Swimming with Stingrays

Often while snorkelling or diving I see a stingray. I get a little thrill when I can watch it from a safe distance, behaving as stingrays normally behave in the wild. I’ve also been to Stingray City and sandbar about five times. If you haven’t been and you get a chance, you should go, too.

Apparently some people expect the stingrays to be captive, in a sort of pen, when they go to see them. This is definitely not the case. The stingrays are free-living, wild stingrays that just happen to be used to people.

Many years ago, the fishermen in Cayman used to bring their catch to a certain area to clean the fish. They noticed that the stingrays would come and feed on the discarded fish bits, and had become very tame and used to people.

http://acquarius.ky/stingray-city/about-stingray-city.html

Eventually someone decided to make money from this phenomenon and they started taking people out to see the stingrays. They would feed them and give chunks of squid to the tourists so they could feed them, too. The first time we came here with our family, everyone was given chunks of food if they wanted it.

Over the years, Guy Harvey and others became concerned with the number of visitors to see the stingrays. The rays seemed to be stressed by large numbers of people and their numbers were diminishing. By explaining to the government how valuable each and every ray was to tourism, using dollar values, they convinced the government to make new regulations regarding excursions to the sandbar. They also passed laws to protect the stingrays, eagle rays and manta rays in Cayman’s waters. http://www.guyharvey.com/stingrays-guy-harvey/

The best way to see the stingrays is probably to take a private charter or use a local operator when it’s not a cruise ship day. On our last trip, with four friends visiting, I tried to set up a private charter for six of us. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. I had three different companies giving me quotes. Our friends were arriving Saturday and we’d go out Sunday when no ships were in port. Wednesday came and I attempted to call the first charter company to confirm. I reached their voice mail and left a message. I also sent another email. Thursday, after leaving two voice mail messages, I had no reply. I called the second operator. Their voice mailbox was full. I kept trying both numbers until Saturday. The third operator never even got back to me to acknowledge my query. Things were not looking good for the private charter on Sunday.

Eventually, I decided to book with Red Sail on their “Breakfast with the Rays” trip. They leave early in the morning and provide a lovely, fresh breakfast buffet on the way to the sandbar. They have always been very good with their pre-snorkel instructions, and their crew have the utmost regard and respect for the marine park, the reef, and the stingrays. We were in the water with the rays before anyone else arrived. We had at least an hour to spend there before it started to get busy with other boats.

A couple of our friends were a little nervous at first. The stingrays were much larger than they imagined, and they swam around, brushing against our legs. The new regulations mean that we don’t feed the rays anymore, which is fine with me as I never felt inclined to feed them. Our captain was particularly good with the rays and even seemed to have a special relationship with one long time visitor(of the stingray variety) named Sophie. He recognized her by her markings. Eventually, our friends touched and held the rays and many photos were taken!

Our second stop was the barrier reef. It was a little rough, but it’s very beautiful, without the damage one sees on the reefs closer to shore. By the time we finished here and headed back into Safe Haven, the cruise ship excursions were starting to arrive at the sandbar.

I will try to book a private excursion again if I have a large group of visitors. However, I would go out with Red Sail again in a heartbeat. I think they’ve been the operator on every one of my five visits, over twelve years, and the experience only gets better each time.

I suggest you check out some of the photos on the internet:https://www.google.com/search?q=stingray+city+photos+grand+cayman&rlz=1C1CHWA_enUS632US632&espv=2&biw=1247&bih=626&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjln9SjxNHJAhXLBBoKHWqVBxgQsAQINA&dpr=1 

This is a fun, family friendly activity that you can’t do just anywhere. Still, I still get a bigger thrill from seeing a stingray on a random dive or snorkel. To me, it’s the same joy I get from seeing a turtle or a shark.

 

Maybe ’cause it’s Monday….

I’m having a “blue Monday”. I’m generally a happy person and I love living here, but sometimes I just get tired of the sh*t everywhere. Yes, it’s been a “crappy” weekend and I mean that literally.

Saturday morning I woke up late. I’d been keeping late hours working on a sewing project and it was the first time all week I’d actually slept in. I also woke up with a brutal sinus headache and nausea. I thought a swim would help me work out the morning stiffness and help me feel better.

I looked at the pool and realized that either someone had been throwing clots of mud in during the night, or several iguanas had managed to relieve themselves in the earlier morning hours. We don’t have a lot of mud here. The soil is pretty sandy. On close inspection it was obvious that the second option was true. So that’s what is meant by a sh*t show!

I got out the net and started cleaning out as much as I could. The pool isn’t very big, about 8 metres by 6 metres, and the bottom was absolutely covered in poop. By the time I felt like a person could reasonably go into the pool without stepping in it, my headache and nausea was such that I didn’t want to swim anymore.

