North Sound rules changing

Rules for playing at Stingray City are about to change.

The Marine Conservation Law has been amended to provide the framework for regulating watersports activities in the Cayman Islands, particularly at the Stingray City and Sandbar sites.

Minister of Environment Charles Clifford said in Legislative Assembly last week that the regulations will ensure the viability of the popular tourist attractions for the long term.

‘Given the importance of these types of areas to our tourism product and our environment, and by extension, to our quality of life, it is clear that regulation is now required to ensure that our natural environment is preserved and protected, not just for us… but for generations to come,’ he said.

The regulations will not be implemented until sometime in the first quarter of 2007, probably sometime in February, Mr. Clifford said.

The proposed regulations were outlined by Mr. Clifford in his introduction to the Amendment Bill.

Both Stingray City and the Sandbar will be designated as Wildlife Interaction Zones in the Marine Parks Regulations.

The regulations address three main areas, including the protection of stingrays through controlling how people interact with them; the protection of the reefs and natural environment in the designated zones; and the licensing of tourist boats entering the areas.

‘Among other things, it is proposed that in the Wildlife Interaction Zones, no one be permitted to remove a stingray or any other marine life from the water, or to fish or take any form of marine life by any means’ Mr. Clifford said, adding that the amount and type of food fed to the stingrays will also be regulated.

In addition, the new regulations are proposed to prohibit the anchoring of vessels within the Wildlife Interaction Zone in water less than four feet deep, and require boats anchor at least 20 feet away from any reef structure.

It is proposed to prohibit scuba diving in the Sandbar area unless special permission is obtained from the Marine Conservation Board.

‘The reason for this is the danger of scuba divers operating in very shallow water with boats approaching the Sandbar,’ Mr. Clifford told the House.

The new regulations also propose to require a licence issued by the Marine Conservation Board of all tourist boats entering the Wildlife Interaction Zone. Proposed conditions applied to that licence include regulating the number of tourist boats that can access the zone at specified times; regulating the number of passengers that can be carried to any specific area; and requiring the boat display visual evidence that it is licensed to be in the zone.

‘The draft regulations also propose to prohibit the feeding of marine life in areas of Cayman waters other than those areas designated as Wildlife Interaction Zones,’ Mr. Clifford said, adding, however, that the regulations would not include things like chumming or scenting by fishermen who are line fishing in approved areas.

The amendments to the law give Cabinet the ability to make the Marine Conservation Law Regulations, something with which Leader of the Opposition McKeeva Bush disagreed.

‘The powers [given to Cabinet] mentioned are far too wide,’ he said. ‘I will not support it.’

Mr. Bush said the amendment could affect ‘many, many lives in the Cayman Islands’ and that Cabinet alone should not have the power to regulate Stingray City and the Sandbar.

‘We cannot use a maul to kill fire ants,’ he said. ‘In some cases, that is what will happen.’

During the Committee Stage, Mr. Bush brought a motion that called for all regulations made by Cabinet to be subject to a negative resolution by Legislative Assembly.

The Government voted down the motion, but offered as a compromise to invite the Opposition to the meetings that will be held with the various marine industry stakeholders before the Regulations are finalised.

Opposition Member Captain Eugene Ebanks also opposed the new law, primarily because it seeks to prohibit or regulate the touching and feeding or other human interaction with marine life.

‘Whoever concocted [the Bill] did not have the best interests of the Watersports Industry at heart,’ he said.

Mr. Ebanks, said he worked on North Sound charters from when he was a boy, and that his father – Captain Marvin Ebanks – has been offering North Sound trips for more than 50 years.

‘I don’t have a problem with some of [the Bill],’ he said. ‘I have supported amendments to the Marine Conservation Law for conservation in the past. But this is not in the interest of conservation as far as I am concerned, at least not totally.’

Mr. Ebanks said he was concerned the proposed regulations would create economic hardships to North Sound tour operators, and he wondered if the regulations were a response to the well publicised stingray incidents involving Steve Irwin in Australia and another one in Florida.

Mr. Clifford said regulating the activities at Stingray City and the Sandbar had been under consideration for several years by the key stakeholder group that included representatives of the Watersports Industry, the Marine Conservation Board, the Land and Sea Cooperative and the Department of Environment.

‘Unlike previous governments, we don’t want to wait for something to happen before we act,’ Mr. Clifford said. ‘We want to be proactive rather than reactive.’

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