A series of shark attacks on Cayman Brac is causing concern – for the sharks, that is.
At least three sharks have been killed or injured in the past month on the Brac, prompting a warning from the Department of Environment that sharks are a protected species in the Cayman Islands.
A dead lemon shark washed up at the Channel Dock, a nurse shark was photographed with a gash in its side from a knife wound and dive instructors were forced to remove a rope that had apparently been tied around a nurse shark’s head.
Those incidents in the past few months follow another case earlier this year where a dive instructor discovered a shark with a kitchen knife sticking out of its head.
Brett Johnson, the dive instructor who removed the knife from the shark’s head in that incident, said the recent incidents were concerning. He said there were still issues of public awareness about the importance of sharks and the fact that harming them is illegal.
“People still seem to think sharks are man eaters,” he said.
The Department of Environment issued a warning this week that anyone caught harming a shark or other protected animal was liable to prosecution.
“Following recent reports of injured and slain sharks in Cayman Brac, the Department of Environment would like to remind the public that sharks are a crucial part of a healthy and balanced marine ecosystem and, as of April 2015, are fully protected in Cayman waters,” it said in a statement.
Cayman Islands angler and conservationist Guy Harvey whose foundation has designated November as Ocean Conservation Month said the recent incidents were “mind boggling.”
He said lemon sharks in particular were rare in Cayman and to see one wash up dead, was tragic.
“It is really amazing to hear about this type of behavior,” he said. “It is unconscionable and someone needs to be made an example of. It is unnecessary, it is unsustainable and it is against the law.”
Mr. Harvey acknowledged enforcement was difficult and his institute has been focusing on changing hearts and minds.
“Unfortunately, nobody is going to talk, which is why education is so valuable,” he said. “A few weeks ago we had four cinemas at Camana Bay filled with nearly 900 students learning about sharks and watching some of our documentaries. We want to get to the next generation with a positive message about sharks.”
He said the foundation had also taken school children to swim with sharks in Mexico and the Bahamas.
“We are going to have to go up to the Brac and spend more time there, get into the schools and show some of these documentaries,” he added.
He said sharks had an economic value alive that far exceeded their value as a food source. He believes more needs to be done to help people recognize the social and economic value of Cayman’s marine resources.
“It is not just about sharks,” he said, “it is grouper, conch, lobster, the reefs themselves. We need to give people a better idea of the value of our marine life.”
The Department of Environment said in its statement that shark populations were declining globally and it as important and necessary to protect them in Cayman.
“Additionally, sharks are important to our economy, helping to support a healthy marine environment and which in turn attracts visitors to our shores, including many who want to see sharks in their natural environment,” the statement added.
Call the DoE on 946-8469 or call 911 to report an offense or report any dead sharks found to the DoE’s shark research team on [email protected]