2012 was a terrible year for wildlife in the Cayman Islands; the lionfish invasion continued, the Turtle Farm got a lot of bad press, our beloved stingrays were being stolen from the sandbar, the grouper spawning sites came under increasing pressure and the proposal to expand marine parks had many objectors.
The invasive green iguana continued to spread across Grand Cayman and on the Brac, residents continued to run over endemic, endangered rock iguanas at an alarming rate.
What is being done to stem this apparent attrition of our unique natural resources? Our two national environmental watchdogs, the Dept of Environment and the National Trust are fighting an uphill battle desperately short of the finances required to conduct the research and carry out the enforcement necessary to protect what is so vital to our economy. Meanwhile the all important National Conservation Law languishes out there somewhere and the Environmental Protection Fund gets spent on everything else but the environment.
What can most people do to help? Lionfish have become the target of dedicated hunting tournaments as well as weekly culling sweeps by dive operators and many enthusiastic individuals who have undertaken the very informative lionfish culling course and registered to use a DoE-issue Hawaiian culling spear. The best part is that the lionfish are very good to eat!
Our marine park system has served us very well for the last 26 years. Compared to all other Caribbean countries (except perhaps Belize) we still have some of the finest shallow snorkeling sites and wall dives anywhere.
However unscrupulous people continue to be oblivious of lobster and conch closed seasons and fin fish have come under huge pressure. Expansion of the park system will continue to defend paradise and conserve our best ecological asset.
The protection of the Nassau grouper SPAG site in Little Cayman is working. I accompanied the REEF (www.REEF.org) and DoE scientists in January as they conducted the annual census of the spawning adults at the only viable site remaining in the entire Caribbean Sea…yet a few of our people still want to catch and take this incredible national asset. The Marine Conservation Board took appropriate action and extended the ban on fishing the SPAG sites for another 8 years in December 2011, but the one thing missing is total protection for the Nassau grouper throughout its range during the spawning season November 1 – March 31. Just wait a few more years until there is a complete recovery and then managed fishing can resume.
One good practice that seems to have stuck is that few, if any, restaurants on Grand Cayman now serve grouper. A few retailers, including Foster’s Food Fair sell a fish that they call “grouper” and may resemble a grouper fillet but on investigation it turns out to be some farmed fish imported from Vietnam or Thailand.
Finally, to our beloved stingrays. After the discovery of four tagged stingrays from the Sandbar found in the pen at Dolphin Discovery last July, most people got really angry. The four rays were reluctantly returned to the Sandbar. Gads! After all…. this is our national treasure, an asset that benefits everyone. Until then common courtesy and respect alone had kept these creatures in the wild, but now greed really had taken over. The population was found to be in decline in the census conducted in January 2012 and in July 2012; in fact a 40 per cent reduction from 2010 numbers. How many other stingrays were removed from the sandbar?
No one is talking. Immediately several interest groups went to the Ministry of the Environment seeking total protection for the stingrays. After eight months of persistent follow up the CITA received a notice by email that the amendment to the 2007 Conservation Law that covers legal protection for all rays throughout the Cayman Islands would be heard and should be approved before the election. Fingers crossed for the outcome.
At last SOMETHING is being done. “Defend Paradise” would be an appropriate slogan for the next government.
It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of this planet. Fish responsibly, dive safely.