There were many people using the pool all weekend, which deters the little beasties. There is a pump and filter and the water is treated, so it was much less disgusting after a few hours. Sunday I was up earlier and used the pool early but before that I managed to catch a couple of very large, ugly iguanas attempting to repeat the poop party. I chased them away and kept a close watch all day. After a few months of having our own deck free of iguanas I also caught a couple of them trying to sneak on. They clearly hadn’t “got the memo”. By the end of the day I was feeling overrun. It’s the new generation of iguanas that have multiplied the problem, probably by about forty times.

That brings me to today,  Monday. I only saw one iguana this morning while enjoying a leisurely breakfast on our deck. As soon as I stood up it ran away into the mangroves. However, sometime while I was out getting groceries, another culprit managed to foul the pool deck, or as they see it, the poop deck. The sidewalk alongside our building was covered in poop. It’s an exercise in agility to walk out to the pool.  I decided that Friday, when the cleaning guy comes, can’t come soon enough. I’d wanted to give my car a  good rinse so I got the hose out and sprayed off the sidewalk on the way to my car.

Okay, so I’ve cleaned the sidewalk, rinsed my car and scooped debris out of the pool that must have blown in during the rain storm. I’m hot and sweaty and in my bathing suit and shorts. I would go cool off in the pool for 5 minutes before coming in to make supper.

For some reason it smells like an outhouse outside. Yes an outhouse, as in an outdoor toilet without flushing abilities, a port-a-potty, a latrine, a privy, an outbuilding. This is not exactly conducive to a relaxing cool-off in the pool. Now, not only am I surrounded by excrement, but the entire pool area smells like it.

In most places it smells fresh after a rain and I usually love it here after a good rainfall. In fact, from up on our deck, it does smell fresh! Why does the pool smell like an outhouse?

Three possibilities come to mind. The breeze from the dump, aka “Mount Trashmore”, although it’s not that close, is just at the right angle to hit the pool area. Second possibility, people are using the empty lot not only as a dumping ground, but as a camping area and leaving their “waste” behind. This seems unlikely, but who knows? Third possibility is that our septic system is backing up and somehow  we can smell it in the pool area, but not from the deck. This would be very odd because our deck overlooks the pool and you would think the odor would rise. This makes the dump scenario more likely because as with storms, the deck is protected from the prevailing winds.

Whatever the reason, it was a bad day to happen. Yes, I love my home in Paradise. It’s always warm here and I love being near the sea. I’m happy to have indoor plumbing and electricity and air conditioning.  I’m glad I don’t live in a country where the aroma of sewage is the norm. I know I’m lucky to have the life I have. Today, though, I just got tired of being surrounded by feces.

 

Guarding Paradise

I returned from a vacation off island to a brand new generation of iguanas. Yes, the green iguanas that lurk around our pool had become parents; over and over and over again! Now we have large green iguanas, a new generation of juvenile iguanas, and another hatch of babies. They are making it very difficult for me to relax on the deck.

The green iguanas are a nuisance and they are pests. I don’t like them and they carry Salmonella, so I work very hard to keep them from pooping in the pool. Other than that, at least they aren’t dangerous. They may have a dangerous predator now, though.

There is a pack of dogs that has been running around on the island. They seem to hang out in this neighbourhood, although I haven’t seen them for a few days. There was a stretch of time where I saw three or four dogs every day. They left me alone, even to the point of heading in a different direction if they saw me near the pool. One day I was closely studied by one passing by, but he went on his way, satisfied the the goggle-wearing creature was indeed human. I am now intrigued by feral dogs and pack behaviour, so I started doing a little research. They will hunt smaller animals, but if they hear a high pitched sound in the heat of the hunt, they will often attack the source. That could be a human trying to come to the rescue of a pet, or it could be a small child. The dog pack will also pursue animals or children that are running away, confusing them with prey. Otherwise it’s not normal for dogs to attack people.

My curiosity about the dog pack was piqued recently when something happened to one of the pack members right near our home. We aren’t sure if the dog was hit by a car, or hurt in a dog fight. There was an injured dog near our building and just a few feet away was another dog, growling at anyone coming near. Was it the protector dog? A little later another dog came and sat even farther away, but still near the two dogs. About an hour later, the rest of the pack came along and the injured dog got up and limped away with them.

These packs  of dogs are scaring people, especially those who walk their own dogs every day. They threaten the dogs and if the owner intervenes they threaten the owner. The governor was attacked when she tried to rescue her cat from a pack of dogs. I am concerned about the young children living nearby.

