Return and protect stingrays

Letter to the Editor

I am writing this letter as one of the foremost marine scientists in the Cayman Islands on the biology, ecology, natural history and socio-economic value of the southern stingrays, in the context of their relationship with these Islands. In reference to this animal, the word “iconic” is appropriate. 

Everyone who read the Friday edition of the Caymanian Compass and the Sunday Observer this week would have seen the full page advertisement placed by the owners of Dolphin Discovery. At first glance I was hoping for something new and different in their approach. When I finished reading the advertisement I was struck by the astounding attempt to mislead the public. The expression “Damage Control” came to mind. 

To begin with, the heading gives the impression that all 10 stingrays that were held in captivity were released. Reading on it was apparent only the four “hot” stingrays that were released. Six remain languishing in captivity. The owners of Dolphin Discovery omitted to state that five of the six remaining rays are adult males. These adult males are desperately needed to better balance the numbers of reproductive adults at the sandbar. 

The first paragraph states “We worked closely with the Department of Environment to release the happy and healthy stingrays this week.” Yes they did. Unfortunately, they have yet to explain how the four tagged rays were acquired. For those of you who don’t know, all “new” rays are tagged with a small PIT tag, injected beneath the skin so each ray has its own unique label. This census has been on-going since 2002. 

The manager and owner of Dolphin Discovery were requested by me, and then by DoE, to have the remaining six rays tagged. They said NO. Is that working closely with the DoE? The director of the DoE wrote formally to the owners and manager of Dolphin Discovery recommending the tagging and release of all the rays. You guessed right, the response was a procrastinating “We will refer to our directors”.  

The second paragraph states “Dolphin Discovery is committed to the local environment and will happily be on hand to help the DoE in the future. We are currently in discussions with regards to a reproductive programme with the Stingrays at Dolphin Discovery”. Well sir, in discussions with whom? Certainly not the DoE. Are they misleading the public or are they in discussions with someone else ? 

The third paragraph is the ringer; “We welcome visitors to come and see the stingrays at Dolphin Discovery location in West Bay, opposite the Turtle Farm.” So here we have it. Release the other six rays? No way Jose! There is money to be made from them. Are the dolphins not lucrative enough?  

The stingray sandbar experience is enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people annually. Who would want to negatively affect this experience as well as the livelihood of the stingray tour operators by damaging the uniqueness of stingray city?  

The stingray is on every advertisement, in every TV ad and in most foreign editorials about Cayman that have ever been written or produced in the last 30 years! I said ICONIC. 

To rule out health issues such as a detrimental virus, or some other physiological disorder with the rays, I called on the expertise of three top marine veterinarians from the Georgia Aquarium to take blood from and assess the well being of the rays at the sandbar during the July census. The first reports are just coming in. There are no issues with the health of the rays from the Sandbar or Stingray City. So what other factors could be behind such a massive reduction in the stingray population? 

The public outcry about this issue has been very encouraging. This affects EVERYBODY in the Cayman Islands just like the price of gas. We need to hear from the local fishermen who have allegedly caught the rays and took them to Dolphin Discovery. What was their incentive? Is it even true? Given the national importance of the rays why would any fisherman or boater want to do this? 

What do the West Bay MLAs have to say about this? What do any of the MLAs have to say about this? Please speak up! We are waiting to hear from you. We want to hear from the representatives of all the stakeholders; Dept of Tourism, CITA, Chamber of Commerce, National Trust, Seafarers Association, etc., as well as from all dive shops, hotel managers and staff, restaurant owners, bus drivers, bank staff, garage owners, gas stations workers, street cleaners, school students and teachers, policemen, airport workers…who are ALL affected.  

Where is the unified call for action? A petition has been started and we hope you will all sign it. 

There is a very loud silence from the senior members of government. The stingray population at the sandbar has been reduced by almost 50 per cent in the last two years. Let me repeat that; nearly 50 per cent since 2010. As a very concerned scientist, I do the research and provide the information but do not determine policy or law. 

Everything points to total protection for all stingrays throughout the Cayman Islands. Why has it taken this episode to highlight the inherent value of a thriving stingray population? Had the National Conservation Law already been in place it would have taken care of all this. No excuses, gray areas, misunderstandings or dithering, no “stingrays in someone’s back yard pool”, on a BBQ or in an attraction tank. If you hook one accidentally while bottom fishing, you MUST release the ray alive. 

The owners and managers at Dolphin Discovery lost a wonderful opportunity to rectify an awkward situation. For the health of Cayman’s stingray population and our tourism which affects every single Caymanian, the moral action should have been to have the remaining six captive rays tagged and then released at the sandbar for everyone to enjoy.  

The applause would have been deafening.  

 

Guy Harvey 

Guy Harvey 
Research Institute 

1 COMMENT

  1. Congradulations to Guy Harvey for this awesome editorial. I would be proud to stand next to you on the boycott line. Name the place and time. The Cayman Islands snorkeling and diving community will be there in full support.

  2. I thank Dr. Harvey for his excellent letter. I urge all who agree with him to speak up. We must make sure that our voices are heard on this matter. The Stingrays are Iconic, as Guy points out. They are one of the foundations of our water sports tourism base. For one organization to put that at risk for their own financial gain with no regard to the effect on the rest of the stakeholders is unconscionable.
    Guy says we need to speak up. I am doing so. How about the rest of you?
    This is a chance for this government to take a proactive position and stop this abomination. They need to act in the best interest of the people not the special interests. They need to do so now. No more excuses.
    Len Layman

  3. The electorate is the only power which can sway the government away from the big money at Dolphin Discovery.

    Mobilize the electorate and a candidate prepared to honor their wishes and you just might bring enough pressure to bear on them to stop the abuse of marine animals.

    Just saying . . .

  4. Big Money at the Turtle Farm ? Correct me if I’m wrong but I thought the Turtle farm was costing the government millions of dollars every year in subsidies. The place needs to be revamped into an attraction that benefits and showcases Caymans sea life not farms it..

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