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Today's Date: 21 October 2014
Last Updated: 20 October 2014 19:12:47 EST
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How Cayman ‘discovered’ Stingray City

Photo by: Courtney Platt

The following is excerpted from Ron Kipp’s new book, “From ‘Big Blue’ to the Deep Blue,” to be published next month. Mr. Kipp is well known in the Cayman Islands as the long-time owner of Bob Soto’s Diving, which he ran from 1980 to 2001. 

“During their lifetimes, everyone will stumble across a great opportunity. Sadly, most will carry on as if nothing ever happened.” 

— Winston Churchill 

 

Back in 1987, I had Pat Kenny as my operations manager and his wife Georgia Dollack was the retail manager. Both of them are hard-working people and they were an asset to the business. Pat was a street-smart former Detroit policeman and, I think it’s fair to say, he had a toughness about him that didn’t always sit well with the staff. 

Rather than try to keep him on as the ops manager, I offered Pat the opportunity to captain the Paradise Diver and he did a great job. He was an excellent boat captain and I think he was very happy with the position. As it turns out, that job change led to one of the most monumental discoveries in the Cayman Islands – Stingray City. 

That’s right. Pat Kenny, along with first mate Jay Ireland, found the original Stingray City site off the North Sound of Grand Cayman. Pat came to me and said, “Ron, I noticed an area in the shallows with dozens of southern stingrays all over the place. It’s in like 15 feet of water or less. I jumped in the water and snorkeled with them and they were everywhere. I tried feeding them some fish scraps – and they ate it! I think we might be able to run snorkel trips out there.” 

Pat took me to have a look and as they say, “the rest is history.” We started taking snorkelers to the site and it was a huge hit, of course. It wasn’t long before we decided to allow scuba diving at the site. 

Excited about our newest attraction, I phoned Paul Tzimoulis at Skin Diver and said, “Paul, I can put you on a site with about 15 or 20 southern stingrays. Guaranteed. You can feed them. You can practically hug them. You’ve gotta come see this. There’s nothing like it anyplace else.” 

Paul and Geri [his wife and underwater photographer] arrived on Grand Cayman within a matter of days. We took them out to see the stingrays – they’d traveled all over the world and neither of them had ever seen anything like it – and, of course, they got some great shots. As we were getting off the boat, Geri stood on the dock behind my house and exclaimed, “Ron, that place is just amazing. You’ve got a Stingray City!” 

Pat Kenny discovered it. Geri Murphy Tzimoulis named it. I marketed the hell out of it. And visitors to Grand Cayman have been enjoying it ever since. 

There’s a story that local fishermen “created” Stingray City by repeatedly anchoring in that area to clean their catch, throwing fish scraps into the water. Now, I’m not going to say that didn’t happen, or that the fishermen and snorkel boat operators along the North Sound didn’t know about the stingrays. But all I know is that nobody did anything abut Stingray City until Pat Kenny and Jay Ireland found it and we started running trips there. 

At first, it was a delicate situation, because the North Sound was sort of the locals’ “turf.” It was an area that was kind of off-limits to tourists. Some locals were clearly not happy that the area was becoming a tourist attraction. But all these years later, that attitude has shifted. Now that the Stingray City “sandbar” developed, the situation has gotten even better, since the sandbar area is only about four or five feet deep. People can just stand there and have stingrays swimming all around. They have their photo taken with the rays and it’s a great souvenir of their Cayman Islands vacation. 

 
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Katina  Anglin
How Cayman 'discovered' Stingray City
Posted by Katina Anglin on 11/2/2013 3:28:49 PM

That's right. Pat Kenny, along with first mate Jay Ireland, found the original Stingray City site off the North Sound of Grand Cayman. Pat came to me and said, Ron, I noticed an area in the shallows with dozens of southern stingrays all over the place. It's in like 15 feet of water or less. I jumped in the water and snorkeled with them and they were everywhere. I tried feeding them some fish scraps and they ate it! I think we might be able to run snorkel trips out there.

Pat took me to have a look and as they say, the rest is history. We started taking snorkelers to the site and it was a huge hit, of course. It wasn't long before we decided to allow scuba diving at the site.

Let me assume that this is an ambiguous statement - rather than an untruthful account of how Stingray City was discovered.

In light of this assumption, I will offer the truth about the stingrays and the discovery of Stingray City...because the only thing unique in this version is the coining of the name, Stingray City.

In 1951 Capt. Marvin Ebanks returned home from sea and hit the pavement to earn an income and maintain his family. He tailored the excursions known as North Sound Excursions which included a seafood lunch on the beach at what is now known as Rum Point. Capt. Marvin was joined by Capts. Gleason, Ertis and Solomon, all from West Bay. Capt. Marvin is the pioneer of the North Sound and has always gladly and openly acknowledged the role of the others mentioned in helping to build this world-renown site.

A part of the excursion was to the Sandbar where the day's catch was cleaned and the remnants discarded back into the water, while tourists collected sea shells and the stingrays consumed the remnants. This site later became known as Stingray Sandbar.

A short distance away was another site, just inside the channel where the stingrays congregated when not buried or at the sandbar and Caymanian operators would take their customers to this site when the Sandbar was too rough.

I'm not sure what Ron thought they discovered, but it wasn't anything out in the North Sound. But then, this is not the first time that people have rewritten history - Christopher Columbus is identified as having discovered the New World, which was here all along and occupied through out. Mankind stills refers to him as having discovered something. Not sure what that was either, as it was already being utilized by other men. Unless occupation by the indigenous means that it is undiscovered and useless until the white man speaks of it.

This news coverage falls nothing short of robbery in the most despicable manner.

The press and Ron Kipp should apologize not only to the Caymanians whose history has been affected, but also personally to those who have been discredited by this story and the many millions who have been mislead by this article.

Katina Anglin.
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Ruth Anglin
How Cayman 'discovered' Stingray City
Posted by Ruth Anglin on 10/31/2013 4:32:23 PM

It's interesting to find out that Stingray City was 'created' in 1987 since Capt. Marvin's (and other other local operators who came later but long before the 80's) has been taking guests out there since 1951. I first went out there in 1980, 7 years before Ron says he and his company 'discovered' it. It is truly a national treasure.
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Sherry Cowell
How Cayman 'discovered' Stingray City
Posted by Sherry Cowell on 10/31/2013 9:19:38 AM

I HATE it when I am there and people (including the dive masters) lift the stingrays out of the water. That is cruel.
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Joe Hilgefort
How Cayman 'discovered' Stingray City
Posted by Joe Hilgefort on 10/31/2013 8:34:11 AM

I took my family out to Stingray city 11 years ago when we first started going back to Cayman (our first trip was the early 80's which I dove the North Sound and saw the many Stingrays). My son started diving that year and since have come back several times after buying a time share at Morritt's. I had a 4 foot stingray laying on my chest with my arms stretched out underneath it. WOW! What an experience I'll never forget and have told that story many times. LOVE IT! Can't wait to go back.
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pete digiacomo
How Cayman 'discovered' Stingray City
Posted by pete digiacomo on 10/31/2013 3:25:09 AM

We have been to your grand Cayman island four times and have always made the trip out to stingray city it is one of a kind place. Hopefully it will stat that way for years to come. The DiGiacomos
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