COVID-19 restrictions threw a little hurdle into the daily lives of the Southern Stingrays that inhabit the Stingray City Sandbar in Grand Cayman. Usually, these friendly animals are hand fed tens of pounds of food per day by local tour operators and visitors who are eager to interact and get to know them in their natural environment. With restrictions in place, the Department of Environment and later, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation took on the responsibility of feeding and interaction to ensure that the stingrays remain in the routine that they have been accustomed to since the late 1980s.
Although supplemented food supply was much less than business-as-usual, many stingrays remained loyal to the site, and research by the Guy Harvey Research Institute shows that although conditioned to supplemental feeding and human interaction, these stingrays also forage naturally and are successful in doing so.
As restrictions were eased in the Cayman Islands, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation were able to conduct their Biannual Southern Stingray Census on July 9th -11th. This long-running scientific study began in 2002 and has contributed a wealth of knowledge about the species and their habitat, has influenced the complete protection of elasmobranchs (rays and sharks) in the Cayman Islands and has facilitated a quick response to health, the management or population concerns over the years. As an example, during this survey two out of three hooks were removed from the mouths of resident stingrays, showing evidence of fishing in a protected zone. This was immediately reported to the Cayman Islands Department of Environment who increased their enforcement patrol of the area.
The exhaustive survey lasted three days and a total of 60 stingrays were processed. The team counted, scanned, and measured 50 female and 10 male rays, only one of which was “new” to the site and had a PIT tag placed. In addition to the routine processing which includes a brief check of the animal’s physical health, video footage was taken of each stingray’s dorsal and ventral surfaces. This footage will be entered into a database by Masters students from the University of Rhode Islands who are developing a program to identify the stingrays using their unique colors and markings.
Not only was it a successful survey and great to be back in the water with the friendly rays, but the GHOF team also had a special visit and interaction with three blacktip reef sharks. Although sharks inhabit the surrounding area and visit the Sandbar from time to time, it is rare that they come in so close due to the noise usually associated with hundreds of people in the water and interacting with the stingrays. Of course, Jessica Harvey got excited and immediately underwater to capture the experience which attracted the attention of the local media, read the article HERE.
GHOF also hosted a camera crew from Cayman Collective who got in on all the action! Cayman Collective is “a community of humans promoting the overwhelming beauty of the Cayman Islands and the people that live/visit here”, and they were excited to capture the story of Stingray City and the efforts made to sustain it. Stay tuned to Guy Harvey's social media to watch the video!
The Biannual Southern Stingray Census would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of GHOF volunteers. Thank you very much for all of our volunteers and supporters. We appreciate your continued enthusiasm for all of our research expeditions and events.
To learn more about stingrays, the Stingray City Sandbar visit https://guyharvey.com/pages/expedition-notebook-with-jessica-harvey or to learn about the appropriate handling of these stingrays click HERE.
*Photo by Alice Gostick, courtesy of Cayman Collective