Marine and Freshwater Research Marine and Freshwater Research Society
Advances in the aquatic sciences
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Characterisation and monitoring of one of the world’s most valuable ecotourism animals, the southern stingray at Stingray City, Grand Cayman

Jeremy J. Vaudo A G , Bradley M. Wetherbee A B G , Guy C. M. Harvey A , Jessica C. Harvey C , Alexandra J. F. Prebble A , Mark J. Corcoran A , Matthew D. Potenski A , Keith A. Bruni B , Robert T. Leaf D , Alan D. Henningsen E , Jeremy S. Collie F and Mahmood S. Shivji A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A The Guy Harvey Research Institute, Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, Nova Southeastern University, 8000 North Ocean Drive, Dania Beach, FL 33004, USA.

B Department of Biological Sciences, University of Rhode Island, 120 Flagg Road, Kingston, RI 02881, USA.

C Department of Environment, Cayman Islands Government, 580 North Sound Road, George Town, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

D Gulf Coast Research Laboratory, 703 East Beach Drive, Ocean Springs, MS 39564, USA.

E National Aquarium, 501 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202, USA.

F Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, 215 South Ferry Road, Narragansett, RI 02882, USA.

G Corresponding authors. Email: jvaudo@nova.edu; wetherbee@uri.edu

Marine and Freshwater Research - https://doi.org/10.1071/MF17030
Submitted: 31 January 2017  Accepted: 22 July 2017   Published online: 15 September 2017

Abstract

Southern stingrays (Hypanus americanus) represent a multimillion dollar ecotourism operation in Grand Cayman, interacting with over a million visitors annually. Over 30 years of stingray provisioning by tour operators has provided a predictable aggregation at the Stingray City Sandbar (SCS). Despite potentially negative effects of provisioning and concerns about declining stingray numbers at SCS, there has never been a formal assessment of the aggregation. In the present study we analysed tagging data from 2002 to 2015 and established structured censuses monitoring the aggregation. The consistently female-dominated aggregation declined between 2008 and 2012, from >100 to <60 stingrays, but has increased since 2012, stabilising at ~90 stingrays. Female site fidelity was high, with ~20% of females resident for ≥10 years, compared with only 3 years for most males. Stingrays were also found to have growth rates similar to those in captivity. The results of the present study suggest the SCS aggregation is highly dependent on individuals arriving from the island-wide stingray population, susceptible to perturbation, and that successful management of activities at SCS will benefit from regular monitoring of the stingray aggregation. We chronicle the historical status of this well-known and economically valuable marine resource and provide suggestions applicable towards sustainable human–marine wildlife interactions for similar resources.

Additional keywords: census, Dasyatis americana, human–animal interactions, provisioning, wildlife tourism.


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