Photographer calls for far reaching reef fish protection

| 27/07/2016 | 41 Comments
Cayman News Service

Vibrant reef in the George Town Harbour, Grand Cayman (Photo by Courtney Platt)

(CNS): As the Department of Environment continues to push its proposed conservation plan for local reef fish under the National Conservation Law, well-known local photographer Courtney Platt is calling for an end to the unsustainable take from spawning aggregations of any species, as well as tighter restrictions and more spending on enforcement. Platt believes that the no-catch limits on fish in general, even with expanded marine parks, will not be enough to save some of the species that are now so sparse they are at risk of extinction.

In an effort to draw attention to the DoE consultation, he said that the marine parks, which he supports, will not be enough on their own to protect species that spawn at the drop-off and that the goal of protecting future fish stocks via enhance parks will be “seriously compromised by allowing any fishing at all along the deep fore-reef” and unlimited catch numbers.

He also urged a complete ban on spear-fishing, with the exception of the invasive lionfish, as he raised concern about the increase in the number of spearguns being used in local waters. Platt believes that fish stocks are now so low that without more aggressive protection, many fish face extinction.

“I am concerned that government has historically been and may continue to be more politically cautious than protectively cautious, which will leave some species in peril of local extinction or cause recovery to be greatly protracted in others,” he said.

Pointing out that there is no data for historic populations prior to the 2009-2010 reef fish survey, Platt argued that the DoE cannot scientifically prove what experienced Cayman divers and older fishermen “know” about the rate of decline that has occurred.

“All they can prove with data is changes in population that occur going forward from 2010,” he said. “It was a lack of data and political will that resulted in too little change when we established the marine parks in the mid ’80’s and thus our current dilemma.”

Platt believes that the most endangered species should have total protection, and that would include all groupers; rainbow, midnight and blue parrotfish; and cubera snappers. The photographer and diver, who has worked in the watersports industry for over thirty years, said the government must also try to ensure that the decline in fish stocks and species around Grand Cayman should not be allowed to happen around the Sister Islands and that the blanket protections should stretch to Little Cayman and Cayman Brac.

Pointing out the gain for tourism if the fish stocks could be boosted and eventually returned to historic levels, he said it would provide “awesome fishing for those who fish legally within sustainable limits” and claimed that all Caymanians, not just a select few, would profit. But if government doesn’t act, they could all lose.

Criticising the financial commitment government has made to marine conservation, he said, “I believe that increasing funding by merely $200k per year for research, population monitoring and law enforcement is woefully inadequate.” Highlighting concerns about enforcement and the need for more spending on that area, he said that even the fishermen insist that there is no point in new regulations unless enforcement increased significantly.

“I suggest that we give DoE whatever they need to effectively enforce all regulations on all three islands. While poachers perceive that they can get away with it, they will continue to try and often will get away with it.  Much goes on after dark into the wee hours.”

Urging people to comment on the conservation plan and support even more protection than currently he proposed, Platt added, “I fear we are already on the brink of too little, too late for some of our most reef fish endangered species.”

The plan can be downloaded here or viewed at the Grand Cayman DoE office, district libraries and the Little Cayman DoE building.

Written submissions should be sent to or to the Conservation Council, c/o Department of Environment, PO Box 10202, KY1-1002, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands, or by hand to the Department of Environment office, 580 North Sound Road, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands.

Submissions must be received by 19 August 2016.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (41)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Where is the evidence of ‘over fishing’? Often said but never any evidence offered to support. What has made a photographer an expert in marine biology? I have fished for deep water snapper for thirty years at depths far greater than any diver goes. I take only what I need and have never come home without fish. If anyone has destroyed the coral it is the divers themselves. Any fisherman can tell you fish like structure.

    • Anonymous says:

      Like the oblivious frog who does not realize he is being boiled alive because the temperature only slightly changes up over a ling time, your innocent questions are only contributing to the problems you pretend to be oblivious about -the over-fishing, and you will only realize the problem until it is too late. But keep filling you fat face with fish, keep supplying the markets and restaurants with fish, and keep pretending that the fish populations are the same as they every were…

      • Anonymous says:

        Yet, you still offer no evidence, instead you make accusations of me over fishing when all I have ever done is feed my family with my catch. I don’t fish for profit. How many restaurants have you entered to convince them not to buy fish from local fishermen? Not everyone in Cayman is a banker or accountant with fat salaries, many of us ‘old timers’ have fished all our lives, as did our Fathers before us. We might not be smart enough to have a job with high salary, but we know how to fish, leave us alone.

