Guy Harvey, Sir Richard Branson Discuss Marine Conservation Issues

November 9, 2012

Left to right: Michael Ryan, Guy Harvey, Madeleine Ryan, Jessica Harvey and Sir Richard Branson.

I recently had an opportunity to meet with Sir Richard Branson, founder and chairman of the Virgin Group. Sir Richard was in Grand Cayman to deliver the keynote speech at the recent “Alternative Investment Conference”, which was held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel on Grand Cayman. The event was organized and hosted by Michael Ryan and also featured such notables as former U.S. President George W. Bush and former world’s number one golfer Greg Norman.

After the conference, I was able to meet with Sir Richard for a few minutes to discuss the potential for collaborating with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. I gave Sir Richard a quick overview of the GHOF and briefed him on several of the projects the Foundation has supported, with specific details on studies involving tiger sharks, mako sharks, bluefin tuna and billfish.

I elaborated on the role that GHOF research has played in highlighting the importance of the Bahamas archipelago to many species of sharks. In a collaborative effort with the Bahamas National Trust and the Pew Environmental Group, we convinced the government of the Bahamas to protect all sharks from commercial exploitation within their 200 mile EEZ.

Here in the Cayman Islands, the GHOF in involved in a multitude of research projects that includes Nassau grouper conservation, lionfish eradication and recruitment, and climate change studies at CCMI in Little Cayman. We are also actively engaged in shark research and blue marlin migration studies.

Documentary film making has also been a priority, so during the last year the Guy Harvey Expeditions team of producer George Schellenger, Jessica Harvey and myself have been on location nine times to conduct shoots in Panama, Nova Scotia, Little Cayman, Cocos Island (Costa Rica), the Bahamas and Isla Mujeres (Mexico). Our group made three trips to Isla Mujeres in 2012, teaming up with Captain Anthony Mendillo and crew to complete shoots on sailfish, mako sharks and whale sharks. Sir Richard was particularly interested in the sailfish and whale shark work as he has visited Isla Mujeres on several occasions, also guided by Captain Anthony.  We discussed the limited research done on sailfish and whale sharks and the opportunity to collaborate with the Georgia Aquarium research team in future research and conservation efforts.

I went to some length explaining the value of catch and release sport fishing to Caribbean island and Central American economies. I emphasized the need for a regional approach as many of the large pelagic species cover great distances that cross several jurisdictions. This requires a coordinated effort in management and conservation as one country’s regulations may not be the same as its neighbors.

I also discussed the need for research work on all the species mentioned, as without the scientific data one cannot make management decisions and thus achieve sustainability and conservation. Fishing is the method by which we access many of these creatures for study, underwater photography, tagging and genetic work. Sir Richard was not keen on fishing but acknowledged it is a useful tool in this arena.

We moved on to some more local issues, the hot topics being the condition of the Cayman Turtle Farm and the issue regarding stingray conservation through law. Sir Richard was concerned that turtles could still be fished by local licensed fishermen, given that turtles are protected world-wide. I pointed out that none of the current license holders have continued with this activity. The turtle farm itself needed to be divested I said, and turned into a better marine attraction whose focus was more on turtle replenishment, research and husbandry than on the consumption of the turtle meat. Our belief is that there are hundreds of thousands of turtle lovers who would be willing to donate $5 or $10 towards a satellite tagging program that would allow the turtles to be set free so that they can  provide information about migrations and long distance journeys.

The treatment of the stingrays in the Caymans is another sore point for many locals. The resident stingray populations have been sabotaged and removed by unknown persons for at least the last two years, and our census studies have shown a 50% reduction in the population during that time (a decade of research by the GHOF and the Dept of Environment has provided the base line information about this population). Four tagged stingrays were recently discovered in the Dolphin Discovery tourist attraction. Though the four tagged rays were released, the owners of the attraction have refused to release six untagged rays. Sir Richard said it should be very simple to change the law and have stingrays enjoy full protection from poaching given their ecological importance and their value to the island. After all the people of the Cayman Islands and millions of visitors have an enjoyed and benefited from this unique experience for the last 30 years.

