Restrictions at Stingray City and the Sandbar are set to be lifted on 19 July and the Department of Environment is preparing for the return of visitors to the North Sound sites.
DoE Deputy Director Tim Austin said his team has been working with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation to research the impact of the absence of human interaction on the rays during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“It was a unique opportunity to look at the Sandbar without the influence of tourists or visitors. So [the Guy Harvey team] have been helping us. They were given the exemptions to go out there,” he said.
The researchers and DoE staffers have been the only people allowed at the Sandbar in the last four months. DoE staff have been feeding the animals. On average, about 30 rays have been counted at each feeding.
As the government moves to lift the ban on the Wildlife Interaction Zones, local tour operators are being reintroduced to the sites.
“They’ve [Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation] been also taking the local watersports operators out there to help with them so they can see what’s going on,” Austin said. “Hopefully, as a result of that, everyone would be completely familiar with the Sandbar and they [will] get back to it and be full of confidence that the rays haven’t left.”
Austin, who has been on the rotation for the stingray feedings, said visitors will be in for a warm reception when they return.
“Certainly, from my personal experience, I think people would be really pleased to get back [there]. And I think the rays will also be delighted. They are definitely very boisterous. They’re very keen to interact with people when you go there,” he said.
He said the Sandbar remains the number one attraction on island and he wants the public to help the DoE keep it that way by following all the rules and handling guidelines.
“Routinely, the DOE, we always used to monitor the site, primarily to make sure that people are complying with the WIZ regulations – that they’re not lifting rays out of the water, [there are] not too many boats, and that people have the appropriate permits. So, we’ll continue to do that when the Sandbar kicks off again,” he said.
| The Wildlife Interaction Zone regulations can be found on the Department of Environment website, www.doe.ky.