Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands (Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac and Little Cayman). The three islands are a British Overseas Territory and are located in the western Caribbean, south of Cuba and northwest of Jamaica. Grand Cayman is easily the largest of the three islands with an area of 76 square miles. It is a relatively flat island; its highest point is not quite 80 feet above sea level.
Although Grand Cayman is a low lying island, it is actually the summit of a massive, barely-exposed, undersea mountain. This mountain is part of an undersea chain known as the Cayman Ridge which extends westward from the island of Cuba. The Cayman Trench is the deepest part of the Caribbean Sea at a little over 4 miles deep. These geographical features are part of the boundary between the North American and Caribbean tectonic plates. Grand Cayman is subject to frequent, minor earthquakes, mostly unnoticeable. Occasionally, a bigger tremor can occur but none has ever been recorded above a 7.0 magnitude.
The Cayman Islands were first discovered by the Spanish by Christopher Columbus in 1503 and were originally called Las Tortugas (The Turtles) due to the numerous sea turtles that were found. Francis Drake was the first Englishman of record to land on the islands in 1586. He named them the Cayman Islands after the Carib Indian word for the marine crocodile, caiman. The islands were mostly uninhabited until the 17th century. Great Britain was awarded control of the islands in 1670 by treaty. Although recorded settlements existed on the other two islands between 1661 and 1671, serious attempts at settlement didn't occur until about 1730.
The people of Grand Cayman Island are of British and African descent, with 60% of the population of mixed African and European descent. At the time of the last official census in 1999, the population of Grand Cayman was almost 40,000. The official language is English.
The economy of Grand Cayman is split evenly between finance and tourism. The Cayman Islands are famous as an offshore financial center. They are the fifth largest banking center in the world. A large number of businesses have operations here and the people of Grand Cayman enjoy a high standard of living.
Grand Cayman's other industry, tourism, is also world famous. The government has declared that all beaches are public property to the high water mark. One of the prime attractions is Seven Mile Beach, which is where many of the islands hotels and resorts are located. There are many world class restaurants, night clubs and resorts on the western end of the island, while the eastern district features many restaurants that excel at native cuisine.
Grand Cayman is also well known for scuba diving. There are more than 40 dive operators and 200 well marked dive sites. The waters are warm, calm, full of life and there is often more than 100 feet of visibility. Many other water sports are also available, like fishing, boating and sailing.
There is also hiking in the middle of the island and a turtle farm in the West Bay area. Green Sea Turtles are a traditional food in Cayman culture and are increasingly rare in the wild. The farm raises about 1800 turtle per year and releases some into the wild each year. In the 25 years following 1980, over 30,000 turtles were released and individuals have been spotted throughout the Caribbean.
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