The proposed expansion of marine parks by the Dept of Environment was a good move and Sir Richard commented that fishing has been known to improve in areas adjacent to marine parks. He said there are models out now that show countries need to protect 40 – 50 % of their shallow reef areas to ensure long term survivability. I commented that the Cayman Islands were a world leader in the formation of marine parks and in the protection of the spawning sites of the iconic Nassau grouper.

Sir Richard was very gracious and listened to many of our comments and suggestions. The meeting was much appreciated by all involved and the GHOF look forward to collaborating with Sir Richard and his foundation on several projects. It is our collective responsibility to conserve the marine environment and maintain the biodiversity of the planet.

Fish responsibly, dive safely.  Guy Harvey PhD.

Guy Harvey Research Institute, Georgia Aquarium Complete Annual Census at Stingray City

July 24, 2012

Jessica Harvey rounds up a stingray during the annual census study.

New census study shows sharp decline in number of rays at Stingray City

In mid-July, personnel from the Guy Harvey Research Institute once again collaborated with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to conduct the annual census of the stingray population in Grand Cayman. This year, we were joined by three researchers from the Georgia Aquarium, who were on hand to assist with analyzing the overall health of the stingrays.

The situation at the Sandbar in North Sound is unique, with a large number of wild rays that are not fenced or contained but inhabit the shallow clear water with accessibility every day of the year. The socio-economic value of the rays to the Cayman economy is enormous. On average, each animal can generate up to $500,000 in revenue per year, or $10,000,000 over the course of a 20 year life span!

From a historical perspective, it is worth setting out the track record of research work conducted on the population of stingrays in Grand Cayman. Research was started by the GHRI in 2002 when all the stingrays that frequent the two main sites were caught by hand and tagged with a PIT (passive integrated transponder) at the base of their tail. During the initial count, 164 rays were tagged, weighed and measured at the Sandbar over two years. Since then, tag retention has remained near 100%, so many animals tagged ten years ago still have their PIT today. This has been a very simple and valuable tool to track the life history and growth rates of these animals.

For the period 2002 – 2003, one hundred rays were sampled each month over a three day period at the Sandbar.  The same situation was experienced in a subsequent census conducted by the GHRI in 2005 and 2008. As expected, over time there was recruitment of new (untagged) rays to the Sandbar and loss of individuals due to migration, natural mortality and possibly some predation. The sex ratio of 90% females to 10% males has remained fairly constant over this time.

The research team holds a large female ray as they prepare to draw a blood sample.

From 2010 tour operators and casual observations indicated a sudden decline in the number of rays at the Sandbar. In response to the reports, the GHRI conducted a census in January 2012 and sampled only 61rays in the standard three day research period at the Sandbar, which represents a significant (38%) decrease in number of rays compared to the last census in 2008. Now that we had some hard facts to support the eye witness accounts, the next logical step was to find out what was causing the decline in population.

The numbers of rays have been constant since research was started in 2002 with recruitment and mortality being well balanced. GHRI personnel ruled out predation by sharks in the January census due to lack of evidence of shark bites (near misses) and the corresponding demise of sharks in the last ten years. However, fishing mortality (intentionally or by accident) is a consideration.  I say this because here is no national protection for stingrays – outside of the Wildlife Interactive Zones (WIZ) this species has no protection and can be removed and consumed by residents.

Another possibility for us to consider is the overall health of the rays, which is why GHRI enlisted the support of the Georgia Aquarium veterinary staff for this year’s census. The addition of the GA vets also allowed the research work to become much more technical. Dr. Tonya Clauss (Director Animal Health, Georgia Aquarium), Dr. Lisa Hoopes  (Nutritionist, Georgia Aquarium) and  Nicole Boucha (Senior Veterinary Technician, Georgia Aquarium) arrived in Grand Cayman loaded with equipment to take blood and store these precious samples in liquid nitrogen until analysis could be achieved back in Georgia.

