss and other threats, the Red List process yields a standard measure of the risk of extinction.

“Undertaking the formal Red List conservation assessments for each of the Cayman Islands’ 415 native plants was a daunting task but it wasn’t until I’d finished and started summarising the results that I realized what a shocking conclusion we had on our hands,” Burton said.

The main content of the book is written in non-technical language for all readers. This includes a description of the main natural vegetation communities on the three Cayman Islands, with photographs and maps, followed by the individual plant descriptions. This work doubles as a professional reference, giving the formal conservation status of the entire Cayman native flora in extensive tables at the back of the book, and a scientific paper detailing a new vegetation classification system for the islands on a CD attached inside the back cover.

Published by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, in association with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, the book contains 105 full-colour pages and is bound in reinforced softback. It will be on sale locally at a recommended retail price of CI$19.95. The author devotes a full page to each of the 28 plant species and varieties considered unique to the Cayman Islands, with colour photographs accompanying the description for each. A further 14 plants that the Cayman Islands shares with only one neighbouring island are also included.

“The Department of Environmentis very pleased to have facilitated this publication,” said Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie. “We see it as an extremely important and timely addition to our efforts to highlight the urgent need for legislation to protect and conserve the diversity of our local flora.”

Dr Colin Clubbe of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew added, “By raising awareness of the status and the threats to Cayman’s flora, and formalising this using the internationally recognised Red List Categories and Criteria, the Cayman Islands is leading the way in the botanical conservation in the UK Overseas Territories. This will provide a model and inspiration for other Territories and we are delighted to have been able to publish this on behalf of the Cayman Island conservation community.”

Threatened Plants of the Cayman Islands – the Red List will be launched at Hobbies & Books / Books bythe Bay at Grand Harbour on Saturday, 27 September, at 6:00 pm. Everyone is welcome and there is no entry charge. The author will give an illustrated presentation about the work behind this publication and will be signing copies. Some of the uniquely Caymanian plants featured in the book will be on sale at the event, courtesy of Grand Cayman’s new Native Tree Nursery which will soon be opening in the QE II Botanic Park.

A second event will take place at Books & Books at Camana Bay, on Wednesday, 1 October, at 7:00 pm. The book will also be available at the Book Nook, the QE II Botanic Park, the National Trust offices on South Church Street, and other locations on all three islands.


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  1. Kerry Horek says:

    I am alarmed as well but the problem with our natural flora and fauna being on the extinction is due in part to over development without regulations.  Take for example Hawaii, this country has made it a law that when you clear a parcel of land you MUST not remove a certain percentage of the natural vegetation.  IT IS THE LAW and you can be fined, loose your property and go to jail for not adhering to it.  I think it is time that we do something about this.  We should also stop the importation of certain plants and regulate nurseries to harvest local plants and trees for sale.   We simply need to put regulations in place and enforce them at all cost.  Dr. Fred Burton thank you for bringing this to light in your recent publication.