New marine regulations for popular tourist destinations in the North Sound will reduce the number of people who can travel there and may eliminate tourist travel entirely at certain times during the weekend.
The Marine Conservation Regulations were approved by Cabinet 13 March and are part of amendments to the Marine Conservation Law (2003 revision) approved last year by the Legislative Assembly. They are expected to go into effect sometime in June.
‘(The regulations) are primarily aimed at ensuring the sustainability of those two sites (the Sandbar and Stingray City) and to make sure they are properly used, so that we have them for future generations,’ Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said during a Friday press briefing.
The regulations do not set specific limits for the number of people who can occupy the Sandbar, or how many can be on a tour boat at a given time.
Instead, they give the Marine Conservation Board broad powers in licensing individual tour boat operators.
‘The Marine Conservation Board, in issuing a licence, will have to have regard to the capacity of the vessel, and then they have to look at the licences that they will be issuing collectively, and the frequency that those vessels will be operating to those locations,’ Mr. Clifford said.
Mr. Clifford said part of the regulations’ objective is to limit the total number of people that can go to the Sandbar at one time.
‘If the average length of a stay at the Sandbar was and hour and a half, it might have to be reduced to an hour or 45 minutes for that particular vessel.’
In addition, the marine board may consider licensing requirements that would force the tour boat operator to be off the Sandbar or out of Stingray City by a specific time on the weekend.
‘At some point after noon the time would be cut off for tourism activities, because…the Sandbar must be available for enjoyment of locals as well,’ said Mr. Clifford. Boat operators who were concerned about the closure of the Sandbar last week also said they were wary of the new regulations.
‘It looks like they’re doing everything now to keep local people from making some money,’ said operator Elden Ebanks.
Leader of the opposition McKeeva Bush echoed Mr. Ebanks’ concerns in an interview with the Caymanian Compass last week.
‘I realise there needs to be regulations put in place,’ said Mr. Bush. ‘But not to the extent that it will destroy people’s business.’
The Marine Conservation Board will start charging permit fees for tour boats that operate at the Sandbar and Stingray City areas. The three-year permits will cost $300 for boats less than 50 feet long and $600 for those longer than 50 feet.
The regulations also address protection of wildlife and natural habitats such as coral reefs in the North Sound.
‘For 10 years we have tried the route of self-regulation, and it is now abundantly clear that in the absence of legislation there is little that can be done,’ Mr. Clifford said.
Both Stingray City and the Sandbar will be designated as wildlife interaction zones under the regulations.
In these zones, no one will be allowed to wear footwear while in the water (except for snorkel fins in water deeper than four feet); remove any stingray or marine life from the water; fish; or feed stingrays unless the food has been pre-approved by the Marine Conservation Board.
Limits will also be set on the amount of food stingrays can be given.
Also, boats will not be allowed to anchor in water less than three feet deep, and anchors cannot be weighed within 20 feet of a reef.
Any part of the areas designated as wildlife interaction zones can be ruled off-limits to scuba divers, unless the diver or dive group gets specific permits to do so from the Marine Conservation Board.
Fisheries officers from the Department of Environment will be allowed to board any boat operating in a wildlife interaction zone to check whether it is properly licensed.
The regulations aimed at keeping the number of travellers to tourist areas in the North Sound under control are being made partly for safety reasons. However, the regulations do not address specific safety requirements for small commercial vehicles.
Mr. Clifford has previously said those safety measures would either be handled under a new law, or would be added to the regulations governing the safety of commercial craft in the Port Authority Law.