Over three days the team sampled 57 rays (only 5 males) at the Sandbar (down from 61 in January) with assistance from DoE staff and several volunteers. The team also spent a day at the original Stingray City and sampled 11 rays (2 males) and caught 3 rays (1 male) at Rum Point, bringing the total to 71 rays sampled.  The low number of males in this year’s sample is definitely cause for concern.

Team members – Front row: Guy Harvey, Nicole Boucha, Tonya Clauss. Back row: Lisa Hoopes, Dr. Brad Wetherbee, Alex Harvey, Jessica Harvey.

Each ray was caught by hand and transferred to the pool in the work boat where they were measured and tagged, then blood was taken from the underside of the base of the tail. Some of this blood was immediately centrifuged to make counts of white blood cells. The rest was frozen in liquid nitrogen for shipment back to the lab in the Georgia Aquarium.

From the blood samples the vets will be able to determine if the (monotonous) diet of squid fed to the rays by the majority of tour operators is affecting the animal’s health.  The processing of samples and data will take several weeks. At the end of this process we will have more knowledge about these valuable creatures and how better to manage their supplementary diet and well being.

Overall, a long term plan of monitoring the numbers of rays and their health is required. Everyone in the Cayman Islands benefits from the presence of this unique marine interactive site. Every advertising campaign or tourism related article featuring the Cayman Islands has these iconic animals up front and prominently displayed. It is time the government of the Cayman Islands returned the favor by supporting ongoing research of the stingrays’ population status and well-being by releasing funds in the Environmental Protection Fund collected for this purpose.

More updates to come.

Fish responsibly, dive safely.

Guy Harvey PhD.

GHRI, Georgia Aquarium Partner for Stingray Census Study in Grand Cayman

July 16, 2012

Alex Harvey, Louisa Gibson and Dr. Brad Wetherbee secure a large ray in a pool in the cockpit of Guy’s Scout boat while Georgia Aquarium’s Tonya Clauss prepares to take blood from the ray’s tail.

The Guy Harvey Research Institute just finished conducting the annual census of the stingray population at Stingray City in Grand Cayman. The GHRI team, led by Guy Harvey and GHRI Director Dr. Mahmood Shivji, Dr. Brad Wetherbee of the University of Rhode IslandEdinburgh University student Louisa Gibson and Guy’s adult children, Jessica and Alex Harvey. Assisting the GHRI this year were three special guests from the Georgia Aquarium – veterinarians Tonya Clauss, Lisa Hoopes and Nicole Boucha, who were on hand to analyze blood samples to better assess the overall health of the rays. Thanks to all who participated – updates from the census will be available soon!

Nassau Grouper Recovery Efforts Put Cayman Islands on the World Conservation Map

April 18, 2012

GEORGE TOWN, GRAND CAYMAN—APRIL 16, 2012— Recent scientific evidence shows that a ten-year effort to protect the spawning aggregation sites for the endangered Nassau Grouper has resulted in a growing and healthy population of the species on the reefs near Little Cayman—a harbinger that the recovery of the species may spread throughout the Caribbean.

“After ten years the detective work is finally done,” said an exuberant Dr. Guy Harvey, a Cayman resident and an ardent conservationist and internationally known marine wildlife artist.

Dr. Harvey, who has worked closely with research leaders REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation), Oregon State University and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE) to bring about legislation to protect the species, continued:  “The work is finally done and science indicates the groupers need to have aggregation sites projected to help them survive.”

Late last year a groundswell of public support generated by Dr. Harvey’s latest film The Mystery of the Grouper Moon prompted the Marine Conservation Board of the Cayman Islands to extend a ban on fishing the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation site near Little Cayman.  A recent re-mastering of the film, which includes spectacular footage of the 2012 spawning, will make its debut at the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival scheduled to be held in Miami, Florida on Saturday, April 21. Dates of the festival are April 20-23 with April 22 being Earth Day.  Emmy Award winning producer George C. Schellenger edited the film.