        • Anonymous says:

          Read you history books of the old old timers accounts of fish and wild-life and you would realize the damage that has been done.

        • Anonymous says:

          To those that snorkel regularly the change is obvious, and speeding up. Add in bleaching reefs and what more evidence do you need? Do you accept the world is round or do you need more evidence? Protecting your own personal interest makes you sound like Trump on one of his better days…

        • Willis says:

          How many Grouper holes were there back in the 70’s/80’s? How many are filled will Groupers during spawning in 2016?

          There is your evidence

    • Anonymous says:


    • The evidence for over-fishing has been the piles of reef fish on fish cleaning tables throughout the 60’s into the ’90’s while the same species visibly and rapidly declined on the reefs. Today, most of the fish for sale is either deep benthic fish such as your deep snappers and Warsaw Groupers from beyond 1,000′ deep (not even the topic of discussion here), pelagic species or caught somewhere other than Grand Cayman. The reason the tables are no longer dominated by local reef fish is… wait for it… unsustainable over-fishing. Because we now have so little left, much of the way that we still take from the reef remains unsustainable even though we take far less now than in the past (when we had far more). The reduction in sale of reef fish is not because we have regulated it, but because there is so little left that it is not worth your time to fish it. That is why you now fish deep and why we must increase protection for what little remains… before the last seed stock is lost of our most precious species. This photographer has been studying marine biology since eight years old, including several years in college and the rest of my life via thousands of dives and a keen interest in all the information that I can find. I’d wager that if we spent time together we’d both find that we agree on far more than you might think. I especially have that experience when talking with our older, most experienced fishermen. See my 18 minute TEDx talk on-line to learn more about why I think we have a problem, what it is costing us and what suggestions I’d like to discuss for possible solutions. The topic deserves much, much more discussion than 18 minutes, but it’s a start.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m so sick to read this utter wackiness. I have been fishing all my life, all over the world. The earth is billions of years old and certainly adapts to circumstances without the need for eco-nurses to continually give CPR to the earth and the marine life. One thing I can tell you from experience: When humans fish an area for a while, taking fish out of that area, it often can change the spawning spawning and feeding patterns; fish don’t just go extinct! that’s just utter lunacy. Very simply the fish adapt and *move*. So where you used to see fish and now don’t see as many fish, doesn’t mean the fish have ceased to exist, they *moved* to another location. Sometimes deeper, sometimes shallower *somewhere else*. Fish adapt. the other misconception is that human structures and presence destroy marine life. This is again utter nonsense. fish, lobster LOVE artificial structures. Ship wreaks, docks, rocks, piers, etc. This is why it’s illegal for example in Florida to build structures for the purpose of fishing them or harboring lobster. Human structures are so effective at accumulating and harboring marine life that’s illegal to do! Some places it illegal to have lights at night because the fish love it, since it attacks bait fish and give predatory fishes great advantage to hunt from the light shadows. Bridges are also great for this. Does this mean we should allow Cayman to turn into a cement island? No, just use some comment sense and a bit less emotional alarmism that’s all.

    Of course, have catch limits, have sensible size limits (the grouper 12 inches limit is way to small for example) , Of course have marine parks and replenishment zones, of course don’t pollute the environment, And all should be enforced. But these blanket bans and expanded marine parks that will never be enforced are useless. But these laws are to insure that was have the ability to maintain fishing in designated fishing areas, not because the marine life will go extinct!

    • Anonymous says:

      What a load of nonsense… Paragraph 2 completely contradicts paragraph 1!

      Ask the fishermen up north what happened to the Atlantic Cod. I think you’ll find that man is well capable of wiping species of fish out with the same ignorance and shortsightedness you blessed us with in paragraph 1.

      • Anonymous says:

        And the Chinese raping everyone else’s oceans as there is nothing left in their own due to….. Oh yes, overfishing.

