Stingray appeal to go to royals

Conservationist Guy Harvey plans to take his mission to protect stingrays in Cayman waters to Buckingham Palace.

Mr. Harvey, who is part of a contingent supporting the Central Caribbean Marine Institute due to attend a dinner fundraiser at Buckingham Palace Thursday, said he intends to seek royal support for the declining population of stingrays.

Prince Edward is patron of CCMI and is expected to be in attendance at the dinner.

“I¹m looking forward to spending some time with Prince Edward to explain the level of research and the need to protect these valuable animals,” said Mr. Harvey.

The marine artist and conservationist recently launched a petition drive calling on the Cayman Islands government to immediately put the National Conservation Law into effect, ensuring the safety and protection of all stingrays in local waters.

Under existing law, stingrays are only protected in the designated Wildlife Interaction Zones of Stingray City and the Sandbar, which are among the most popular tourist attractions in Cayman.

Outside of those areas, stingrays can be caught and removed.

Mr. Harvey’s petition was launched after local dolphinarium Dolphin Discovery was found last month to have four stingrays in its tanks that had previously been tagged at the Sandbar. Those four were released to the Department of Environment, which returned them to the Sandbar. Another six stingrays that had also been removed from the wild, but had not been tagged, remain in tanks at the dolphinarium.

“Maintaining the ecological health of these stingray populations for the long-term will require management and conservation programmes based on a thorough knowledge of the biology of these animals,” said Mr. Harvey, who initiated research work on the Cayman Island¹s southern stingray population in 2002.

The Guy Harvey Research Institute, based at Nova Southeastern University in South Florida, has conducted a census each year since 2002 and the population has been very stable at around 100 animals counted in a standard three-day sampling period.

However, in 2010, a decline was noticed and the last two census counts showed a 40 percent decrease in the stingray population.

Mr. Harvey said the situation at the Sandbar in North Sound is unique, with a large number of wild rays that are not fenced or contained and inhabit the shallow clear water with accessibility every day of the year.

He said the socio-economic value of the rays to the Cayman economy is “enormous”, with each animal able to generate US$500,000 in revenue per year and, if it lives more than 20 years, more than US$10 million in its lifetime.

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