During a recent return to the spawning area this February, researchers collected a sampling of eggs for genetic research and noted a marked increase in the number of groupers.

“It was the biggest spawn we’ve ever seen,” Dr. Harvey noted.  “With the right cooperation the Nassau Grouper will become a symbol of conservation for threatened marine species—a shining example of what can be achieved if all the stakeholders work together.”

As one of the “stakeholders” Gina Ebanks-Petrie, Director of the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, is recommending complete closure of the Nassau Grouper fishery during spawning season and for the remainder of the year, enforce catch limits for hook and line.

Government officials agree and are drafting a decision to extend the fishing ban during the spawning season—November 1 through March 31—and implementing an open and closed season for groupers on an annual basis. The penalty for catching Nassau Grouper in a spawning aggregation site between November and March is up to one year in prison or up to $500,000 in fines.

“This is wonderful news, “ said Dr. Brice Semmens, who along with his wife, Christy, has spearheaded the REEF research efforts.

“I think we will find in the years to come, as we monitor these populations ,we’re going to see a dramatic response in terms of the number of new fish on the reefs for divers to see and fishermen to catch,” he said.

Dr. Semmens said that a healthy and growing Nassau Grouper population will not only seed the local reefs surrounding the Cayman Islands but will be at the epicenter for the recovery of the species everywhere in the Caribbean.

“The Cayman Islands through their cooperation and support have put themselves on the international conservation map,” he added. “The government officials made the correct and appropriate decisions based on science.”

Fishing Ban Extended at One of the Last Spawning Areas for the Nassau Grouper

December 18, 2011

Dr. Guy Harvey Applauds Decision But Says More Needs to Be Done

GEORGE TOWN, GRAND CAYMAN—DECEMBER 16, 2011— A groundswell of public support generated by Guy Harvey’s latest film The Mystery of the Grouper Moon has prompted the Marine Conservation Board of the Cayman Islands to extend a ban on fishing the Nassau grouper spawning aggregation site near Little Cayman.

The Board, this week, voted to extend the current moratorium another eight years after reviewing extensive research conducted by REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) and Oregon State University and a public education campaign supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation (GHOF) and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment  (DOE). The existing ban, in place since 2003, was due to expire at the end of the year. The penalty for catching Nassau grouper in a spawning aggregation site between November and March is up to one year in prison or up to $500,000 in fines.

“The Cayman Islands are celebrating the 25 anniversary since the formation of the first marine park here, so it is fitting that such a strong conservation effort has been made by the MCB and that common sense has prevailed,” said Dr. Harvey.

In filming the research work being conducted by REEF, Guy Harvey and award-winning filmmaker George Schellenger created a compelling and informative 45-minute documentary—The Mystery of the Grouper Moon (click here for a preview).  The film’s purpose was to document the research and make the results available in layman’s language to the residents of the Cayman Islands. The documentary was shot entirely in the Cayman Islands and was supported by REEF and the DOE. The GHOF also supported the education campaign with custom artwork.

More work needs to be done, according to Dr. Harvey, who makes his home in the Cayman Islands.

“We are all very glad that the Marine Conservation Board has acted positively on the research conducted by REEF and the DOE, as the science clearly shows the recovery of Nassau groupers has not been as successful as expected,” said Dr. Harvey. “This is because fishing for this species still continues during the spawning season, but outside of the protected spawning aggregation sites.”

The Nassau grouper population, according to Dr. Harvey, has maintained equilibrium and has not grown appreciably.  Harvey says the next step is for the Ministry of the Environment to legislate protection of Nassau grouper throughout its range during spawning season, between November 1 and March 31.

