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Six Sharks Die at New Cayman's Amusement Park as Life Support System Fails; 'There is a Strong Learning Curve'

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GEORGE TOWN, Cayman Islands -- Visitors to Cayman’s newest tourist attraction Boatswain’s Beach won’t be coming face to face with any predators until at least February of next year.

This is the word from Managing Director Ken Hydes who confirmed to the Caymanian Compass yesterday (Thursday) that six sharks destined for the predator tank had died back in July.

“Their loss was due to a system problem with their life support system,” he said.

The sharks were in a quarantine facility on site, prior to being placed in the larger predator tank, Mr. Hydes explained.

Fish undergo a 30–day–quarantine period on arrival at the park.

The sharks were in two tanks by themselves when the malfunction occurred during the night. “As a result of the malfunction the parameters surrounding the water quality was affected,” he said.

The entire quarantine system is relatively new for the park. “It’s a known fact that at the start up of new systems there’s a natural attrition,” he said.

While noting that the loss of any living thing is tragic, Mr. Hydes said that another factor in the deaths was the expense of transporting the fish to Cayman by air. They had been imported from Florida.

But more sharks are to be acquired for the park. “We’re putting together a plan going forward for the purchase of additional predators. It’s something we’re reviewing and formulising,” he said. “It’s a key component of our exhibit.”

Boatswain’s Beach is also still pushing forward with the quarantine of other fish species for its exhibits.

Mr. Hydes said that with mechanical and chemical systems there is always a risk, and the mechanical failure has been a tremendous learning curve for Boatswain’s Beach.

“We have a very robust team and this is a strong learning curve we have gone through with these fish,” he said.

Lessons have been learned and in the loss of the predators, improvements have been put in place, he noted.

“We’ve improved the quarantine system and made it more robust.”

Mr. Hydes said that part and parcel of being a marine park is the potential for the loss of animals or fish.

“In most aquariums there is an eight to 10 per cent attrition,” he said. Causes, he said, can be some fish eating others within their viewing tanks, or from natural causes or operating problems.

A number of other fish have been lost throughout the spectrum of fish being acclimatised at the park, through transhipment or for various other reasons including illness, he said.

Mr. Hydes confirmed that the life support system has only suffered this one glitch since its installation and has been operating fine since the initial loss of the sharks.

The system had only been started a few days before the first batch of fish arrived, said Mr. Hydes.

“We feel more confident with the animal life support systems having matured and operating much better,” he said.

An expert has just recently come down to look at the systems and is modifying the species being supplied on what knowledge has been gained on species best suited to the system.

There are a number of different permits Boatswain’s Beach has had to obtain in order to operate as the extended facility it is becoming.

For the quarantine system, a deep well discharge permit has been acquired, along with a deep well water extraction permit, also in hand.

“We have had to collect and provide the Water Authority with whatever they require for us to maintain those permits,” Mr. Hydes said.

Still pending is the main marine discharge permit for discharge of effluent to offshore waters.

An anti–degradation study has been undertaken for this purpose, including a study of the surrounding water and specifications of each of the features of the marine park.

Mr. Hydes said that this permit must be granted before any fish can be added to the salt water lagoon, as this is what is required under the Water Authority Law.

But, he feels confident the marine discharge permit will be granted before it is required, potentially in about a month’s time.

The salt water lagoon is to be filled with water in the coming days and once that happens, the lagoon has to naturally condition itself before any fish can be added. This is a process that takes 30 days.

“We’ll monitor the water quality as the conditioning takes place,” he said.

They park is looking at introducing fish into this lagoon around 17 December, he said, pending the permit.

The principal addition to the main permit will be the discharge of water from the sludge tank from the new features, he said.

Excluded from this, he said, will be waste from the aviary, which goes to the treatment plant on site.

It was an overseas company that set up the life support systems and trained Boatswain’s Beach staff on how to use them, Mr. Hydes said.

“My expertise is not in keeping fish,” he said. “But with the people we have recruited we have that expertise and we have consultants both in animal husbandry and on the operational side of the park,” he said.

Nobody is as devastated about the loss of the sharks as the Boatswain’s Beach team, said Mr Hydes.

When the deaths occurred some months ago, Mr. Hydes said they did not feel it was necessary to come out publicly with it because they were faced with a lot of challenges at the time.

Now that it had come out naturally, he said, he was happy to talk about it, although not happy about the loss.

But because of what they have learned since, and the upgrades that have been done, the chances of a repeat of what happened have been minimised, he said.

Mr. Hydes noted they are now looking at the month of February for having sharks in the predator lagoon while it is hoped the salt water lagoon will be available for human use before then.


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