Some tour guides are apparently exploiting the prolonged absence of a Department of Environment officer from the Stingray City Sandbar to disregard standards for passenger safety and animal treatment.
Those tour operators may be endangering human lives by overloading their boats, menacing the health of gentle stingrays through sheer recklessness and, ultimately, threatening the viability of one of Grand Cayman’s premier attractions.
Furthermore, it appears those acts of misconduct have been enabled by negligence on the part of the Cayman Islands Government, silence from tourism industry representatives and what appears to be unwarranted discretion among law-abiding tour operators.
The situation makes Cayman look bad — dangerous, cheap and third-world — in the eyes of our target tourist demographic, whose expectations for quality and safety have been set by first-class destinations such as, for example, the Walt Disney World Resort.
Hundreds of thousands of people visit the sandbar each year. It seems the only people who aren’t present at the sandbar are the ones who should be: law enforcement.
We don’t know why the Department of Environment isn’t looking after the welfare of the sandbar stingrays — the department didn’t provide the Compass reporter with an answer. We don’t know why the police aren’t watching out for boat safety violations — they didn’t respond either.
The newspaper did get a response from Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell — but it was insufficient. Mr. Kirkconnell said he and Environment Minister Wayne Panton had met with operators and were working on a solution.
This, like many of Cayman’s problems, isn’t a matter for discussion or negotiation. It’s a matter for law enforcement. The Department of Environment needs to be enforcing laws protecting stingrays, and the police need to be enforcing laws protecting humans.
However, the government is not entirely to blame for allowing some operators to run amok. Where is the Cayman Islands Tourism Association? Why is this purported representative of the industry not leading the charge against business practices in the tourism sphere that are unfair, unsafe and unsustainable?
Let us be clear that we are not impugning the activities of the vast majority of established tour operators, particularly the long-standing companies, which, as far as we are aware, have striven to conduct themselves with respect for their clients and the environment. That being said, why are the venerable heads of those companies not speaking out, publicly, against their less-scrupulous colleagues?
The only person willing to put his name to critical observations is Cayman’s preeminent conservation figure Guy Harvey. We agree, nearly wholeheartedly, with Dr. Harvey’s statements on the potentially dire impacts of misbehaving tour operators.
Where we respectfully disagree with Dr. Harvey, however, is his suggestion to levy a fee on people taking trips to the sandbar. The last thing the country needs is another revenue stream for government.
In this case, government has a clear, preexisting responsibility to protect the sandbar’s human tourists and animal denizens. It also has clear, preexisting funding. It’s called general revenue.
If the Cayman government truly requires additional money in order to enforce basic marine laws, then it can find it by cutting expenses that are far more questionable.
We suggest shutting down the Cayman Islands Turtle Farm: $10 million per year should be enough to protect the sandbar.