    • Anonymous says:

      Exactly enforce the laws we have now concerning amount and size off fish, conch lobster etc. and leave the rest to Mother Nature. Anything else is just stupidity, waste of money and the big one is part of starving us to death. Remember most of us cannot afford to buy salmon.

  3. Anonymous says:

    If the DOE got on with marine protection instead of attending refugee landings and other incidents that they are neither commissioned, trained or actually required to do, then the enforcement dept would be slightly more effective.
    However, until there is a major rethink on the management capability and over all effectiveness of their senior uniformed enforcement staff and a positive attempt at recruiting the best officers they can get, then nothing will change and all the laws in the world will be meaningless. As a former cop on island I have witnessed some pretty appalling examples of leadership in law enforcement, no more so than from within the DOE. Worthless titles, belt loads of equipment and numbered trucks don’t make you a leader, but looking and acting like a professional LEO is a good start.
    As for DOE policy, someone needs to realise that science and enforcement must go hand in hand. There is no point in commissioning mountains of scientific data if ultimately there’s no one to enforce its inevitable conclusions. It would appear to me that the two are viewed by DOE management as two separate issues, with disproportionate funding going into research at the expense of enforcement. I don’t know if that supposition is true, but I see more articles on the research of marine environments than I do on prosecuting persistent offenders who are raping the marine parks on an industrial scale.
    DOE beat officers are on a hiding to nothing with little or no support from government. They are few in number and definately outnumbered by the criminals they need to catch, but in my experience they try to make a difference.
    Unfortunately, their management, courts and politicians fail them at every corner. Shame on them.

    • Anonymous says:

      I do not dive, unfortunately I have to rely on Courtney Platts photos to see the beauty that lies beneath the waves. I can swim a little and don’t know how to fish. I have no idea whether there are more or less fish available than 20/30 years ago. I have heard that there is less fish out there but I am also curious if this is a fact or a mith . Has any scientific study been done to prove that the reason for the dwindling fish stock is overfishing? I usually buy my fish from the guys across from Harbour Centre in George Town. I understand that they do not really catch the majority of their fish but instead go and meet up with the Hondurans and buy from them. If that is so then I would imagine other fishermen do the same. My next question is who then is catching these huge amounts of fish that this article and DOE suggest? I also understand that members of a certain nationality on island go out on the George Town dock area in the nights and catch the baby fish that hang out there-has the DOE done anything to discourage that? Could there be other reasons why the fish stock is dwindling ? Has the DOE carried out any Studies to determine the real cause? Is there anyone at the DOE or on the Conservation Board open minded enough to look at all angles before rushing to make it so difficult for us to be able to continue eating fresh fish. Please never forget that there is only so much that humans can do, the rest is absolutely left to nature, and nature usually rectify itself if left alone a little bit.

  4. james says:

    I have lived and dived in the Cayman Islands for over 30 years.

    I can well remember every dive spot being alive with fish and coral. Now we have a few fish wandering around dead coral.

    Partly caused by lion fish eating baby fish. Partly by careless divers kicking the coral. But mostly caused by over fishing and poaching.

    Forget the dive industry for a moment. If fish are driven to extinction then the fishermen are out of business too.

  5. Anonymous says:

    What Mr platt fails to acknowledge is that divers and underwater photographers do at least as much If not more damage than fisherman. I’ve seen tons of articles posted on facebook recently proving this. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
    Any no fishing zones should also be no dive zones.

    • Anonymous says:

      Explain how a photographer can destroy fish populations and I guarantee they will willfully make changes. Try the same with an entitled fisherman who thinks we are still in the 1960s, and you will receive stubborn ignorance of the problem and even a vindictive attitude to fish even more out of the shores of the Cayman Islands.

      • Anonymous says:

        Very simple, touching of coral whether deliberately or accidentally. See Mr Platt wants his cake and eat it too.. Also the presence of humans can affect the natural spawning patterns of marine life. The case can be made that the same way humans interfere with fishing and laws aren’t strict enough to save the marine life, the same that laws cannot protect humans touching and damaging coral (especially considering that Cayman has a no-gloves law). there will always be some people touching coral and as such, we should take the same blanket approach that Mr. Platt is taking with fishing and apply it to diving. So ban diving Mr Platt and find somewhere else to take your pictures that doesn’t destroy the marine habitat!

