A moratorium needs to be placed on bringing in new boats to operate at the sandbar in the North Sound to prevent too many boats being there in the future say local snorkel trip operators.
However, currently the sandbar is not overcrowded assert Kelly’s Watersports’ Dave Kelly, Captain Frank Ebanks (Frank’s Watersports and Cayman National Watersports Association representative), Captain Gleason Ebanks (Gleason Watersports) and Captain Bryan Ebanks (Captain Bryan’s Sail and Snorkel and Land and Sea Co-operative President).
Mr. Kelly said there are no problems out at the sandbar and all the snorkel operators take care of each other and work as a team.
He refuted statements made in a previous article (Caymanian Compass 19 April, Page 1) in which other watersports operators had said the sandbar was overcrowded and the situation there was becoming dangerous.
‘The major operators work out there with no complaints,’ Mr. Kelly said.
‘The concern is that the cruise industry is the livelihood on this island, everyone depends on it,’ he said. ‘If the cruise ships are pressured they could leave and that could mash up the economy of the country’.
Captain Bryan Ebanks said what he does not want to see happen is that people panic and think the situation is bad at the sandbar, for blanket regulations to be laid down by politicians, making it difficult for the water sports businesses to operate.
‘We (the watersports operators) need to be a part of any discussion about this in future,’ he said. ‘We need to sit down with Government and state these problems that we have.’
However, Captain Bryan a member of the Marine Conservation Board, is aware of environmental issues in the North Sound.
‘The North Sound is dying on us,’ he said, saying that people stand all over the reefs, which kills the coral.
He also agrees with the implementation of environmental regulations, under review by the Government, to make the sandbar a special management area and control numbers of people on it.
‘We have to have some sense of order,’ Captain Bryan said, noting that a previous government had a moratorium on boats. He said the sandbar cannot hold anymore load than it already is.
Mr. Kelly said, ‘At this point the sandbar is not a problem, but we need a moratorium to avoid future problems’.
Captain Gleason Ebanks said if a moratorium is not introduced the bigger operators can keep bringing in more boats and drown out the smaller operators.
Captain Frank Ebanks, however, said he does not see the point in trying to control the numbers and timing of boats at the sandbar.
‘We’re working with the cruise ships and we never know from one hour to the next what will be the dispatch time from them,’ he said. ‘That’s the biggest reason why any type of control of numbers of people and boats or the duration of time on the sandbar should not be put in place. If we have too many restrictions on boats, times and people on the sandbar and at Stingray City the cruise ships can’t sell tours because they can’t get them out and the economy of the island depends so much on that.’
Captain Bryan and Mr. Kelly asserted that they would also like to see surveillance and rescue boat for the North Sound. This could monitor the environment to ensure people are not damaging reefs and act as a rescue boat in case of any sort of accident. Captain Bryan noted that the high safety record out at the sandbar speaks for itself, but accidents can and do happen to the most prepared so a surveillance and rescue boat is needed.
Mr. Kelly said watersports operators do operate in accordance with high standards otherwise the cruise ships would scream for a refund.
They have had a good year at the sandbar, they noted. Last year they had problems because a high tide made less of the sandbar available for use, but this year it has been much bigger, with more room for boats and people.
Capt. Bryan used this as an example for why blanket regulations won’t work, because conditions at the sandbar may differ again next year.
In relation to cruise ships and what they pay local operators Captain Bryan said it is a disgrace when one considers that they get, on average, over 50 per cent profit on trips when the local companies provide not only the snorkel trip and boat ride, but the transport from the dock.
‘If we could get better prices from the cruise ships then maybe we could pay our staff better and have an all over better industry,’ he said.
He added that there are cases where some boats overload with passengers to make up for low per head payments.
However, the local operators are also to blame for undercutting each other, something the cruise lines then take advantage of.
‘I would like better prices from the cruise ships and to see the carrying capacity honoured,’ he said.
However, Captain Frank disagrees that the cruise ships are making too much money, saying their expenses have to be taken into account.