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.