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By John Geary
For Travel Writers Tales

I'd read so much about the dangers of jellyfish, I couldn't believe our guide, Bob, was about to reach into the water and pick up one up-in his bare hand. "Hmmm…I wonder if we can navigate back out through the mangroves, to the beach ourselves?" I thought, visions of a suddenly incapacitated guide dancing through my head.

I worried for nothing, as it turned out.

Cassiopea jellyfish we could see from our kayaks

While picking up a jellyfish is not usually a good idea in most cases, if you're dealing with Cassiopea, or the "upside-down jellyfish"-a type of jellyfish living in the mangroves of Grand Cayman Island-then you can pick it up, and live to tell the tale.

It does have a mildly toxic sting, but it fits in the palm of your hand, so adult humans rarely feel it.

Jellyfish hand-held by our guide

These jellyfish occur in Caribbean mangrove swamps and can appear in a variety of colours. In an interesting example of symbiosis, Cassiopea is sometimes picked up by the crab species, Dorippe frascone, and carried on its back to help the crab defend itself against potential predators.

The unusual jellyfish were just one of the natural wonders we experienced paddling our two-person kayak through the mangroves from the big island's Little Sound, located just south of Rum Point.

It took us about 20 minutes to paddle across an open bay into the sheltered mangroves, although it can take longer, depending how strong, and from which direction, the wind blows the day you paddle. After that, it was pretty easy paddling through the water trails of the mangroves.

Once into the mangroves, our sit-on-top kayaks became a floating school of environmental education as our guide explained the nuances of mangrove ecology.

Although the water continues, the kayaks cannot get past this point to access the black mangroves

The area we paddled through is part of an 8500 hectare wetland system, the central mangrove wetland, although only 1500 hectares have environmental protection status. There are three different types of mangroves: red, black, and white. They all feature unique characteristics, each one fulfilling a slightly different ecological role, providing shelter and food for different types of plant and animal life.

For example, the small upside-down jellyfish live in the red mangroves. These mangroves butt up right against the ocean. Crabs, turtles, spiny lobsters and sponges also inhabit the red mangrove. Further back, the black and white mangroves provide nesting and food sources for birds like the Grand Cayman parrot, West Indian whistling duck and snowy egrets, to name a few.

At one point while resting during our paddle, I swear I could hear parrots squawking off in the distance. No luck seeing any though, at least not from our kayaks. They nest in the black mangroves just out of kayak accessibility.

While we didn't see any parrots, I did spot a cowfish, briefly. It swam up behind Bob's kayak while we listened to him explain mangrove ecology, but quickly dove deeper when he turned around to look at it.

Aquatic plant known as mermaid's wineglass can sometimes be found along the bottom of the mangroves, visibility permitting

Normally, you can often see turtles and other sea creatures in the water, but the morning we went, it was fairly overcast and not great for seeing too deep into the water. Hawksbill turtles hang out here because of the number of sponges that grow in the mangroves, sponges being a favourite food of that turtle species. Guess they weren't that hungry.

Speaking of reptiles and amphibians…at one time, the Grand Cayman mangroves were home to a species of crocodile native only to the island, but they were wiped out in the 20th century to save turtles, which were being raised domestically for food there, at the time. However, every now and then, rumours surface that maybe way back in the furthest reaches of the mangroves, there may be a few crocs still scraping out a living. Bob told us that's fueled by stories about a wild crocodile found on the island a few years ago and transferred to the Cayman Turtle Farm, a local research, conservation, and education centre.

Heading back towards the bay

Just as we began to enter the bay on our return paddle, we got lucky and spotted a spiny lobster nestled down under the water. Entering the bay, we find out the wind picks up and is blowing straight into us. We have to stroke-stroke-stroke in order to make headway and our initial 20-minute trip became a 35-minute workout. At one point, I'm thinking the sponges have it pretty good. But then of course, I remember that I don't have to worry about being eaten by a turtle.

I'll stick to padding.


Book kayaking trips through The company also offers night tours - full moon tours and bio-bay tours (where you see the ocean lit up by marine bioluminescence) and customized tours for corporate clients.

To get to Rum Point from Georgetown, drive about an hour east along Bodden Town Road, north on Frank Sound Road, then west on Rum Point Drive along the island's north shore. Be sure to allow for morning rush hour traffic - believe it or not, it can be really bad.

For more information about other activities on the islands, visit the Cayman Tourism website,

PHOTOS by John Geary
1. Cassiopea jellyfish we could see from our kayaks
2. Jellyfish hand-held by our guide
3. Although the water continues, the kayaks cannot get past this point to access the black mangroves
4. Aquatic plant known as mermaid's wineglass can sometimes be found along the bottom of the mangroves, visibility permitting
5. Heading back towards the bay


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