Rays to get lawful protection

| 31/01/2013

stingray-3.jpg(CNS): The new government is proposing to make a minor amendment to the Marine Conservation Law in order to make it illegal to take stingrays, manta rays and eagle rays from anywhere in Cayman. Ahead of plans for a major overhaul of the law to expand local marine parks, the environment minister has announced an interim amendment that he hopes will be passed through the Legislative Assembly at the next meeting. This will extend the protection of rays from the wildlife interaction zone at the Sandbar to all Cayman waters. Meanwhile, the Department of Environment is racing to pull together proposals that aim to protect much more of Cayman's marine life in enhanced marine park zones.

The promised amendment regarding the rays comes in the wake of significant public outcry over a number of rays that are being held at a captive dolphin facility in West Bay.

Although the Department of Environment (DoE) was able to recover several stingrays, which were found to have been tagged, from Dolphin Discovery and return them to Stingray City, the facility has refused to return the remaining rays which were not tagged. With no law in place to protect any rays, the DoE was unable to compel their return to the sea. DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie welcomed the move and said it should prevent what happened at Dolphin Discovery happening again.

Nevertheless, the fate of the rays currently held at the facility, once the amendment to the law is made, is unclear.

Speaking at the government a press briefing on Thursday, Environment Minister Mark Scotland revealed that a simple amendment was being drawn up to add the rays to the protected species already in the marine conservation law, which would be put before members of the LA. However, Scotland said he was not sure what would happen to the rays currently being held but noted that the law would make it illegal to hold them in captivity. He said the amendment was needed to protect this species as their numbers had been declining in recent years.

While there has been a fall in the numbers at the Sandbar, as a species stingrays are far from being the most at risk marine animals in Cayman and the DoE is currently working on plans for expanded marine conservation parks designed to protect not just the myriad species currently at risk in local waters but the critical marine habit that supports them.

This, however, is proving to be a much bigger battle for the DoE team, which recently revealed that, following wide consultation, in which the majority of people supported the proposed enhancement of the parks, staff are now working to produce new park proposals to put before Cabinet to cover all marine conservation in Cayman for the next 25 years.

At a press briefing last week the DoE gave an update on the current situation regarding the results of the public consultation. Ebanks-Petrie explained that all of the comments and submissions from the public regarding the proposals set out by the DoE are currently being assessed and some modifications were being considered to the original plans, which would strike the balance between the scientific case for enhancement and the need to accommodate local fishing.

John Turner, from Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, explained that the original proposals were based on very strong scientific evidence and fieldwork research over the last three years but he was one of the people now tasked with combining the science with the public views to reach a sustainable and workable plan for the future of the marine environment.

With that environment under increasing pressure but with a shared belief throughout the community that it needs to be protected through an expansion of the parks system, the DoE team and their overseas scientific supporters are working as quickly as they can to come up with revised proposals. Ebanks-Petrie said she was hopeful that the proposals would be ready early next month.

While there was some vocal opposition to the specific boundaries that the DoE had suggested for no take zones, she said, there was considerably more support for them. With the exception of West Bay and Cayman Brac, where fishermen have submitted a petition against the new park proposals, in each of the districts a coordinated effort has been made with local MLAs, fishermen and other stakeholders to propose some alternatives to the DoE that could accommodate fishing interests and still extend protections, and all of these were now being considered.

As time is of the essence, the DoE director said she hoped that if she and her team could demonstrate wide public support for the enhancement proposals and the need for more protection, when the review was complete it would be accepted by the minister and in turn Cabinet. 

With two-thirds of the people who attended meetings and submitted comments supporting the expansions as proposed by the DoE, the director said she hoped that those supporters would make their views known to their political representatives to help press the need for the enhanced regulation of the local marine environment as soon as possible.

“We hope that the everyone has had the opportunity in some way to engage with us in responding to the proposals,” the director said, as she pointed to the extended consultation that had taken place to garner the necessary public support and strong community acceptance in order to get the much needed  enhancements through to law.

However, the minister indicted last week that he expected there to be more consultation once the DoE comes up with revised proposals based on the public feedback so far. This will undoubtedly delay the legislation and the critical increase in protection.

