Cayman Islands

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Revision as of 17:43, 17 June 2013

The beautiful waters surrounding Grand Cayman Island
Little Cayman Beach
Little Cayman Beach
The beaches of Cayman Brac
Cayman Brac aerial view
The Cayman Islands is a British Overseas Territory and overseas territory of the European Union located in the western Caribbean Sea and has developed into one of the world's most idyllic open water swimming locations.

The territory comprises the three islands of Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac, and Little Cayman, located south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica. The Cayman Islands are considered to be part of the geographic Western Caribbean Zone as well as the Greater Antilles. The territory is a major world offshore financial centre.

Contents

History

The Cayman Islands were first logged as sighted by Christopher Columbus on 10 May 1503 during his fourth and final voyage to the New World. He named the islands Las Tortugas after the large number of sea turtles observed there. The first recorded English visitor to the islands was Sir Francis Drake in 1586. He subsequently named the islands "Cayman" after caiman, the Neo-Taino nations' nomenclature for "alligator".

The Cayman Islands remained largely uninhabited until the 17th century. While there is no archaeological evidence for an indigenous people on the islands, a variety of settlers made their home on the islands. This grouping of people from various backgrounds included pirates, refugees from the Spanish Inquisition, shipwrecked sailors, and deserters from Oliver Cromwell's army in Jamaica.

England took formal control of the Cayman Islands, along with Jamaica, under the Treaty of Madrid in 1670. Following several unsuccessful attempts at settlement, residency in the islands began in the 1730s. With settlement after the first royal land grant proscribed by the Governor of Jamaica in 1734 came the perceived need for slaves.[4] Many were brought to the islands from Africa; this is evident today with the majority of native Caymanians being of African and English descent. The results of the first census taken in the islands in 1802 showed the population on Grand Cayman to be 933 with 545 of those inhabitants being slaves. Slavery was abolished in Cayman Islands 1834. At the time of abolition, there were over 950 slaves owned by 116 Caymanian families.

Wreck of the Ten Sail

On February 8, 1794, the Caymanians rescued the crews of a group of ten merchant ships, including HMS Convert, an incident that has since become known as the Wreck of the Ten Sail. The ships had struck a reef and run aground during rough seas. Legend has it that King George III rewarded the island with a promise never to introduce taxes as compensation for their generosity as one of the ships carried a member of the King's own family, his son Prince William. While this remains a popular legend, Queen Elizabeth II herself, along with various history books, state the story is not true.

Hurricane Ivan

The island of Grand Cayman, which lies largely unprotected at sea level, was hit by Hurricane Ivan on 11–12 September 2004. Ivan's storm surge completely over-washed Grand Cayman, and an estimated 95% of the buildings on the island were either damaged or destroyed.

Power, water and communications were disrupted in some areas for months as Ivan was the worst hurricane to hit the islands in 87 years. Grand Cayman began a major rebuilding process and within two years, its infrastructure was nearly returned to pre-hurricane status. Due to the tropical location of the islands, more hurricane or tropical systems have affected the Cayman Islands than any other region in the Atlantic basin; it has been brushed or directly hit, on average, every 2.23 years.

Geography

The Cayman Islands are located in the western Caribbean Sea and are the peaks of a massive underwater ridge, known as the Cayman Ridge, standing 8,000 feet (2,400 m) from the sea floor, which barely exceeds the surface. The islands lie in the northwest of the Caribbean Sea, south of Cuba and west of Jamaica. They are situated about 400 miles (650 km) south of Miami, 180 miles (300 km) south of Cuba, and 195 miles (315 km) northwest of Jamaica. Grand Cayman is by far the biggest, with an area of 76 square miles (197 km2). The two "Sister Islands" of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman are located about 80 miles (130 km) east of Grand Cayman and have areas of 14 and 10 square miles (36 and 26 km2) respectively.

All three islands were formed by large coral heads covering submerged ice age peaks of western extensions of the Cuban Sierra Maestra range and are mostly flat. One notable exception to this is The Bluff on Cayman Brac's eastern part, which rises to 140 feet (42.6 m) above sea level, the highest point on the island.

Terrain is mostly a low-lying limestone base surrounded by coral reefs.

Climate

The Cayman Islands have a tropical marine climate, with a wet season of warm, rainy summers (May to October) and a dry season of relatively cool winters (November to April). A major natural hazard is the tropical cyclones that form during the Atlantic hurricane season from July to November.

Population

The Cayman Islands have more registered businesses than they have people.[10] The latest population estimate of the Cayman Islands is about 55,700 as of 2009, representing a mix of more than 100 nationalities. Out of that number, about half are of Caymanian descent. About 60% of the population is of mixed race (mostly mixed African-European). The islands are almost exclusively Christian, with large numbers of Presbyterians and Catholics. The vast majority of the population resides on Grand Cayman, followed by Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, respectively.

Seven Mile Beach

One of Grand Cayman's main attractions is Seven Mile Beach, on which a number of the island's hotels and resorts are located. Tourists also visit the Sister Islands, Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

All three islands offer scuba diving and open water swimming, and the Cayman Islands are home to several snorkeling locations and open water swimming courses and events, including the annual Flowers Sea Swim, the richest ocean swimming competition in the world.

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