By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The principal of Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas yesterday said the industry had been “thrown under the bus” by the government’s response to recent shark-related incidents.
Stuart Cove, revealing that business levels had returned to normal “within a week” of the tragic fatality near Rose Island, told Tribune Business that he and the Bahamas Dive Association’s (BDA) 34 other members already had standards and procedures in place to respond to shark bites and attacks.
Suggesting that the meeting he and other BDA members were summoned to be the Tourism Development Corporation was totally unnecessary, Mr Cove said his company had overseen “a million encounters” between sharks and visitors over the last 40 years without any problems occurring.
Arguing that himself and his company were being blamed for an incident that occurred 32 miles away on the other side of New Providence, he added of the meeting: “It’s typical government nonsense in that they all had this knee jerk reaction.
“They called us in and said we should probably put this in place if something happens. We tried to explain to them that the Bahamas Dive Association has had a plan in place for the last 30 years. We have standards to adhere to, must have a trauma kit and all staff must be trained in case of a shark bite.”
Mr Cove said all this was codified and late out on the Association’s website, making it available to all members, and added: “It was an over-reaction because the Government got slammed.... To say it’s our fault because we’re doing a shark dive 32 miles away?
“Of course we feed them. It’s never been a problem. We’ve had a million encounters with sharks over the last 40 years without one incident with a tourist. We’re 30 miles away with two islands between us. It’s absurd. The BDA and its 35 members have proven to have a fine track record.”
Mr Cove expressed concern that he and other BDA members will be put through “the same dog and pony show” when the next shark bite occurs, pointing out that his workers went through various scenarios relating to potential shark incidents “every couple of months” to ensure they could cope, working with equipment manufacturers and Florida dive associations.
“Everything has settled down, everything is fine,” he told Tribune Business of the impact the fatality, and subsequent global publicity, had on Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas. “We had a few snorkelers cancel but it’s all forgotten now. It’s back to normal. People have very short memories.
“In the long-term it’s not going to have any effect on us unless the Government has a knee-jerk reaction and puts stupid regulations in place. People realise that we got thrown under the bus and it did not have anything to do with us, the BDA or its members. This is not a Bahamas Dive Association shark feeding issue. This is many other issues... Unfortunately after this little incident, where this poor girl got killed, every little shark bite is under the microscope.”
The Tourism Development Corporation held its meeting to discuss emergency protocols and regulations for the water sport industry in the wake of Jordan Lindsey’s death, when the 21 year-old California resident was killed by sharks while snorkeling with her family near Rose Island.
Janet Johnson, the Tourism Development Corporation’s chief executive, said: “I think some good stuff came out of it. People feel that we need to put some regulations in place, and that we need to start doing drills and things so that we have emergency protocols in place for when things happen. We’re a water-based destination, a lot of our tours are water-based.“
She added that a follow-up meeting is planned for later this month. Organisations represented included the Bahamas National Trust, the Port Department, the Marina Association, Sandy Toes, Blue Lagoon, Stuart’s Cove, the Bahamas Dive Association, the Department of Fisheries, and the Bimini Shark Lab.