Ebanks-Petrie has been persistent in the message that the enhancement of the parks is not about losing something but about making an investment in the future to retain the ability to fish. With the various pressures currently facing the local marine habitat, from invasive species to global warming, all of which is difficult or impossible to control locally, the need to reduce fishing pressure is ever more important. 

DoE Senior Research Officer Croy McCoy explained that protecting some areas of the reef from fishing allows the population to recover and then the areas will become filled with fish again, which will swim into areas where people can fish.

“A stable growing population of fish will spill over into adjacent areas,” he added, noting that this would ensure that traditional fishing and its part in the Caymanian way of life could continue.

In the end, the environmental experts all said there was a need to find a balance between ecological protection and social acceptance.

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Comments (29)

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  1. Red Flag says:

    It is about time the Government (dumbass Makeewa not with standing), supported one of its OWN departments.  I can see DOE and the folks there have constantly gotten lip service but very little support from their own colleagues and bosses.  There are going to be a lot of "naysayers" out there for any proposal to limit or mitigate the damage that can be done by developers or fishermen.  Fortunately for Cayman, we have some very intelligent, talented, caring and (I hope) thick skinned people running and working for DOE.  These guys do not put out half thought out, latest flavor of the month proposals.  They do the research, use good, accepted scientific methodologies and come up with some sound recommendations for saving Cayman's flora and fauna for future generations……they just rarely get any support from the government of the day and a lot of  vocal "teeth gnashing and clothes rending" from people they are actually supporting.  To the Caymanian fishermen who do the right thing, Good on Ya.  You are helping keep your industry alive.  Fishermen, by their nature, are hard working, honest individuals and being told what is best to do, sometimes, goes directly against that.  DOE is trying to help you nurture your industry for future generations, they are NOT your enemies. Try to work with them.  If you see anything going on on the water that is wrong, try to correct it and if that doesn't work, call the enforcement officers.  They will help you protect your waters and future.  Good luck.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Well done to the new Govt. Lots more good news coming from them in a few weeks than the last lot did in a few years.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Dolphin Discovery should do what is right and release the rays it has captured.  All should boycott the place.

    • anonymous says:

      don't ask them about "esperanza", the dolphin that keeps biting people and is locked up in a small tank all the time.

  4. Anonymous says:

    That Dolphin place in West Bay is an absolute travesty – I cannot believe that they even allowed it to be set up on our island. With such a vast and rich SCUBA and maritime history I thought that our island was founded on the belief of observing our beautiful waters and the creatures that inhabit them in their natural habitat; not some tank where tourists can come and gawk. It is so sad; especially when considering that dolphins are some of the most intelligent, social and mentally advanced creatures in the ocean. A real shame, and in my opinion, a marr on our island.

    • Anonymous says:

      There are two!

    • Anonymous says:

      Hmmmm, perhaps we could get the WSPA onto this one too!  I for one, would love to see both Dolphin places shut down for good, along with Myrtle Farm.  Bring it on.

    • Anonymous says:

      When I am visited on island by friends and family I adamantly advise them not to visit the places on island where our beautiful sea creatures are held captive. While they are free to make their own decisions, many of my friends, family, coworkers and acquaintences have entirely boycotted these places – as it should be. I don't think that this is the kind of message we want to display to people – come to Cayman where we have a wealth of biodiversity, unique opportunities, beautiful and intelligent animals, and what do we do? Lock them in cages.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Sharks? Groupers? Crocodiles?

    • Environ-mentallist says:

      I saw a half eaten stingray in the north sound on Sunday while I was looking for lobsters. Someone better let the sharks know when the stingrays get protection.

  6. insane says:

    better later than never……let's hope Dolphin Discovery doesn't keep any in their tank!

  7. Anonymous says:

    This is really great and happy something is being done to protect these beautiful animals. However what about your constituents that are being forced to retire and their pension isn’t enough to cover their living expenses.

    The retirement law needs to be passed now!

  8. peter milburn says:

    About bloody time.Now lets hurry up and make the minor changes to the Conservation Law and get it put in place BEFORE we have nothing left to preserve.CHEEEEZ.