“This would be similar to the protection enjoyed by conch and lobster populations which remain healthy in the Cayman Islands, but are fished for only during short seasons each year,” he said. “Also the minimum catch size of the Nassau grouper needs to be extended from 12 inches to 24 inches.  It is good fishery management to let fish reproduce before they are harvested.  A 12 inch fish is immature.”

An added advantage to keeping groupers at a healthy population is that they can serve as a natural culling force on the invasive, non-native lionfish, which are annihilating several species of juvenile reef fish throughout the Caribbean.

“Local fishermen need to realize that these conservation measures will benefit all user groups in the years to come,” Dr. Harvey concluded.  “Once the Nassau grouper population recovers it can then be managed and fished within the restrictions of new catch limits, but the spawning brood stock must be protected forever.”

Guy Harvey’s “The Mystery of the Grouper Moon” Documentary to Premier in Grand Cayman

August 30, 2011

45-Minute Film Promotes Protection of the Endangered Nassau Grouper

GEORGETOWN, GRAND CAYMAN— Marine artist and conservationist Dr. Guy Harvey and award-winning filmmaker George Schellenger have a strong message in their new collaboration “The Mystery of the Grouper Moon”— convince Cayman government officials to extend a ban on fishing at spawning aggregations for the endangered Nassau Grouper.

Shot entirely in the Cayman Islands and supported by REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment, the 45-minute documentary is scheduled to premier on September 13th at the Harquail Theatre in Grand Cayman.  Two showings are planned, with the first starting at 6 p.m. The general public is invited. Dr. Harvey, a resident of Grand Cayman, will be distributing “Save Nassau Grouper” posters to those in attendance as well as to students on subsequent school visits in October.

At stake in this effort by Dr. Harvey and other leading marine scientists is the protection of one of the last-known intact spawning areas for the Nassau Grouper in the world.  An eight year ban on fishing at these spawning aggregations, mandated in 2003 by the CI Marine Conservation Board, is due to expire in December of this year.

“The Nassau groupers in the Cayman Islands used to congregate over the full moon in January and February at eight specific sites,” said Dr. Harvey. “Local fishermen have known about these sites for years, but recently, overfishing at these sites has led to the rapid decline in this species. Today, one active site remains in west end of Little Cayman.”

Dr. Harvey said that thanks to the ban at this site and other locations, colonies are beginning to grow again, thus helping the Nassau Grouper populations to recover.

“Part of our awareness effort is to enlist the support of residents, especially school age children, to send e-mails to the Hon. Mark Scotland, The Minister of Environment, to express their wishes to see the extension on the protection of the grouper holes,” added Dr. Harvey.

Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation Funding Project to Study How Climate Change Effects Coral Reefs

July 27, 2011

Grand Cayman – July 27, 2011 – Understanding how the world’s oceans are being affected by changes in climate is a global scientific priority. In the Cayman Islands, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) is teaming up with the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd’s Ocean Fund, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and the Image Group to establish a unique reference site where the relationships between climate change and coral reef stress can be measured directly.  The project is being headed up by CCMI’s Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Carrie Manfrino, Associate Professor of Oceanography at Kean University.

Scientific models indicate that rising temperatures and sea levels, increasing storm intensity and changes in the ocean’s chemistry will stress coral reefs beyond sustainability.  In the shallowest most productive part of the ocean, measurable increases in the concentration of carbon dioxide are expected to interrupt important biological processes that build the skeletons of myriad marine plants and animals.  These chemical reactions are changing the pH of the water and the resulting ocean acidification is one of the greatest threats to marine life yet encountered in the history of our planet.

The delicate skeletons of corals, plankton, and even marine algae are made of calcium carbonate. Corals provide the architectural structure for reefs and create the intricate labyrinth that is home to the highest biological diversity in the ocean.  Just as it would be impossible to build a house without a framework, a reef relies on corals for it structure.

Laboratory and controlled experiments show that these changes in the ocean’s chemistry reduce the capability of  marine organisms to maintain and produce their skeletons. These predictions need to be tested at a relatively healthy open ocean coral reef site. The outcome of our work will be to improve the quality of information that is available about the risks that changing climate presents to communities that rely on healthy coral reefs.

