The stingray: Cayman's real national treasure

The Stingray City Sandbar — not the financial hemorrhage that is the Cayman Turtle Farm, and not the picturesque but remote Queen Elizabeth II Botanic Park — is the most popular tourist attraction in the Cayman Islands.

Marine conservationist and artist Guy Harvey has estimated that each of the roughly 90 stingrays at the Sandbar generates $500,000 in annual revenue, and each is worth as much as $5 million to the local economy.

Anyone interested in the well-being of the stingrays, the tourists or the tour operators should be aghast at the latest allegations of mismanagement at the Sandbar.

Actually, “mismanagement” may be too kind a term. It’s more like “anarchy” — considering government officials are nowhere to be found, despite increasing complaints about boat safety and animal welfare from all sorts of visitors to the site, ranging from Mr. Harvey to everyday tourists.

Most recently, photographer/filmmaker couple Ellen Cuylaerts and Michael Maes captured startling images of injured stingrays and awkward-looking interactions with humans.

Now, Ms. Cuylaerts and Mr. Maes aren’t scientists or animal behavior experts, and the photographs they shared, while alarming, are by themselves not sufficient to indict any particular individuals. After all, the injuries evident in their photos may not be related to current conditions at the Sandbar.

However, the photos do form part of a growing corpus of evidence from independent sources that — yes, we do appear to have a serious and growing problem at the Sandbar.

Given the public stature and economic importance of the location, even the mere appearance of a potential problem should command government’s undivided attention and immediate action.

While the Sandbar situation is twofold — overloaded boats and manhandled stingrays — it is no dilemma. The solution is simple: The police and/or Port Authority need to enforce marine regulations. The Department of Environment should re-station the officer it pulled from daily duty at the Sandbar sometime last year.

The environmental department’s lack of response is particularly troubling, since many of the issues appear to have arisen since it stopped monitoring the Sandbar on a full-time basis. To explain away its negligence of the friendly stingrays, the department, predictably, has fallen back on the hackneyed excuse of “budget constraints.”

The Department of Environment has it backward: The Sandbar should be priority number one. Any officers being redeployed should be moving to, not away from, the Sandbar.

As wonderful as queen conch, Nassau grouper, Cayman parrots, blue iguanas and green sea turtles are, no species, individually or collectively, occupies as vital a role to Cayman’s economy today as does the stingray.

It is the stingrays’ amiable naïveté that has endeared them to visitors, and it is that same quality that renders them vulnerable to abuse.

The Stingray City Sandbar is a true miracle of nature, and it should be stewarded as such.

4 COMMENTS

  1. While most people agree that Stingray City requires protection, diversion and distraction from the core issues create conflicts that contribute to yield protection ineffective. Simply because the key problems are not addressed, nor targeted.

    In one hand we have those that want a total ban on the interaction. They are hard core supporters of the see-but-don’t-touch doctrine. We could call them the stingray huggers.

    On the other hand we have those that are skilled (the keyword here is skilled) in the interaction and try to make the stingray handling as amusing for the visitors and as less deleterious for the stingrays as possible. We could call them the stingray holders.

    What both stingray huggers and holders seem to miss, while they keep engaged in exchanging strong gazes and smarmy comments elsewhere, is that both are being deceived, passively distracted from the two real threats.

    The first and more dramatic by its immediate effects, is the unskilled stingray handlers. They don’t know how to do the job, and induce injuries in the stingrays. Which wouldn’t be a major issue if the intensity and frequency of their mismanagement was lesser. But with so many tourist arriving, the scenario changes. Stingrays heal wounds… if allowed to do so. There is a simple remedy here: training. It is in the best interests of the tour companies to keep their employers skillful, to assure that stingrays will be there, healthy and happy, everyday they arrive.

    The other is less apparent, and yet is the real source of all the other problems due to its lethality. It is represented by the concealed, the stealth, by cowards lurking in shadows and darkness, travelling in the middle of the night. Those are the poachers. Boat lights that have been reported in the sand bar… and been dismissed as incidental, insignificant issues.

    A scratched stingray makes news and triggers drama. A stingray that went missing overnight and was never seen again doesn’t. Nobody saw, nobody knew. Its absence will not be noticed anytime soon.

    Before I continue, as recently I pointed out in a related comment, we can’t afford to be so utterly guileless as to play, one more time, the Dolphin Discovery card. Do you really think that the stingrays that showed up at such business account for all those that have gone missing? The numbers don’t add up.

    The solution for this latter threat cannot be simpler: support the Department of Environment and the Marine Police to enforce the law. And if the law can be tuned up, as in to make poaching of stingrays at the sandbar an attack to the national security framework of this country due to the pivotal meaning of Stingray City in the Cayman Islands national economy, hence rendering such poaching as the equivalent to treason, the conditions for the current dismal scenario would soon change for good.

  2. It’s hard to fathom why the CIG sees fit to spend millions of dollars every year keeping the Turtle Farm going so that people can eat an endanger species yet on the other hand don’t feel it’s necessary to ensure the wellbeing of the Sting Rays that are actually generating millions of dollars for the economy every year. The leaders of this country seem to have their priorities upside down.

  3. I’m aghast to hear that someone took a stingray. It’s a small island, someone knows. Offer reward and the offender will be caught. As I have said before we live in FL and I have witnessed people fishing for the rays and cutting them up to eat. I was just appalled. The Government must step in here before it’s too late. Cayman has a unique treasure, please everyone step forward and let the Government know your wishes. Start a petition!

  4. Our home lies along the canal from the Yacht Club to the North Sound. On busy cruise ship days we see up to 20 different tourist boats heading out and coming back. Usually the same boats up to three times a day.
    Some of the boats, especially the sailing boats are uncrowded and travel at the posted speed of 5 mph.
    Many boats however are packed with up to 100 people and travel at 3-4 times the speed limit down this canal. It is a well posted no wake zone but in their hurry to rush tourists out and back again this is ignored.
    I’m sure the same bad manners carry on when they actually get to Stingray City.
    Now add to this the tourist boats that leave from Governors Harbor and other docks.

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