While I was born and grew up in Jamaica, I took residence in the Cayman Islands in 1999 and have enjoyed living here ever since. The main island of Grand Cayman, where I live, has incredible scuba diving, outstanding fishing opportunities and is home to the world-renowned Stingray City. However, even paradise has its share of problems.
In 2012 we had a terrible year for wildlife: the lionfish invasion continued, the Turtle Farm and its inhabitants got a log of bad press, our beloved stingrays were being stolen from the sandbar, a rogue male dolphin ruined many dives for visitors, the grouper spawning sites came under increasing pressure and a proposal to expand marine parks had many objectors. When its difficult to manage the natural resources of a tiny island nation, it puts into perspective the challenges that we have trying to keep the planet healthy and sustainable. Here, as with the rest of the world, there are some easy solutions for some issues and complicated solutions for others. In Cayman, lionfish have become the target of dedicated hunting tournaments as weekly culling sweeps by divers and concerned individuals. We’re seeing these types of eradication methods being employed in Florida, the Gulf Coast, the Bahamas, and all over the Caribbean. The best part is that lionfish are very good to eat. I encourage restaurant owners to offer lionfish on the menu and advertise just how good they are to eat.
In Cayman, our marine park system has served us very well for the last 26 years. Compared to all other Caribbean countries we have some of the finest shallow snorkeling sites and wall dives anywhere. However, with double the population since then and more demand on marine resources, there is not going to be much left in the next 10 year at the current rate of fish extraction.Expansion of the park system and better enforcement will continue to conserve our best ecological asset. The issues of marine parks, better known worldwide as Marine Life Protection Areas (MLPAs), is as controversial in the Cayman Islands as it is in the United States.
In Cayman, the distinction between commercial and recreational fishing is very fuzzy. There is no doubt that the need for NTZs is a must in our situation, and new studies will show the importance of SPAG sites not seasonally but all year round. One example in which the NTZs is a must is in the protection of the Nassau Grouper spawning (SPAG) site in Little Cayman. The Marine Conservation Board took appropriate action and extended the ban on fishing the SPAG sites for another eight years in December 2011. The protection of the brood stock, the “investment”, during spawning season is common sense here, as well as in the all corners of our oceans. Allowing any kind of harvest-be it recreational or commercial- at a spawning site is recipe for disaster and truly killing the golden goose.
Unfortunately, the proposed legislation to protect Nasssau Groupers throughout their range during the five-month spawning season still languishes in cyberspace. One of the biggest hurdles we all face is the education of lawmakers about the importance of the marine environment to this small island’s economy. As with any protection-here or in the rest of the world-its’s imperative for grassroots groups to keep the pressure on government so that our recreational resources will not be depleted by those seeking to make a profit. It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of this planet
Fish responsibly and dive safely wherever you live,