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May 2004 Vol. 19, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cayman Controversies

from the May, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Stingray City and its shallower neighbor, Stingray Sandbar, are among the best-known marine attractions in the world, visited by up to 5,000 divers and snorkelers daily. But many Cayman residents question whether entire generations of rays in the North Sound are too dependent on humans for survival.

The Guy Harvey Research Institute -- a collaboration between marine artist Dr. Guy Harvey and Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, FL -- is nearing the end of a two-year study of the site to determine what effect human interaction has on the stingrays, particularly their feeding and breeding habits.

A working group created by Cayman's Department of the Environment plans to submit proposals to the Cabinet for improvements to the area. The group includes representatives from the Tourism Association, the North Sound Marine Conservation Board, and the Land & Sea Co-op.

Divetech's Nancy Eastbrook helped found the Conservation Board. She told Undercurrent that proposed regulations would limit the number of boats and people in the area and would also prohibit the wearing of gloves. The most sweeping changes would allow only dive guides to feed the rays and to limit how much food they can dole out. At the Sandbar, boats would not be allowed to anchor, thus requiring participants to swim a short distance to the shallows; lifting the rays out of the water would no longer be permitted. Another location may be opened to spread the impact on the rays and their environment. Eastbrook hopes that the new regulations will be enacted this year.

On a second front, the Department of Agriculture has granted a license to two Caymanian businessmen to import eight bottlenose dolphins from Cancun for a Dolphin Discovery attraction near the Turtle Farm. Some environmental groups, such as Keep It Wild, Cayman, oppose holding dolphins in captivity. Organizer Juliet Austin points out that more than 20 dolphins were illegally shipped to Mexico from the Solomon Islands in 2003. She worries that there is no way to detect if Cayman's dolphins would be the same creatures.

The $4 million attraction would allow up to 30 people to touch the dolphins by standing on a waist-deep submerged platform as the dolphins swim by in the lagoons. Austin has said, "Not only will it cripple our reputation as a premiere eco-friendly location, but it has potentially devastating implications for the dolphins themselves."

Last July, Keep it Wild gathered more than 2,000 signatures on a petition opposing captive dolphins in the Cayman Islands, but the plans for the facility have continued. "They can ignore the petition," said Austin, "but we're not going away."

All this activity is fueled by the cruise business that dominates Grand Cayman, with as many as eight ships coming and going each day. Last December, eight cruise ships disgorged 20,000 passengers on George Town on one day alone. Traffic is often backed up the full length of Seven Mile Beach. And there's talk of a second cruise ship port being developed, perhaps doubling the number of daily visitors.

The vacation home market is booming as well. The Ritz Carlton is marketing condos that start at $2.9 million and top out at $25 million. The local newspaper, Caymanian Compass, predicted that this development will boost the local economy, as wealthy visitors begin to demand more services, upscale restaurants, and the like. And, of course, Cayman's sky high prices will climb even higher.

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