Editorial for 23 July: Sandbar needs a ray of hope

It appears we may be losing one of our
natural resources and top tourist draws in the Cayman Islands.

A scientist with the Department of
Biological Sciences at the University of Rhode Island, working in conjunction
with the Guy Harvey Institute and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment,
has been carrying out censuses on the local stingray population since 2002. In
his last check in 2008, he found more than 100 stingrays at the Sandbar at any
given time, but on his most recent trip this year, he counted or tagged just
61.

That’s not good.

There are many theories of why this is
happening:

Some say sharks are eating the rays.

Some think there are people out there at
night fishing for rays.

And others think that 30 years of
interacting with human beings has finally taken its toll on the rays.

No one knows for sure, but something is
reducing the Southern Stingray population at Stingray City and the Sandbar.

A further study done by a team from the
Georgia Aquarium may have pinpointed diet as a factor.

Tourists who flock to Stingray City and the
Sandbar are given pieces of squid to entice the rays to come to them and get
the thrill of feeding a wild sea creature right out of their hand.

The problem may be because squid is not the
natural diet of a stingray. In the wild, stingrays forage for molluscs.

Blood samples taken from the rays will tell
for sure whether squid is OK on a nutritional level for stingrays.

During their observations of the rays they
didn’t find any that were obese, overweight or suffering shark bites. And they
did find many female rays that were pregnant. If diet is found to be the issue,
we would hope that those who offer tours to Stingray City and the Sandbar would
change the food they give to tourists to feed the rays.

Those who visit the rays are no longer
allowed to pick them up and take them out of the water. That rule was
implemented for the rays’ safety. Once all the tests are done and results
known, we can know better how to protect this valuable Cayman Islands asset.

 

 

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