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute’s field station on Little Cayman maintains the region’s only permanently moored oceanographic monitoring station – the Coral Reef Early Warning System (CREWS), an instrument conceived by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to continuously measure ocean conditions.  Newly designed instruments to measure ocean acidification will be installed on the CREWS and ecological experiments, designed to test whether corals are capable of regenerating, will be conducted.  The flat, pure limestone nature of Little Cayman; the extraordinarily low human population (< 200); plus well-developed coral reefs surrounding this isolated oceanic island make this an exceptional site for this study.  This project will establish a much needed long-term record of the fluctuations in ocean chemistry at CCMI’s Little Cayman site.

Studies of the primary structural organisms on reefs including the juvenile coral community will evaluate the level of stress using such indicators as reduced growth rates, changes in the density of skeletons, coral bleaching and declines in recruitment and survival of juvenile corals.

The data collected will gain an insight into the immediate effects of the changes on coral and will help reef managers understand these threats so that they can more effectively conserve coral reefs and their associated flora and fauna.

The communication of the findings of the studies to the general public and young students enrolled in CCMI’s many education programs is of paramount importance.  By disseminating the information we will provide a wider understanding of this critical issue and how to manage it into the future.  The CCMI research facility at Little Cayman and the partnership with RCCL’s Ocean Fund, The Image Group and The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation provide an opportunity to achieve these goals.

Help Save the Nassau Grouper

March 9, 2011

Dear Friends – by giving us 5 minutes of your time, you can help save the Nassau Grouper. An 8-year ban on fishing at spawning sites in the Cayman Islands is due to expire. By sending an email to the officials listed below, you can help support permanent protections during the spawning season so that this endangered species can continue to reproduce. This will ensure that the Nassau grouper will continue to be an icon in the Cayman Islands for generations to come. Please make your voice heard by March 31st!

Thank you – Guy Harvey

Please make your voice heard by emailing a letter to the officials listed below. Action is needed by March 31st, 2011.

Premier, Hon. McKeeva Bush –
Minister of Environment, Hon. Mark Scotland –
Leader of the Opposition – and
Marine Conservation Board, Chairman, Don Foster –
Marine Conservation Board, Secretary, Phillippe Bush –
Director of Department of Environment, Gina Ebanks-Petrie –

Here is a sample letter. Please take a moment to personalize it, or just simply send it as is:

Dear Honorable Officials of the Cayman Islands:

Please enact permanent protections to save the iconic Nassau grouper before the existing prohibition on fishing the aggregation sites expires. Don’t miss this opportunity to continue to be at the forefront of Caribbean marine conservation.

The Cayman Islands is recognized as a leader in the region, starting 25 years ago with the establishment of an extensive network of marine parks. In 2003, this tradition was continued with the forethought to protect spawning aggregations of Nassau Grouper through a ban on fishing at these important sites. These actions collectively have lead to the Cayman Islands having some of the healthiest reefs throughout the Caribbean, including the largest known population of Nassau Grouper in the world and one of the last healthy spawning sites in the Caribbean.

Intensive research conducted on Nassau grouper over the past 9 years as part of Grouper Moon Project by the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment and REEF has indicated these actions are indeed working. The ban has resulted in higher numbers of this endangered species in Cayman waters. This benefits everyone, including divers and snorkelers, fisherman, and the future generations of Caymanians. A healthy population of Nassau Grouper is also critical for healthy and productive coral reefs.

Other countries such as Belize, Mexico, and the Bahamas have already taken decisive action to protect what remains of their spawning populations. If the Cayman Islands fail to enact permanent protections, the last remaining viable spawning aggregation of Nassau Grouper in the Caribbean will be lost. As you may know, these fish only reproduce during their spawning season and only at specific sites, therefore protection during this critical time period is essential.

