Stingrays not a threat but regulations needed

Steve Broadbelt

The Cayman Islands' Stingray City and Sandbar may suffer only "minimal" effects from the possible fear of stingrays after well-known Australian naturalist Steve Irwin was killed by a ray.

This immediate reaction came from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Watersport Committee on Monday in an apparent strategy to save the Islands' main tourist attraction from any negative impact.

Steve Broadbelt, the Chairman of the Watersports Committee labelled Mr Irwin's death a "tragic loss of a passionate environmentalist" in a freak accident.

"The effect on local tour operators to Stingray City and Sandbar is expected to be minimal," Mr Broadbelt said.

"The short-term effect is more likely to be with Snorkelers rather than divers. Divers tend to be more educated about marine creatures and have a better understanding of hazardous marine life."

Mr Irwin, who was popularly viewed on television worldwide as the "Crocodile Hunter", was killed on Monday by a stingray barb while filming a documentary in Queensland, Australia.

His death was an extremely rare attack by a normally placid sea creature while diving on a reef in Port Douglas.

Mr Irwin's Manager, John Stainton, said: "He came over the top of a stingray and the stingray's barb went up and went into his chest and put a hole into his heart."

Paramedics were rushed to nearby Low Isles where Mr Irwin was taken for treatment but he died before emergency personnel arrived on the scene.

Experts said that the stingray venom was agonisingly painful but not lethal, although the barb was capable of causing horrific injuries like a knife or bayonet.

Australian Venon Research Unit Deputy Director, Dr Bryan Fry, said that the worse part is the coming out of the barb.

"They have deep serrations which tear and render the flesh as it comes out," Dr Fry said.

Mr Broadbelt said that the local stingrays are not aggressive and it is safe to interact with them on Island.

"As operators, we allow the stingrays to come to us, therefore the stingrays are not threatened and not aggressive," he said.

"Yet, being used to both divers and snorkelers, the stingrays at Stingray City and Sandbar will closely interact with all visitors in a positive manner."

Mr Broadbelt further explained that, "The barb in a stingray can take a long time to grow and it's thought that the use of this is only a last resort in situations that the stingray is in fear of its life.

"Stingrays only use their venomous barb for self-defence from natural predators. If a stingray is forced into a corner by an over-enthusiastic snorkeler or diver, the stingray will feel threatened," he added.

The CITA official stated that the event in Australia highlighted the need to regulate one of Cayman's largest tourist attractions.

"The man-handling of stingrays and lifting them out of the water at the Sandbar is not only cruel but dangerous," he said.

A full implementation of recommendations for the protection and management of the local stingray attraction is what is needed at this time, said Mr Broadbelt.

"Over 5 years of time and effort were spent in compiling comprehensive recommendations for the protection and management of our Stingray attractions," he said.

"It is hoped that all recommendations will be implemented rather than an abbreviated draft rushed through as a knee-jerk reaction to this accident."

Mr Broadbelt said that not all stingrays are the same and there are about 200 species of stingrays in the scientific order 'Myliobatiformes'.

According to him, Australia is home to some of the deadliest creatures on the planet, many of their less harmful cousins of similar common names live in the Caribbean and other parts of the world, such as Cayman's 'Southern Stingrays'.

Mr Irwin's death was likely to be the third recorded fatal stingray attack in Australia, said experts.

Mr Broadbelt said, "His 'don't try this at home approach' was somewhat controversial but was effective in capturing the hearts and minds of millions, and served a popular education purpose."

The 44-year-old Irwin tangled with some of the world's most dangerous animals. He grew up near crocodiles, trapping and removing them from populated areas and releasing them in his parents' park.

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