The Sandbar in Grand Cayman’s North Sound was fully opened to marine traffic on Monday, nearly five days after it was closed off due to inclement weather.
The tourist attraction was partly opened Sunday, with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Marine Unit allowing just five vessels to visit at one time for safety reasons. Police said the unusual step was taken to ensure safety at a time when high winds and waves made for choppy conditions.
‘The shape and size of the Sandbar changes with the weather and currents,’ RCIPS spokesperson Deborah Denis wrote in response to questions about the Wednesday, 2 January closure. ‘(Sunday) the Sandbar was around half the size that it normally is, with the calmest part — only big enough to accommodate around five vessels.’
Police said the vessels Sunday were admitted on a ‘first come, first served’ basis with each staying just long enough to satisfy the people aboard. Other boats continued snorkel trips in other parts of the North Sound and returned to the Sandbar later in the day when space was available.
‘It worked well, apparently, with no problems,’ Ms Denis said.
Under the Port Authority Law (1999 Revision) and the Police Law, RCIPS is authorised to close the Sandbar, even the entire North Sound, to boat traffic to prevent injury and preserve life. It has done so twice in the past year, once in March 2007 and again on 2 January.
The RCIPS is only allowed to order temporary closures if weather conditions warrant. The police service, customs, and Department of Environment are not allowed to regulate Sandbar numbers on a routine basis.
Cayman Islands lawmakers have taken steps within the past year to reduce the overall numbers of visitors to the popular tourist attraction, partly because of safety and partly due to environmental concerns.
According to Marine Conservation Regulations approved by Cabinet last year, all commercial vessels travelling to the Sandbar and to deep Stingray City must be licensed by the Marine Conservation Board. Tourism Minister Charles Clifford has said those licences must consider the individual capacity of the water craft, and also look collectively at the number of licences issued and the frequency those vessels will be operating at various North Sound locations.
Mr. Clifford also noted those regulations do not specifically address safety requirements for smaller, private vessels or for smaller commercial vessels.
Last year, government ministers said those measures would be handled under the Port Authority Law or an entirely new law aimed at regulating small commercial vessels or SCV’s.