A fishing closure for Nassau grouper during the spawning season should be implemented. I urge you to take this critical step — please protect this vital part of the Cayman Islands’ economy and cultural heritage! Thank you for your consideration and attention.

2010 Cayman Islands Squash Open Logo

April 6, 2010

My family and I are avid squash players, so I am very excited about creating a custom design for use as the official logo of the 2010 Cayman Islands Squash Open. The design will appear on the official tournament merchandise, and all proceeds will benefit the Cayman Junior Squash program.

The 2010 Cayman Squash Open will bring this popular sport to the Cayman Islands in a dimension never previously experienced here. The use of glass courts sited at a beautiful waterfront setting at Camana Bay will revolutionize the spectator’s experience of this amazing sport. By having this wonderful facility, Cayman is poised to become a major player on the world stage of squash.

We have two years to get ready to host the World Open Squash Tournament. In the sport of squash, this is equivalent to hosting the World Cup or the Super Bowl. With Cayman’s outstanding facilities, hospitality and natural beauty, this is the ideal venue to host the most important event on the squash calendar.

Bringing this level of competition to Cayman on an annual basis will be very inspirational for our junior players and the junior squash program. Meeting world-class players, watching them play and experiencing expert instruction will help focus young minds on the desirable influences of competitive sport, particularly fitness, discipline and friendship.

For more information, visit the 2010 Cayman Islands Squash Open web site.


Wyland Army Invades Grand Cayman!

February 15, 2010

A couple of weeks ago, Grand Cayman – the peaceful, idyllic slice of paradise that I call home – was invaded by the Wyland Army, a tour de force of fun- and sun-loving merry men and women. Led by the group’s namesake and merry-maker-in-chief, Wyland – the world-famous marine artist and conservationist – the group blew into town like a late summer hurricane. They came and conquered during a weeklong celebration that, by comparison, makes Mardi Gras in New Orleans seem more like a stay in a monastery. The “Krewe De Wyland” has since moved on, but the cleanup continues!

Of course, I am exaggerating just a bit, but spending time with Wyland often takes on the feeling of a big party. Fortunately, Wyland likes to “party with a purpose” – and this time would be no different. As is often the case, Wyland used his small window of time in Grand Cayman to give back to the locals (as well as some down-on-their-luck turtles), who would be the lucky beneficiaries of Wyland’s spirit, determination and generosity. But, of course, there would be a party, too…

It all started innocently enough. Wyland had recently been selected for induction into the 2010 class of the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame, an event held annually in Grand Cayman. Several months before Wyland’s scheduled visit, he called me to offer up some quality time in my gallery, which is located in the heart of Georgetown. I immediately accepted his invitation. We decided to collaborate on a new mural, one that would reflect the great importance and diversity of Cayman’s undersea world. I also suggested that we fit in a few afternoons of scuba diving as well! In the meantime, the staff of the Guy Harvey Gallery & Shoppe began planning an old-fashioned Caribbean-style street party to celebrate Wyland’s selection as one of the newest members of the scuba diving HOF.

I was very excited to be working with Wyland on another mural project. Over the last ten years, Wyland (or “Wy” as we call him) has invited me to participate in collaborations on five different mural projects, as well as on three smaller murals done during various DEMA shows. Wy has completed 100 of these giant murals around the world over the past 27 years, and the critical and commercial success of these murals has propelled Wy to the very peak of the marine art world, where he is recognized as the most influential marine artist of the last three decades. Wy also holds several Guinness Book records for the largest paintings of all time, and has received world -wide recognition as one of the most successful artists in any genre.

Doing these murals is like being on a movie set – among other things, the work requires a large support team, buckets of paint, ladders, lifts and spray guns. Working on a large mural also allows for the opportunity to get the public involved, as the work typically takes place in a large, outdoor area. In keeping with our goal of promoting the message of marine conservation, both Wy and I decided that this would be the ideal project for involving local Caymanian schoolchildren. 

