DoE hunting for endemic mistletoe

| 04/07/2014

(CNS): A team of local and overseas experts have been on the hunt for an endemic species of mistletoe which is currently known to be growing only on Little Cayman. No one has seen this plant since 1991 and there is no photographic record – just a single herbarium collection as proof of its existence. While the famous botanist George Proctor, author of Flora of the Cayman Islands, records the mysterious parasite very little is known about it. Records indicate it is growing only within the northeastern interior of Little Cayman on its host the Headache Bush (Capparis cynophallophora) and the Black Candlewood (Erithalis fruticosa).

However, using specialist technology researches hope to catch sight of this elusive species not ut on the smallest of Cayman’s Islands but in the eastern areas of Grand Cayman.
The Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DoE) has teamed up with researchers from its long-time partner the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (RGB Kew), in the UK and with local plan expert and head of the blue iguana recovery programme director Fred Burton.

To try and find the Dendropemon caymanensis the team have been using a mini unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). This is a small flying vessel with a camera which weighs less than a kilogram and is controlled by a sophisticated remote computer system. It takes aerial photographs on a pre-programmed course, mapped using GPS coordinates.

Having cleared the techy search mission for safety reasons with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as well as the Lands and Survey Department, the flights were coordinated by the Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac Air Traffic Control towers prior to take-off, the landing sites were also cleared by relevant land owners.

The Colliers Reserve and Salina Reserve in Grand Cayman, where the host plants grow were surveyed an images taken from these areas will be compared with images taken in Little Cayman to find out if the species is present her after all. Once the project is complete andthe images analysed the DoE said it hopes to determine the true status of the mistletoe across the islands.

While collecting the date the DoE was also using the flying camera to examine the current status of the booby breeding area in the Booby Pond Reserve on Little Cayman. The experts say that this new method of monitoring the boobies could prove highly time and energy efficient compared to previous monitoring techniques.

The search team included DoE’s Research Officers Jessica Harvey and Jane Haakonsson, Jeremy Olynik from Lands and Survey, Fred Burton who was acting as the local plant specialist as well as Kew’s Species Conservation Assessment Officer Steven Bachman and Justin Moat. Bachman and Moat are highly trained and certified UAV pilots with previous experience in the UK and Peru, and both are off to Burkina Faso after their trip to Cayman. 
This project was possible with assistance from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Conservation Group, which donated just more than US$3,000 to the project through a grant; the Cayman Islands National Trust including BIRP; the CAA; and RGB Kew.

For more information, contact the DoE at, 949-8469 or the Facebook page.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    All they had to do was ask if anyone knows of this plant and its whereabouts and they could have found it for FREE.  But as per usual in Cayman the "experts" bring in experts from other countries and waste money.  I happen to know a real Caymanian plant expert, someone who was with Proctor when this plant was found. Good luck finding it with a drone when the plant is so tiny its hard to find in plain view!  DUH!

    • Anonymous says:

      Dear Anonymous,

      Thank you for your comment. If you have the name of the Caymanian plant expert that would be greatly received. We managed to get a lot of useful information from the imagery, both in terms of plant community structure (you can see individual plants!) and topography of the area and we also tested the usefulness of using a drone to assess the booby colony. If you have information which you think could be useful to us, please feel free to contact me on:

      Thank you! Have a great day.

      Kind regards,

      Jane Haakonsson

    • Nature Spy says:

      Why don't they take a picture of their herbarium ample and publish it.

  2. Timmy Turtle says:

    Pretty sure I saw some in that stink pond on the south side of Cayman Brac. At least I hope I did!

  3. Anonymous says:

    I say have these drones flying over the ecologicially sensitive areas of the coastlines. Would be a big help finding poachers who seem to live to catch endangered and protected species.

    • Drones ???? says:

      That is what the NSA and GCHQ would use to spy on us!  I know I sound a bit farfetched …  but last time we had scientist come here to release mosquitoes, come to find it was more than we thought 😉

  4. Anonymous says:

    I will take a picture of it in Cayman and post it on facebook

  5. Squab says:

    I'm gonna find it.