I haven’t been for many walks lately. I used to walk in Canada where there are lots of walking paths and sidewalks, and the weather is a little more bearable. Here I find it a little hot and humid this time of year. The beach is a good place to walk, but in our neighbourhood we have to walk along the side of the road. These days I would have to worry not only about the drivers who go too fast, but also about the feral dogs who might be less predictable than domestic dogs. If I feel the need for a walk when the weather cools off, I have a sturdy walking stick to take with me.

These dogs seem to hunt iguanas. If the dogs run past the pool, any iguanas that have ventured out of the bushes and escaped my notice will scurry right back into the thick mangroves. Most of the dogs are quite large, but sometimes they’ll have a smaller terrier in the pack and they can go into the bushes and flush out the iguana. I don’t know if they eat them, but they shake them and kill them.

I’ve been to other places where feral dogs are an issue. Twenty five years ago, in Bali, Indonesia, the dogs all had the same look, as if their characteristics had been accidentally bred into them for several generations. They were very unattractive, squat, white mutts that ate the food left out as “sacrifices” to the evil gods. The dogs in places like Cayman and the Turks and Caicos seem to be a more recent phenomenon, so that as cross breeds, they are still distinct from one another. In Rarotonga the feral dogs appear to belong to everyone. They roam freely, but they are liked by everyone and fed by the locals.

The dog pack that I often see here includes large dogs, mostly brown, but otherwise not alike. There is a German Shepard cross, a labrador like dog, a very dark chocolate brown dog that I can’t identify, and a few other distinct looking dogs. The stray that wanders on it’s own is a black and white dog that looks like part pit bull. Ironically, it’s a sweet old dog that hangs around on its own.

Where do these dogs come from and why are they wandering around freely? I’m not sure, but they could be the offspring of locally owned dogs that are not spayed and neutered, and are not confined. They could be dogs that aren’t confined or restrained by their owners and began to meet up with other dogs. Are dogs like teenagers in that if you don’t give them boundaries and structure they end up seeking it elsewhere? Is the dog pack the same as a gang, providing a social order and leadership, albeit of a sketchy nature?

Whatever the cause, this is a problem that needs an immediate solution. The potential is there for someone to get hurt. The governor has already been attacked. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another unfortunate incident to spur stronger action.

The sad conclusion to the story of the injured dog is that it hasn’t concluded. The authorities were called by two different residents, but it took almost an hour for someone to show up. When he arrived he was ill-equipped to deal with the dogs, especially after the rest of the pack showed up. For whatever reason, no action was taken. We waited over a week for humane traps to be placed and so far there is one trap and still no dog.

I am curious about what will happen if they do trap a dog from the pack. What will the other dogs do? I hate to say it, but I’m not holding my breath for a successful catch.

 

 

Farewell to a great ambassador for his species

Blue Iguana

 

I read in the news today that Inky, a Blue Iguana at the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Park, was killed by a dog on Sunday morning. Inky was a friendly “blue dragon”, often seen and photographed by visitors while he hung out at the entrance to the park. I’ve seen him and he was magnificent! I can’t guarantee that it’s him in the above photo, but it’s very likely.

This is the second high profile Blue Iguana death in just a short time. The problem is not only that of feral dogs (and cats), but unrestrained local pets. I read that in this particular attack, the dog wore a collar.

I hope we aren’t witnessing the extinction of a species, as some of the comments on the news article would suggest. I know that the Blue Iguana Recovery Program is committed and determined to ensure this is not so. I see dogs roaming freely here all the time. In the past, I only worried when they were in packs and without collars. There are small children in my building and I worry about them, but most of the dogs are “tame”and wouldn’t attack a child, they just don’t live as indoor pets. I’ve heard it’s cultural, but I don’t know where that began.

While researching the news about blue iguanas, I found a 2008 article describing an attack on six iguanas, probably by humans. I couldn’t find a follow up as to whether or not the attackers were ever identified.

I do know that the blue iguanas were here before any of the people or their pets. I also know that Inky will be missed.

 

 

 

Catching a little Cayman Culture

I took my own advice this rainy weekend and my Husband and I went to the National Museum. We’ve been a few times over the years, but the most recent was almost a year ago. The permanent exhibits are worth a visit, and we’re happy to take any interested visitors there. I’ve also recommended it to anyone interested in the history of the Cayman Islands. There is no charge for residents on the first Saturday of the month.

On this visit we only had time to see the current exhibit, Towards 2050, Living in a Sustainable Cayman, and to browse a little in the gift shop. I learned a little bit about the Blue Iguana, or the Blue Dragon as they call it. The Blue Iguana recovery program has a sponsorship or “adopt a blue dragon” program. I thought it would be pretty cool to adopt a blue iguana until I saw the price tag of $500 per year. I could name one for $1000, but what would I call it?

