18 February – The Department of Environment (DoE) has received a number of reports within the past month regarding various instances where local marine life has been mishandled by divers or swimmers.

These incidents include reports of a diver grabbing a sea turtle by its carapace, Stingray Sandbar visitors lifting rays out of the water and Starfish Point visitors lifting starfish out of the water for significant periods of time. All of these activities have the potential to harm the creatures. The DoE also wishes to note that any interactions with marine life happening outside of a designated Wildlife Interaction Zone (WIZ), as defined under the National Conservation Law (NCL), are not permitted.  

“Elasmobranchs (such as stingrays), echinoderms (such as starfish) and sea turtles are resilient creatures, but they can still be severely injured by mishandling,” said DoE Deputy Director Tim Austin. “Wildlife Interaction Zones (WIZs) were developed under the NCL specifically to permit individuals to safely interact with wildlife in our wonderful marine environment, not abuse it.”



Department of Environment (DoE) staffers Lauren Dombowsky (left) and Jerrica Wood demonstrate proper stingray handling procedures. Photo: Claire Fletcher (DoE)

“Safety has always been one of the primary concerns for our marine environment, safety for our residents and visitors, as well as for our precious marine animals,” Hon. Dwayne Seymour, Minister for Environment said. “We must treat these animals with care and respect if we want them to stay around.”

Under the NCL, local water sports and dive shop operators who take tours to the two WIZs at the Sandbar or Stingray City, must obtain an annual permit and display decals with the relevant year on both sides of their vessel. Without this permit, tour operators can be denied access to these WIZ areas. For additional information about WIZ locations and permit requirements, please contact the DoE offices via phone at 949-8469, email Doe@gov.ky

Please also see the link to the National Conservation Council Stingray/Starfish handling guidelines.