By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent Bahamian dive operator yesterday predicted Tuesday’s fatality will not have a long-lasting impact on tourism, adding that over four decades shark encounters have proven to be his company’s “safest dive”
Stuart Cove, principal of Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, told Tribune Business that “the terrible tragedy” which claimed the life of US tourist, Caroline DiPlacido, had “nothing to do with diving” while acknowledging the instant reactions calling for a halt to all interaction between visitors and sharks.
While agreeing that some will “throw my business under the bus” and that of other dive operators/excursion providers, he revealed that his company had overseen “a million encounters” between customers and sharks without one incident in 40 years due to the strict safety protocols that are enforced.
To prevent further tragedies, Mr Cove told this newspaper that the Government needs to ban scientists from dropping chum and other waste in close proximity to New Providence as a means of attracting tiger and bull sharks to them for research purposes.
Suggesting that this, together with the fish waste deposited into the waters at Potter’s Cay and Montague, were likely “the main culprit” and “biggest problem” behind what may have occurred with Tuesday’s fatal attack, he added that the fall-out for Bahamian tourism is unlikely to be long-lasting because it will quickly be overshadowed by other global events.
“Obviously this is a terrible tragedy, but it had nothing to do with diving,” Mr Cove said. “All I have to say, and this is not about myself, the business and diving, but over 40 years we’ve done a million encounters between tourists and sharks without one incident. It’s our safest dive, our shark dive, because we have so many procedures and standards in place.
“You can go snorkelling at Goulding’s Cay in ten feet of water, and it would be more dangerous than diving with sharks. Shark diving is an activity that has proven to be very safe... We have a lot of safety protocols that are followed. We do intense training courses with our staff and follow them to the letter, dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’.
“Some of the protocols are that we feed the shark with a spear out of a box, and when they get too active we close the box and stop feeding for a while. The guests have to be at least 20 feet away. We’ve got to protect the guests, protect the staff and protect the animal.” Mr Cove explained that the sharks were fed dead fish cast-offs from Tropic Seafood, thus ensuring they were fed what is considered part of their regular diet.
While shark attacks, both in The Bahamas and worldwide, are extremely rate, Tuesday’s fatality has already received extensive coverage in the US and global media. Asked if he was worried about any reputational and other fall-out for Bahamian tourism, Mr Cove replied: “It’s always a concern. But I’m more concerned for the family [of the victim], not for the business. I had nothing to do with it.
“They’ll be people throwing my business under the bus, but we’re 25 miles away. I don’t think it’s going to affect The Bahamas negatively; maybe in the short-term. There will unfortunately be worse news tomorrow. Stuff happens. This is a tragic tragedy of immense proportions, but when someone is knocked off a moped and killed - which happens quite frequently - that doesn’t get the same coverage.
“Travelling can be a dangerous game. Our destination is no different from any other one, whether you go to Miami, Grand Cayman. They all have unfortunate accidents. I know the last time this happened, back in 2019, there was really no fall-out for the country itself and certainly not for me. The more dangerous people see sharks, the more they want to come diving with them.”
The reference to 2019 relates to the last previous shark fatality in The Bahamas, when another US tourist, Jordan Lindsey was killed by a shark during a snorkelling trip off Rose Island. That occurred not far from Tuesday’s fatality near Green Cay, which has become a popular attraction to take visitors to because it is where Atlantis releases turtles.
The Green Cay beach was closed following the attack, and Mr Cove said: “We want don’t to be finger pointing in such a tragic situation, but I think the Government could easily help with this. When they issue permits to these marine scientists, stipulate that they cannot do this around the city; it must be at least 20 miles away. Chumming in Nassau Harbour is just ridiculous.
“We have scientists with government permits chumming in the narrows and trying to attract the tiger sharks and bull sharks in Nassau harbour.” Mr Cove added that he knows of what he speaks, recalling how he was hired by a scientist who attached a gas-powered device to the back of his boat to crush tuna and other chum-type food that was dropped into the narrows at the eastern end of Paradise Island.
“That’s going to attract all kinds of stuff,” he told this newspaper. “Those are the main culprits in my opinion. I think the biggest problem is these scientists chumming all day long. It’s putting hundreds of pounds out into the water every day, and if the tide is going out it takes it to Green Cay. It attracts the bull sharks in Nassau harbour and the big sharks in the ocean to Green Cay.”
Mr Cove said the fish waste thrown into the ocean at Potter’s Cay and Montague was further compounding the problem, while acknowledging that such practices have become culturally ingrained for decades and would be very hard to change.