Sharks and a supermoon: A snapshot of the Cayman Islands

Over spring break, I took a trip to Grand Cayman, the largest island in the British Overseas territory. Located in the western Caribbean Sea, Grand Cayman boasts white sand beaches and turquoise waters, perfect for snorkeling and kayaking. My family and I flew out of Madison and had a layover in Charlotte, which was a quick two-hour flight. From Charlotte, we had a two-and-a-half-hour flight to Grand Cayman’s airport. Less than five hours in the air gets me to a tropical island? Yes please.  

As soon as I stepped out of the plane and onto the tarmac, I was immediately greeted by 80 degrees and sunshine. My body felt almost too light, unused to being outside without a coat, scarf and the other multiple layers that I’d been wearing in order to survive walking to class during wintertime in Wisconsin. I was more than ready to ditch polar vortexes for a warm stay on the beach, and a trip to Grand Cayman did just that! Here are the top reasons why I love the Cayman Islands, and why you should put this beautiful place on your travel list.

The food

Often hailed as the culinary capital of the Caribbean, Grand Cayman delivers a variety of fresh flavors and ocean-to-table sustainable eating. From red snapper to wahoo to conch fritters, you’ve come to the right place for seafood. Don’t forget to eat plenty of jerk chicken— generally served with rice, beans, and mashed plantains, it makes for a great meal. Grand Cayman is known for its rum, which means it’s also known for rum cake! Enjoy this classic dessert with a scoop of rum raisin ice cream.

My favorite food experience was at a restaurant called Tukka’s, which had an Australian-inspired menu. My family and I were sitting at a table on the beach, when a waiter walked out to the shore and started throwing fish guts into the water— a slightly unusual thing to see at a restaurant. A few minutes later, several white fins appeared in the shallows. The sharks had come out to feed! Not long after the sharks emerged, a super moon, huge and orange, quickly rose and cast a thin line of wavering light on the ocean and illuminated the sharks, who were still circling in the water. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a moonrise, made all the more memorable by the company of sharks.

The beaches

You’ll want to explore the reefs while you’re here, so bring your snorkel gear! The water is incredibly clear and there are plenty of colorful fish to observe, not to mention the stingrays that glide gracefully past. The calm waters are an ideal spot for snorkeling, paddle boarding and kayaking. Or just lazing on the beach with a book. I recommend doing a night tour of Rum Point’s bioluminescent bay, where tiny microorganisms called dinoflagellates illuminate the waters with an ethereal, blue-green glow.

The wildlife

Don’t be surprised to see iguanas strutting around the island (you’ll also be greeted by chickens wandering outside of the airport). My family stayed near Starfish Point, named after the red and orange starfish that populate the waters. On one afternoon, I counted 70 starfish after just a quick kayaking trip around the bend of the point. If you are ever in Grand Cayman or in any tropical location where you have the opportunity to see starfish, do not take them out of the water! Starfish need to remain in the water for their breathing process, and suffer damage when they are removed the water. They are creatures that need to be respected, and should not simply be seen as an Instagram or selfie opportunity.

Cayman and conservation

Throughout the trip, I was constantly reminded about how humans impact the quality of the ocean. At every restaurant, when straws were available, they were always made out of paper in order to decrease the amount of plastic waste. I thought, why can’t this be implemented everywhere? Plastic straws last for hundreds of years, whereas, if paper straws were (unfortunately) deposited into the ocean, they would biodegrade within a matter of days. Paper straws are very cheap— just not as cheap as plastic, which is why many establishments still choose plastic over paper. Although switching to paper straws may seem like a small step in the grand scheme of environmental pollutants, it is much better than nothing. It’s the mindset of thinking that your actions are too small to really matter that stops people from doing their best to conserve and preserve. There’s nothing like seeing bits of plastic and bottle caps washed up on the beach to remind you of just how much waste we produce as humans, and how this pollution is affecting the animals who call the ocean their home. If we want to keep these beaches pristine, it starts with cutting down our use of plastic.

My trip to Grand Cayman furthered my appreciation of marine life and the precariousness that it faces due to pollution. All of the beautiful reefs I saw are in danger of disappearing due to ocean acidification caused by the human use of fossil fuels. Traveling continues to open my eyes to all of the incredible ecosystems that I hope will exist for future generations. As an individual, it may feel overwhelming to think about how you can lessen the impact of climate change. And yes, it’s too big for just you. But it takes individuals like you to commit to making this change to build up a community of activists who are all working towards the same goal: we need to do our part to preserve the beauty that we see during travel, and in our own home, too.