Government is paying water-sports operators $80,000 to feed stingrays at the Stingray City Sandbar for the next four months.
A number of Caymanian water-sports operators have launched the non-profit ‘Stingray Feeding and Interaction Program’, which is being funded by the Ministry of Tourism in a bid to bolster the population of the rays at the site, according to a press release from the operators.
The initiative will provide daily feeding and interaction for the stingrays at the sandbar by licensed Wildlife Interactive Zone operators for an initial period of four months. The government is providing $20,000 a month to the project, Troy Leacock, a member of the project’s steering committee, said.
A spokesperson for the group said in the release, “We could see that the numbers of stingrays at the Stingray City Sandbar were steadily declining since March but the recent Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation census confirmed our worst fears and we knew we had to move quickly to get a regular feeding program launched. But in addition to feeding, the stingrays need regular human interaction to maintain Cayman’s most popular experience.”
The three-day census in October showed that the number of stingrays at the sandbar had halved since the onset of the COVID-19 crisis. Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation researchers found 47 rays at the sandbar and only three at Stingray City. A census in July had found 60 rays at the sandbar, while pre-COVID counts showed an average population of more than 100 stingrays at the site.
The release also quoted Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell as saying, “When the operators presented the problem and the proposed program, everyone present immediately agreed that this was an important and urgent matter and we moved quickly to approve funding and support for the program.”
The operators noted that during the high tourist season, the stingrays are fed more than 100 pounds of squid per day.
The water-sports companies will make more than 15 trips a week to the sandbar, which will include an hour of in-water interaction with the rays by stingray handlers on each visit. Each week, about 300 pounds of squid will be fed to the animals, according to the release.
Progressive Distributors has provided an initial donation of squid and will sell all the squid to the operators at cost price, the water-sports companies said.
“The operators are inviting corporate donations for additional squid purchase to enable them to provide more food to the stingrays on each trip. Donations can be made by contacting any SFIP Steering Committee member,” the release stated.
The steering committee comprises five operators – Ronnie Anglin of Captain Marvin’s Watersports, Dwight Ebanks of Reel Esea Charters, Shaun Ebanks of Kman Sunsplash Watersports, Darney Kelly of Cayman Ocean Adventures and Troy Leacock of Crazy Crab Private Charters.