More jellyfish invade Sandbar

Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Marine Unit officers witnessed about 12-15 people receive stings from tiny jellyfish in the Sandbar area of Grand Cayman’s North Sound Thursday, prompting more questions about the area’s safety.

One of the people who got stung was treated at hospital after suffering an allergic reaction.

However, Tourism Minister Charles Clifford said it really wasn’t a major issue.

‘Cases of jellyfish stinging tourists had been reported and because of what happened recently, I believe there was some uncertainty as to who should do what,’ Mr. Clifford said at a Friday press briefing.

On 28 March, RCIPS ordered all boats out of the Sandbar because of dangerous conditions.

The closure only lasted one day, but it sparked a fierce debate among tourism officials, police and tour boat operators.

Mr. Clifford said the Ministry did communicate Thursday with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service, the Port Authority and the Department of Environment about the jellyfish situation. The agencies were following a temporary protocol now being used when problems arise in the North Sound.

‘(The incidents) were first reported by the police to the Ministry….we had dialogue on it. We determined it wasn’t an issue and that was the end of the matter,’ he said.

The RCIPS made what’s believed to be an unprecedented decision last month to close the Sandbar to boat traffic because of rough sea conditions, which a police superintendent said almost caused two boats to collide with each other.

During that morning, two tourists were hospitalised with jellyfish stings and another man suffered an injury from a stingray barb. It was thought the choppy waters may have thrown the ray onto the man.

While those three incidents were listed as part of the reason police moved to close off the Sandbar on 28 March, officers said the more pressing concern was the dangerous travelling conditions.

Mr. Clifford said there was no evidence on Thursday that sea conditions were too dangerous.

‘There was never any concern about closing the Sandbar,’ he said. ‘I think what was more of an issue last (month) was the weather conditions…which wasn’t an issue (Thursday).’

Police said boating conditions were not unsafe Thursday, although a spokesperson acknowledged the number of jellyfish stings were quite high.

‘This type of activity involving jellyfish is not uncommon this time of year,’ Mr. Clifford said ‘There were thimbles (small jellyfish) out on Easter weekend and I’m sure a few people got stung, but it’s not a big deal.’

Mr. Clifford has previously said communication surrounding the Sandbar’s closure last month could have been better. He said all interested parties would be notified before any decisions are made to close down the popular tourist attraction in the future.

Last month’s closure prompted an angry reaction from more than a dozen tour boat owners and captains who make a living taking tourists into North Sound locations such as the Sandbar and Stingray City.

One veteran boat captain called 28 March ‘the worst day of tourism that has ever been known in the Cayman Islands.’

Mr. Clifford said that was a mischaracterisation and that 9/11 and Hurricane Ivan were both far more damaging to the island’s tourism product.

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