        • Anonymous says:

          So you are saying touching coral, which can be enforced and educated to not do, is the same as explicitly killing the fish population so that the allure of marine wildlife and hence cayman tourism dies. Pretty slick, and is inline with the thinking that totally ignores the problem at the expense of all future populations. Greedy SOB.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not sure what “tons of articles posted on facebook” prove, even if they exist.Care to post a link to them, or even one?

      • Anonymous says:

        10.16pm Want one , just look at the picture on CITN of a visitor holding a turtle over his head.Confirms that both the turtle holder and the photographer were at fault.

    • Anonymous says:

      After all, if its on Facebook, it MUST be true.

    • OK, I have to respond to the mis-characterization of diver damage as magnifying it far beyond the relatively minimal effect that it does have on the sessile (attached) organisms themselves. The scientific paper which led to such reworded mis-characterizations had shown a relatively small statistical difference between benthic organisms on heavily dived reefs and non-dived reefs. A difference yes, but small. It did not address the relatively far more significant major stressors such as storm waves or diseases and made no suggestion to associate divers with fish declines. From Hurricane Floyd in ’86 through Wilma in 2005, the week before and after each storm has looked like the before and after of an atom bomb on our reefs. We can now add lionfish and pollution to the stress factors. Diver damage is real, but it is very very small compared to all of the many other damages that have occurred on our reefs (storms and diseases). Most pointedly though, diver damage has even less to do with the state of our reef fish population, which is the issue in debate here. A partial list of the species that are in greatest peril of total collapse on Grand Cayman’s reefs right now include at least: Cubera Snapper; Nassau Grouper; Black Grouper; Yellow Mouth Grouper; Yellow Fin Grouper; Blue Parrotfish; Midnight Parrotfish; Rainbow Parrotfish and even the Tiger Grouper (which had held out the longest of our groupers). Because of the deep decline of these key, choice species, we are now catching everything else that is edible and seeing a rapid reduction in all of those too. Other Parrotfish; Grey Snappers; Mangrove Snappers; Schoolmasters; Yellowtail Snappers; Grunts; even Black Durgeons (AKA Prop-Props) and Squirrelfish (the full list is much longer) are now rapidly, visibly increasingly declining. I say visibly because sadly, the first comprehensive reef fish count ever conducted by the DOE was made in 2009 – 2010. For scientific proof of the decline which all experienced local divers and fishermen can attest to, we will have to wait for the next fish count by the DOE. Only then will the DOE have the hard numbers to stand behind what we (those with eyes underwater) all know must be addressed before some of the above species reach local extinction. Marine biologists must by training remain reticent to voice claims of anecdotal evidence (personal observations). They are forced by profession to rely on hard data. Unfortunately we are running out of time for that, having failed to collect a baseline count decades ago, which would have been truly alarming when compared to today. If you don’t believe what over 5,000 dives on Grand Cayman’s reefs has informed my eyes (I’m not the only witness) concerning our reef fish populations, consider this: you don’t need data from a government census to know that the human population has more than tripled here over the past 35 years… you have witnessed that change first hand if you’ve lived here during that period. You just “know that our population has rapidly increased” and nobody can credibly tell you otherwise. The change in numbers on our reefs is equally visibly obvious to those with eyes on our reefs throughout the past 35 years. The next fish count by the DOE will prove the negative trend that continues even now that we have so little remaining on our reef. This is a serious problem that must be dealt with ASAP. The first step should be to expand the marine parks as proposed by the DOE and which is currently awaiting MLA approval. Next we must enhance enforcement and a few other key factors that can easily be addressed. Government and the people should expeditiously approve the recommendations that the DOE offers as they are the best informed regarding the science of marine biology. This is what we hired the DOE Marine Resources staff for. BTW, in response to some earlier replies I do have an experienced background in marine biological studies. My whole life has been one long study of marine life, including several years in college and thousands of hours underwater. I’m not just a photographer. In the meantime, for those of us who can afford to eat anything else, we can personally choose to stop fishing the reef and stop buying, selling or eating reef fish. Please join me in helping to restore our reefs by leaving what remains there if you have any other recourse. It baffles me why a few people contend that my interest in addressing this issue might be personal gain… this is about having recognized through fairly unique experience, a declining renewable resource that can either become a great benefit or become a great loss for all Caymanians far into the future. It is for those living today to decide that fate. I’m old enough now that I will never see the benefit of what I am recommending. Some naysayers use the argument that “you can’t take away my rights” when the honest truth is that if left unchecked, what we are currently doing will leave all of us with no fish left for even the needy to rightfully catch. The world is full of places that have already reached that status. Look at Jamaica for just one nearby example, but this is happening world-wide. It is called unsustainable over-fishing. At this point in our history if we eat reef fish we get demerits, but if we eat lionfish we earn extra bonus points! Please copy and share if you care.

