In the January, 1989 issue of National Geographic David Doubilet wrote the article, “Ballet with Stingrays” documenting his photographs and experiences with these creatures. He reported, “I had always thought of stingrays, with their broad wings and graceful movements, as almost mythological beasts: part bird, part fish…I find them to be gentle, wondrous birds of the sea.”
This past summer,I had my first opportunity to swim and feed stingrays at Stingray City in the Cayman Islands. David Doubilet was correct, the stingrays were beautiful and alluring. I, along with the people I was with, were nervous getting into the water and having stingrays with weapons at the end of their tails swim freely around our ankles. Luckily our guides were calming and reassuring and I was successful in holding, kissing and feeding a stingray.
When i go on tours like this I am always the girl asking tons of questions ( my 4th grade teacher used the word inquisitive). In most cases the people leading these types of tours love what they do and have incredible amounts of first hand experience so I tend to take advantage of it, but i have never had any complaints.
With hundreds of visitors coming to this particular site each day (and millions annually) this makes an obvious impact on the stingrays themselves and I, along with the people I was with, were very curious to learn how the stingrays remain protected and safe. After all, we did kiss them so we felt an emotional connection to them. The tour guides were able to give us their own personal company’s efforts but were not exactly wildlife conservationist so when I returned back home I did some research on the impact we are having on these slimy creatures by “trespassing” on their habitats.
NOVA Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute did a study on this exact area, Stingray city in the Cayman Islands. They found that the actions and behaviors of this population of stingrays had drifted far away from that of their wild counterparts. Because of the large amount of traffic in this underwater city the stingrays have almost unlimited access to food and no longer have the need to hunt or scavenge. As a result the stingrays of Stingray city no longer travel large areas, usually at night, to find food nor do they abide by their usual solitary habits. These stingrays now remain more active during the day, when the visitors arrive, feed in groups and even mate year round instead of seasonally. These stingrays, that individually can bring up to $500,000 annually from tourist, have been subject to a dramatic behavioral change due to the presence of human provided food.
Even though it has been 24 years since David Doubilet wrote this article his final words in his article still stand, “ If Cayman Islands officials protect the rays, divers continue to feed them, and human visitors treat them with gentleness and respect, they will provide one of the most rewarding, experiences in the undersea world.”
I tell you this to raise awareness so that you choose to book with a respectable agency, to leave no trace and understand the needs for conservation and research to ensure that these beautiful birds of the sea remain a part of our underwater ecosystem for generations to come.
Thanks for reading,