The Blue Iguana lives almost exclusively in protected areas. It is threatened by rats and feral cats, which eat the eggs, and feral dogs. They grow much larger than the common or green iguana and there are some distinguishing features to help recognize which is which. The blue iguana does not have black rings on the tail. They have no spines on the dewlap, the flap under the chin, and they never have the large circular scale on the cheek. Those features would all indicate a green iguana.

The population of the Blue Iguana was at one time estimated to be fewer than 50! It is the most endangered iguana on earth.

As for the green iguanas, I’m sure there are at least 50 living in this area right around our building and pool right now. I chased a very large green iguana away from the pool today. It was so big it could hardly squeeze itself through the fence, but it sure could move quickly. I’ve seen several smaller ones scurrying off through the shrubbery when I walk by.

The sustainability exhibit also mentioned the idea that Cayman culture is being replaced with the cultures of the many nationalities moving here. I see a very strong Jamaican influence, but North Americans are making their mark. There is a new “Thanksgiving” holiday to mark the end of hurricane season. The long standing Sunday “rest” day is currently under review to allow the opening of certain stores.

What really interested me was the promotion of and growth in the tourist industry. One flyer, describing the couple who had saved up for a vacation on their dream island, encouraged locals to give them a smile. You’ll find that friendly Caymanian attitude to this day! You don’t find people pushing you to buy things on every corner. The staff in the services operated nationally, such as the museum, Pedro St. James and the Queen Elizabeth Botanic Garden, are unfailingly polite and friendly.

I can’t help comparing Caymanian culture with the Blue Iguana. Both are fascinating and unique, like something time forgot, and both are struggling to survive on an island that is striving to accommodate thousands of visitors daily.

 

A Rabbit or an Iguana? How about a chicken?

Blue IguanaThe Blue Iguana

Green Iguanas: too many to count.Green iguanas

 

WARNING: The following post contains content that may be unpleasant or disgusting to some.

In Calgary we had rabbits in our neighbourhood. Where there are rabbits, there are many rabbits. They made themselves at home in our yard, ate our flowers, our lettuce and anything else that may have been otherwise successful at growing in our garden. They curled up in their own indentations in the yard where they thought we couldn’t see them.

In Cayman, we have chickens and iguanas. The chickens are  annoying when they crow all night, but they are just part of life here. They don’t go in the pool and they never come up to my deck.

We have the native blue iguana, which is rare and is protected. I’ve never seen one outside of Queen Elizabeth Botanic Garden.  We also have the invasive green iguanas, which I’m told were brought from Jamaica as pets. If you come from colder climates, as I do, they at first seem very exotic. However, they have no natural predator here, although dogs seem to be adapting to that role,  and they multiply at a much faster rate than the blue iguana. They multiply like, well, like rabbits.

The green iguanas eat foliage. They can climb walls and they love to come out in the sunshine and relieve themselves on warm patios, pool decks and in swimming pools. They carry salmonella. They are not my pets. They are not my friends. They are no longer exotic to me. Imagine your yard and outdoor living area,( keeping in mind that most of our living is outdoors), overrun by dogs. Iguanas do not poop little rabbit pellets. The gifts they leave are like those left by dogs, but unfortunately, there is no conscientious owner following the dozens of iguanas around with little plastic bags or pooper-scoopers.

There are those who say that the iguanas are beautiful and historic creatures; that they should be left alone to thrive in nature. Would they say the same of the lionfish that is destroying the Caribbean reef? Maybe those same people would enjoy eating their breakfast on a feces covered patio. This is not their natural habitat and some feel that the green iguanas are taking over from the native blue iguana.

We used to arrive for a visit and find our deck covered in iguana poop. We have a second floor condo,  but they have no problem climbing up to our deck. I have seen the iguanas crouched over the swimming pool about to use it as a toilet. I don’t care if they are in the grass and the trees. I don’t want them where I live. I don’t want salmonella in the small swimming pool that I use and that families with children use. It is very difficult to clean iguana feces out of the pool as it disintegrates and disseminates.

Our condo pool and the surrounding deck and sidewalks are cleaned once a week. The iguanas seem to be most attracted to the area about 5 minutes after the cleaners leave. I have chased away many an iguana with our trusty broom. Running out the door and down the stairs, waving my broom at the offenders, has become a new form of recreation. I’m sure the neighbours think I’m crazy.

I’ve been reading about iguanas, as in “know thine enemy”, and learned that they are creatures of habit. It is my mission to break them of the habit of coming to the pool or coming on our deck, or to stop them from forming those habits in the first place. It’s a big job, but who better to do it that the crazy retired lady with the broom?