Dive and water sports operators in Grand Cayman reported no negative feedback or tour cancellations following the Sept. 6 death of TV star Steve Irwin from a stingray stab while filming a documentary off the coast of his native Australia. 

Irwin, best known as the host of the Animal Planet show "The Crocodile Hunter," died Sept. 4 when a stingray's poisonous barb pierced him in the chest off the coast of Cairns on the Great Barrier Reef.

Stingray City in Grand Cayman, one of the most popular attractions in the Cayman Islands for both cruise and land-based visitors, is a patch of shallow water over a string of sand bars that cross North Sound.

The stingrays have gathered in the area for years to feed on the guts of fish cleaned by fishermen.

In the late 1980s divers started feeding squid to the stingrays. Now, dozens of stingrays congregate each day looking for and getting handouts from snorkelers, divers or tourists in glass-bottom boats.

Water sports and dive operators in Grand Cayman agreed that Irwin's death was a freak accident involving a normally placid sea creature.

Karie Bergstrom, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, called Irwin's death "a tragic loss of a passionate environmentalist."

Steve Broadbelt, chairman of CITA's Watersports Committee, pointed out that "not all stingrays are the same, and there are about 200 species of stingrays."

He said that "Australia is home to some of the deadliest creatures on the planet. Many of their less harmful cousins live in the Caribbean and other parts of the world."

The barb in a stingray can take a long time to grow, according to Broadbelt.

"It is thought that the use of this barb is deployed only as a defense resort in situations where the stingray fears for its life," he said.

Broadbelt predicted that the impact of Irwin's death on tourism numbers to Stingray City would be "minimal."

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

But Broadbelt also cited a need to regulate the procedures used at Stingray City, saying, "The manhandling of stingrays and lifting them from the water is both cruel and dangerous."

He called for implementing recommendations "to protect and manage our stingray attraction."

"It is hoped that the new Special Management Zone regulations become law as soon as possible," he said, adding that more than five years had been spent in compiling comprehensive recommendations for the protection and management of the Stingray City attractions.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected]

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