Four stingrays tagged at the Sandbar in North Sound that were discovered in Dolphin Discovery are due to be released on Monday.
Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie told reporters Friday that a team from the Cayman Islands Department of Environment planned to pick up the stingrays at the West Bay tourist attraction in Grand Cayman early Monday morning, transfer them by truck to a boat at Morgan’s Harbour and then take them back to their home at the Sandbar, where they were tagged in January.
In all, there are 10 stingrays at Dolphin Discovery, which the company’s general manager Carlos Moreno said were caught by local fishermen and swapped for leftover fish bait used to feed the dolphins. He said the fishermen had told him they planned to kill the captured stingrays and use them for bait.
“We have only been given permission to take the four that are tagged,” Ms Ebanks-Petrie said. “I have asked for the release of all the animals, but so far, that does not seem to be in the offing.”
Department of Environment staff have scanned the other six rays, but none of those were found to have been tagged.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said the Department of Environment had also requested that Dolphin Discovery allow her staff to tag the other rays so that the department could verify at later dates that no new rays from the Sandbar had been added to the facility’s stingray population, but no permission was so far forthcoming.
The four stingrays were among 61 rays tagged and counted at the Sandbar in January as part of a study and census of the rays. When researchers returned to the Sandbar in July, they found only 57 rays. The numbers of stingrays at the Sandbar have been decreasing, as evidenced by earlier censuses dating from 2002 to 2008, when more than 100 rays were counted at the Sandbar.
Stingrays have no legal protection as a species under the current Marine Conservation Law if they are captured outside designated zones, like Marine Parks, Wildlife Interaction Zones or Designated Environmental Zones. The Sandbar and Stingray City are Wildlife Interaction Zones, but there is no evidence to prove that the tagged rays were taken directly from those areas.
Under the Marine Conservation Law, taking a ray from a protected marine zone carries a maximum penalty of a $500,000 fine and/or one year in prison, although there is yet to be a case of this brought before the courts.
The draft National Conservation Bill, which is still awaiting being passed into law, would offer protection to stingrays, regardless of where they were caught, Department of Environment staff have said.
The four tagged rays have been in quarantine for a week to ensure they are healthy enough to go back into the wild.