But, before we could start work on the mural, we needed some Cayman inspiration – so on Saturday we made a few trips beneath the waves. After a couple of good dives with Ocean Frontiers at East End, the weather improved the next day and we were able to take Wyland’s gang out to the famous stingray sandbar. I loaded 14 people on my 28’ SCOUT, “Makaira”, and we had an eventful afternoon interacting with Grand Cayman’s most famous residents. The sun was out, the water was crystal clear and those on Wy’s staff who had never experienced the amazing rays had a fantastic experience. This was followed by a lunch at famous Rum Point, hosted by Adrien Briggs and Attlee Bodden, owners of Rum Point and Sunset House. Thanks guys!

The following day, Monday, word of our upcoming project was quickly spreading around the island. Wy and I were asked to do two radio interviews and a national TV interview to talk about the collaboration. By mid morning, work on our new mural finally got underway and we began painting some of Cayman’s famous marine life. I had prepared a 10’ X  5’ canvas in a diptych, with background water coral and a sunken galleon (in keeping with Cayman’s marine heritage).

Before the first dolphin was fully etched in, the initial group of school kids arrived. Wy and I gave an introduction about the collaboration, as well as a talk about the wonderful marine resources we have in the Cayman Islands and the need to conserve all marine creatures. I had several blank canvases for the school children to work on and Wy and I offered some pointers to those who were painting. By the end of the busy morning, the schoolchildren had produced a smorgasbord of amazing images – and some even added their touch to the mural! In all, there were five rotations of schoolchildren throughout the day, a process that was expertly organized by the staff of my gallery & shoppe, managers James and Mariasol, with great assistance from Lisa Robertson.

After a very busy day of painting on Monday, Wy and I headed out early the next morning to get shots of the rays at the sandbar before the mosquito fleet arrived. The morning was calm, sunny and crystal clear. We had the place to ourselves, which allowed for some incredible interaction with the local marine life. After the sandbar, we had a great dive on the famous North Wall, where we shared quality time with an adult hawksbill turtle.

Before we knew it, the morning was over. We realized we had to make some serious progress on the collaboration, so we headed back to town and began work outside the gallery & shoppe. Tim Adams, the managing director of the Cayman Turtle Farm, joined us, along with his staff and a very special guest – a 50lb. green turtle called “Moriah”, who was recovering from injuries under the care of the farm’s vet, Johanna Meija-Fava.  Wy and I did a small collaboration on another canvas, which we donated for the turtle farm’s upcoming fundraiser to benefit turtle research and rehabilitation.

As the sun got warmer, we retreated inside the gallery & shoppe, where a throng of supporters and more school children joined us. We continued working all day on the mural until James, the gallery & shoppe manager, kicked us out in the late afternoon so his staff could close off the street and prepare for the party. The Guy Harvey Island Grill, located across the street from the gallery & shoppe, catered the party with BBQ food and adult beverages – thanks, Chef Bruno! – and local band “Absolut Joy” played everyone’s favorites, including some great Caribbean rhythms.

Wy and I continued painting through the evening, and at the right moment, we did some spontaneous collaborative brush stroke art that was auctioned off on site to benefit the Wyland Foundation and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation. All five pieces were immediately purchased. To cap off a great event, Wy signed our big collaboration, titled “Cayman Treasures”, and we announced that limited edition canvas giclees would be made available, with all proceeds benefiting our respective foundations.

The party, held in honor of Wy for tirelessly spreading the message of marine conservation to the millions of people he has touched during his illustrious career – and to salute his recent induction into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame – was a huge success, as Wyland parties tend to be!

Thanks big Wy for your time and support! You touched many people in the Cayman Islands with your unique spirit, enthusiasm, knowledge, and message of marine conservation – not only for our tiny, delicate oceanic island but also for the whole planet. Safe travels and best of luck on your upcoming photographic expedition to the Antarctic. Stay warm!

Until the next dive…..