DOE has fed stingrays 769 lbs of food since Stingray City closure
Photo credit: Cayman Islands Department of the Environment
Given restricted marine activity due to COVID-19, The Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (DoE) has assumed responsibility for the ongoing and regular additional feeding and human interaction with the stingrays at Sand Bar Stingray City. Rays continue to remain habituated to feeding and human interaction and appear consistently upon arrival.
The DoE decided to implement the feeding and interaction programme after Shelter in Place regulations had been put in place, when concerns had been expressed that without the ongoing and regular extra feeding and human interaction, the rays would lose their site fidelity and learned human interaction abilities, essentially reverting to wild rays and potentially leading to the loss of the Sandbar attraction.
The DOE has visited the Stingray City Sand Bar to feed the rays every day since the April 4 under its feeding and interaction programme – no days have been missed despite inclement weather. In doing so, the DoE has reinforced the rays’ association between boats/humans and food with a regular feeding schedule in place.
Each day between 10 am and 1 pm, the DoE feeds approximately 5-20 lbs of appropriate food, usually squid, to rays present at the Sand Bar. This feeding typically takes place for about half an hour and has been followed by 10 minutes of constant stingray/human contact.
As of the end of May, the DoE had accumulated over 51 hours at the Stingray City Sand Bar site, not including travel and preparation time and fed the rays an accumulated 769 lbs of natural food.
When the DoE boat arrives, there are sometimes as few as only one stingray present at the sand bar. But this number quickly escalates at feeding time and at the time of departure there are typically up to 25 rays present.
The DoE reports that the rays have become accustomed to the DoE Guardian vessel arrival and time. They continue to be strongly drawn to boat traffic and on occasions when a second DoE boat has been present, stingrays leave the feeding boat to investigate the newcomer, just as they would under normal tourism conditions.
The same rays are not present each day indicating the likely rays remaining in the area and associated with the Stingray City Sand Bar attraction is greater than the daily maximum counts suggest. Based on the sightings of easily identifiable rays (Frisbee, Big and Little Notch) initial indications suggest that there are an additional 10 – 20 rays that do not appear on each occasion.
Injuries in rays are still observed, despite reduced boat traffic.
The government has committed to continue to reinforce the rays association between boats/ humans and food with a regular feeding schedule until marine curfew restrictions are relaxed and the private sector can resume visiting the site.