  6. Anonymous says:

    We don’t need data, Cayman was historically a place where ships replenished their supplies from as late as the 1500’s with historical accounts of droves of fish and turtle of all kinds. It can be like that again, but it takes a true leader who will not pander to cultural entitlement.

  7. Anonymous says:

    with fisherman…it is just take, take, take….
    can’t wait for the next hurricane and storm surge for the sea to take its revenge….

  8. Anonymous says:

    We have lived here for over ten years now, and like most people who move abroad to a new country we acted like holiday makers to begin with and used to snorkel and take boat trips to the reef and Stingray City Sandbar much more often then than we do now. But every time we do head out to the reef, or snorkel at Smith Cove or Cemetery Beach the one thing we ask, in dismay, is – “where have all the fish gone??????

  9. Anonymous says:

    “I is Caymanian an it is my birt right to take whatever I want from the sea. So go ahead and make your laws. I jes know they don’t apply to me.” – Typical greedy/shortsighted local

    • Anonymous says:

      So true, and so sad

    • Anonymous says:

      And what does the greedy,expat say? Something like ” I will take this lobster tonight because I am better than these dumb locals and therefore I am entitled to it.

      • Anonymous says:

        There are greedy expats who do this I am sure. But the greedy expat is probably taking 1 maybe 2 lobsters whilst the greedy Caymanians will take whatever they see with no regard to catch size or limits.

        • Anonymous says:

          Greedy is greedy. Please stop trying to make Caymanians look worse than expats. According to recent stories on the news here no nationality is exempt any more. Some are a little more sophisticated

  10. Anonymous says:

    50% of marine life gone over the past 40 years. If Cayman is smart, they will stop all useless fishing and increase their reputation as not only a hot-spot for diving, but as an example to the world how we can reverse the mess and get back to the historical accounts where fish were plenty from the observable naked eye.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I agree totally with Courtney but it’s not only indigenous Caymanians minded to over-fish, who have to heed and comply with any such restrictions. What about the foreign demographic who are known to indiscriminately fish and take all kinds of molluscs from the rocks?? They have no vested interest and so they could care less!

    What efforts are DoE applying to address the matter generally other than popping a few crack-heads who rather poach conch for a living than steal!!??

    The onus is on the morality of those who over-fish. Good luck with any approach other than enforcement!

  12. Anonymous says:

    I know the DOE wants to just make large areas of the Island a no fish zone. I dont know the reason for this but I suspect it is for the dive industry. It is almost to the point that you cant fish anywhere. We need to institute bag and size limits that is what is done every where else so dont tell me it wont work. If they need more resources to enforce this lets give it to them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Catch limits failed for the cod. – There, I’ve just told you they don’t work.

      • The protection of cod by total closure of the fishing grounds is proving to have come too late for rapid recovery. It’s just ludicrous to claim that this proves that protection doesn’t work. Sadly, we may have also been too late to give protection to Nassau Grouper in Grand Cayman. Do you know when they were last seen spawning here? Not last year. Not the year before that or the year before that either. Nope, not the year before that one either…

    • I absolutely agree with you on this: we do need catch and size limits as well as a lot more enforcement! But this is such a critical juncture in the state of our reef fish populations that we also need “all of the above”, including expansion of the parks as proposed by the DOE. If this was a football match I think we are down by one with two minutes remaining. It’s time to field the best players and stop reserving our efforts or we might very well lose this game.

    • Anonymous says:

      11:18 I have been saying that for years but the experts at
      DOE dont want to hear it. I think its because if they make the whole island a no fish zone they can just sit in their vehicles with the AC on and see who is breaking the law and slap them on the hand and tell them not to do it again when they come ashore.

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