  9. Anonymous says:

    just get it done!…enough of these 'soon come' stories

  10. Anonymous says:

    Great start!

    A moratorium should be out on taking anything from inside the reef or within 300 meters off island for the ext 5 years to allow fish/conch/lobster populations to get back up to sustainable levels.

    Oh and all the Jamaicans and Phillipinos catching baby fish everywhere no doubt without a licence should be fined and their gear taken away and banned from fishing as they are killing out entire populations of fish with such short sighted idiocy!

    • Anonymous says:

      Oh and please keep blameing all Caymans problems on anyone not Caymanian so Caymanian Christian values will still rule the island.

      • Anonymous says:

        This has nothing to with with Christianity, but please bear in mind that Christians have rights also.  Caymanian Christians  as well as all others have every right to speak up about anything that is harming our country.  So all of you stripping and scraping the bottom of the seas; taking the baby fish, crabs and anything else that moves  please stop it.  The bunch of you come here as guests in our islands and it seems that you all want to live according to your standards whereever you came from.  Caymanian fishermen would never do that.  If they catch a juvenile fish they will gladly throw it back in.  That is how we lived in the good old days.  No one is starving on this Rock, so please do not live as if you are.  You are just a greedy, selfish bunch.  If you cannot follow the laws of the islands them please do us the favour and go back to your country where you can continue to destroy everything there and give our flora and fauna a chance to bounce back. 

        • get this says:

          where I come from the locals don't shine lights  in the water to attract the fish and then shoot it with a gun as my b&b Caymanian co-worker bragged to me one day. Disgraceful.

          Conservation Law is way over due, and then ramp up enforcement to go with it- against all nationalities!

    • Anonymous says:

      Seriously! All this is meaningless if the baby fish populations are killed out. Focusing on the perps should be a top priority!

      • Anonymous says:

        There is almost no good fishing anymore in Jamaica OR the Phillipines. No Mystery Why! Caymanians need to protect our fishing grounds with laws we never needed before now that the islands are so populated. Besides the small fish being taken, I've observed a specific culture catching Lion Lizards on land with a net to put in soup! – as well as pelicans, egrets and even dogs. These people mean well and are good people, but they come from another culture and see nothing wrong with what they are doing. UNLESS we make it against the law, they have no motivation to stop. Fellow Caymanians WAKE UP. Conservations laws protect YOUR heritage.

        • Anonymous says:

          Actually, last time foreign nationals were prosecuted for fishing without a licence ( which is illegal) the court refused to allow the matter to proceed. Funny place this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Couldn’t have said it better.

      Cayman needs to look towards long term solutions before it is too late!

  11. Anonymous says:

    Please tell me who is going to enforce these new laws?? The conservation law needs passing now to give powers to the officers.

    • Anonymous says:

      Here, here.

      We need more enforcement officers to catch the conch and lobster theives and jail the barbaric turtle poachers. More guys like the officer who rides the blue truck up on Northside/East End, he's out every day interacting with his community and busting those who want to destroy our heritage. He seems to be the only one on the island, never seen any of his colleagues, does he have any?

      We need him and more like him to preserve, conserve and protect our reeefs and marine life from ALL who care little for their environment or future.

      ButI guess it'll all come down to money and lots of fine words from the well intentioned. If you trully want to use nation building funding appropriately then what finer cause can there be than to protect the beauty that surrounds us and give the DoE the strength and manpower it needs to combat self interest and greed at all levels.

      Stop talking about it and get it done, you know we need it. Could the delay be about appeasing those who have self interest at heart, could it be that land owners and poachers alike don't want DoE interference?

      Come on CIG, do something that will finally prove you have the country's best interest at the core of policy and not just that of a few influential or greedy individuals.

    • Anonymous says:

      It'll probably be inforced in the same way the Landlord and Tenant Law is…. i.e. nothing at all – all words but as usual, no action at all.

  12. Anonymous says:

    This is a great victory for Guy Harvey, DOE and all of Cayman.  Congrats.  Now hopefully any amusement areas that still harbour stolen rays will be good enough to return them to the wild.

  13. Anonymous says:


  14. Anon says:

    I knew anything these five clowns did would be trivial – but, ok, I guess the rays needs some protecting too.