LIVE: For the latest updates on the coronavirus, follow our live blog.
Cayman’s iconic Stingray City is not believed to be at risk despite the closure of the site to tour boats.
Jessica Harvey, of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, said there was no concern that the rays would abandon the site.
Though many of the 100-plus animals that regularly visit the North Sound sandbar are attracted by the lure of daily food from tour boats, they still know how to fend for themselves.
Harvey said rays had been coming to the site since before it became a tourist attraction.
“Stingrays will continue to be there. Using the example of Hurricane Ivan, when nobody went out there for months, they still came back to the site,” she said.
“We don’t feel this situation is going to cause the stingrays to leave.
“They may forage for longer, it may change some aspects of their behaviour. We don’t know what to expect exactly, which is why we are trying to do some kind of monitoring within the restrictions.”
Last week, the research foundation had started to carry out its census at the site. But new restrictions on non-essential operations meant they had to put the project on hold.
The Department of Environment’s enforcement team is still sanctioned to monitor the site.
Harvey said the pause in tourist activity would have represented a good opportunity to do some research on the impact of tourism on the rays, including a nutritional analysis to see how being fed from boats was impacting their health.
She said she understood the reasons for the ban, but hoped researchers would be able to glean some new insights from the period that the site is closed. If nothing else, she said, it would give the rays a chance to recover from injuries associated with boats.
“We are seeing a lot of propeller injuries, so it is good that they can get some time to heal.”
Tim Austin, deputy director of the DoE, said the department’s officers were making regular stops at the site. He said they could feed the stingrays if necessary, but he does not think that will be required.
“We have had rays going there for years. There are still elements of natural behaviours left in them,” he said.
He said the department had lots of calls from people concerned about the rays. The sandbar is Cayman’s number one tourist attraction.
The DoE responded by putting out a message to the public on its Facebook page.
“During previous research we have seen evidence that, despite the daily feedings, the stingrays still forage for themselves, so the loss of daily tours is something they can survive for a period of time.”
Full coverage: Coronavirus