LETTER TO THE EDITOR
What’s Next For WIZ Licences?
Since the collapse of the tourism industry due to the covid19 pandemic, Caymanian watersports operators have been struggling. Now, they are desperately waiting for a detailed, long-term plan from the government which will allow watersports operators to prepare in advance to deal with any reopening protocols to be executed slowly, with the health and safety of our people always at the top of the list.
While watersports operators wait for an answer, stakeholders in the industry will need to start thinking about how they want the watersports industry to look at the time of reopening and for the long-term future. In particular, how permits are issued for wildlife interaction zones (“WIZ”).
Wildlife Interaction Zones: The Law
By way of background, The National Conservation Council (Licence and Permit) Directives, 2016 designates the sand bar and stingray city as wildlife interaction zones. A person who has attained the age of eighteen years, or a company or other body corporate, may apply to the Council for a permit in respect of a vessel owned by the person or body corporate. The owner of a vessel shall not permit the vessel to be used as a tourist's vessel for the carriage of passengers to or from a wildlife interaction zone unless a permit is in force in respect of the vessel.
WIZ Licences Should Be Restricted
If and when the reopening happens, Caymanian watersports must benefit economically. There must also be a plan to ensure that the relevant zones are not overcrowded, leading to other issues for the marine environment. Strategically, I think that the government must consider two things:
(1) for the first 24 months after reopening, restrict WIZ licenses to all EXISTING holders
(2) after the passing of the period of 24 months, WIZ licenses must be issued to Caymanians only.
Benefits of “Caymanianisation” of WIZ Licence Holders
There are many benefits of “Caymanianising” WIZ licenses. Caymanians and others who have worked closely with Caymanians over the years are the most appropriate parties (along with the department of environment) to educate our people and tourists about wildlife interaction (touching or feeding of marine life or attempting to touch or feed marine life), help protect our wildlife environment from dangers and manage wildlife interaction safely.
In the absence of restrictions, cruise ship CEOs may see a financial opportunity and swoop down, grabbing WIZ licenses and leaving our watersports operators with no income and financially tapped out.