Cayman stingrays are safe

Freak ray accident kills wildlife daredevil

Water sports operators in Cayman were not feeling negative impacts on business Monday from a freak incident in which a wildlife TV star died from a stingray stab in Australia.


People play with the stingrays at the sandbar. Photo: File

Star of the TV programme ‘The Crocodile Hunter’, Steve Irwin has died after being pierced in the chest by a stingray barb in a freak accident while diving in Australia.

He was diving near the stingray while filming a documentary when he was stabbed in the heart by the barb.

Water sports operators in Cayman have acknowledged his death as a freak accident that is not likely to be repeated ever again.

As of Monday a cross section of water sports operators in Cayman had not experienced cancellations to Stingray City because of the accident.

Neither the Land and Sea Co-op, Red Sail Sports, Captain Marvin’s or Kelly’s Water sports had received any cancellations. Cayman Islands Tourism Association water sports directors had not heard of cancellations from members either.

In a statement from the CITA Water sports sector, Chairman Stephen Broadbelt said, ‘The effect on local tour operators to Stingray City and the Sandbar is expected to be minimal.

‘The short term effect is more likely to be with snorkellers rather than divers. Divers tend to be more educated about marine creatures and have a better understanding of hazardous marine life. As operators, we allow the stingrays to come to us; therefore the stingrays are not threatened and not aggressive. Yet, being used to both divers and snorkellers, the stingrays at Stingray City and Sandbar will closely interact with all visitors in a positive manner.’

Mr. Broadbelt noted that stingrays use their venomous barb for self defence from natural predators. ‘If a stingray is forced into a corner by an over enthusiastic snorkeller or diver, the stingray will feel threatened. The barb in a stingray can take a long time to grow and it is therefore thought that the use of this barb is only as a last resort in situations that the stingray is in fear of its life’.

Mr. Broadbelt said this tragic event in Australia only highlights the need for regulating one of the largest tourist attractions here, stating that the man-handling of stingrays and lifting them out of the water at the sandbar is cruel and dangerous.

‘It is hoped that the new Wildlife Interaction Zone/Special Management Zone regulations are brought into law as soon as possible,’ he said. ‘Over five years of time and effort was spent in compiling comprehensive recommendations for the protection and management of our stingray attractions. It is hoped that all recommendations will be implemented rather than an abbreviated draft rushed through as a knee-jerk reaction to this incident.’

Cabinet has recently considered the draft regulations for the Special Management Areas at the sandbar and Stingray City.

Funding for a vessel to be used in policing the SMAs has also been provided for, along with an additional marine enforcement officer to be put in the sandbar/Stingray City area Director the Department of the Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie told Finance Committee recently.

The CITA’s water sports Director Nancy Easterbrook said, ‘I think it was just a fluke accident, but I hope the public doesn’t get all scared by this,’ However, she remained hopeful that there would be no long-reaching effects from the incident.

She noted that Mr. Irwin had been known as a dare devil and it was certainly a freak-type accident that he was stabbed in the chest by a barb. People occasionally get stung by stingrays, she said, and not normally at Stingray City or the Sandbar, but in the areas of shallow water where visibility is not great and someone steps on a stingray that is buried under the sand.

Ruth Anglin of Captain Marvin’s Watersports also noted the freak element of the accident; that Mr. Irwin was stabbed by the barb rather than stung.

She said she was anticipating some questions by e-mail on the issue by those wishing to book trips, but she said she was not anticipating any cancellations or panic from the public.

She noted that there are around 25 different species of stingray in Australia and some of these would not be used to people and would be more aggressive than those in Cayman.

‘Ours, although wild, have been interacting with people for 50 years and are used to them,’ she said.

Mr. Broadbelt also noted that not all stingrays are the same, and there are about 200 species of stingrays.

‘Australia is home to some of the deadliest creatures on the planet, many of their less harmful cousins of similar common names live in the Caribbean and other parts of the world, such as our Southern Stingrays,’ he said.

Manager of the Land and Sea Cooperative Halcy Lofters said she does not expect any negative impacts on business, because the injury was from the fact that he had gotten stabbed by the barb, rather than having been stung.

Mr. Broadbelt described the death of Mr. Irwin as tragic.

‘His ‘don’t try this at home’ approach was somewhat controversial, but was effective in capturing the hearts and minds of millions and served a popular educational purpose’.

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