Stingray Awards promote tourism excellence

Nancy Easterbrook

(Blog post, Pink Duck Publishing)

Awards promote tourism excellence

The 2019 Stingray Awards are set to take place in July, celebrating those who go above and beyond working in the Cayman Islands’ tourism industry.

Hosted by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, the gala event will be held on Tuesday, July 23, at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman.

This year’s awards attracted a record-breaking 85 nominations, spanning a wide range of categories, including the coveted Lifetime Achievement Recipient, which was awarded to Nancy Easterbrook at last year’s awards.

Lifetime Achievement Recipient Nancy Easterbrook

The owner of Divetech, Nancy has been a part of Cayman’s tourism community since first arriving in the Cayman Islands in 1994 from Canada. One of her most high-profile roles was working as a volunteer project manager on the Kittiwake project, which saw an ex U.S navy ship, the USS Kittiwake, sunk off the shore of Seven Mile Beach. The site is now one of the Caribbean’s most popular dive sites.

Our editor-in-chief Joanna Lewis convinced the multi-award-winning tourism and dive industry stalwart to take a few minutes out of her busy schedule to talk about all thing’s tourism.

Describe how you felt when you were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award

“Shocked, honoured, humbled, gracious, so many words come to mind. This award was a total surprise and there are so many who work so hard in tourism. To be chosen amongst them was truly an honour.”

As a key contributor to Cayman’s tourism industry, how have you seen it develop and improve over the years?

“Having come to Grand Cayman as a newbie some 25 years ago, I was truly amazed by the diving industry, the incredible sharing, teaching, cooperation and camaraderie that existed. Of course, we all marketed our own wares, but with dignity and always with integrity. I learned, I grew, as has Cayman over the years. The Cayman Islands have never stood still. Cayman is constantly evolving, keeping up with the times, introducing new products and activities for guests to enjoy, new standards to uphold, and always with that same sense of pride and in keeping with the island’s culture. It is truly an amazing country.”

You were one of the key people involved in bringing and arranging the sinking of the USS Kittiwake. Can you tell me about your involvement?

“I got involved with this project through the Cayman Islands Watersports Association, not really knowing anything about how to acquire or sink a ship. I ended up taking on the role of project manager. It took some eight years to bring the project to fruition. Two governments, U.S. and British law, the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Cayman Island’s Department of Environment, private sectors, funding, remediation and did I mention a ton of paperwork? I had three file cabinets full! It was a labour of love and on Christmas morning, 2010 she came onto the horizon under tow. People, helicopters and more all showed up! I cooked the towing crew Christmas dinner, saw her sink (a scary hour) and dived her on Jan. 5, 2011.

As a former owner of Divetech and a member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame why do you feel the dive industry is so important to Cayman’s tourism industry?

“It’s all about the water, the sand, beach, ocean, both above and below. That’s what Cayman is all about. With our year-round warm waters, incredible visibility, and lack of pollution Cayman is a shining example of ocean stewardship. There are so many things to see and experience in nature, but diving is an incredibly rewarding one. Diving is one of the driving attractions to Cayman for visitors, and we offer such superb service, safety and enjoyment for young to old, new to experienced. Shallow reefs, wrecks, deep walls, the Cayman Islands has it all.”

What do you love most about diving in Cayman and what are some of your favourite dive sites?

“Never being disappointed. It’s a rare day that we are not open for diving. I really love the sponges, so huge, with all the colours of the rainbow. Just majestic. It’s so hard to name my favourite dive sites, Cayman has 365 dive sites, plus shore diving. They all have unique features, something different to offer. I think that is why divers are travellers, there is so much water to explore in the world and seeing it below the surface is always an incredible experience. But I guess I have a soft spot for the Kittiwake and the shore dive with the statue Guardian of the Reef at Lighthouse Point.”

You have been a key contributor to Cayman’s conservation efforts for many years, can you tell me more about this?

“I did my part, we all need to, each one of us. Be it in a large way, a small way, an annual but better yet daily commitment, we have got to protect and preserve what we have. We need to work towards re-nurturing it, respecting it and have a quiet coexistence with the environment. It’s not about saving the environment, it will evolve, it will adapt, it will change. What it is more about is having a place where we can exist, have water, have food, and survive as humans.”

Environmental concerns and the health of coral reefs are a concern globally. What can Cayman do to help protect the island’s coral reefs?

“We are lucky in a few regards. We have such deep water close to shore, which helps to cool temperatures for the corals and we also have no rivers, run-offs, or industry contributing to pollution. But warming is a huge factor. Reefs worldwide are declining due to many factors. Cayman fights a good fight and has strong environmental laws and we are growing coral gardens to help replant. The solution that we can have an impact on, is a country-wide recognition as to the huge importance of our reefs, managing that resource and funding that resource.”

Finally, how can the Cayman Islands sustainably develop its tourism product in the future while protecting its stunning natural environment?

“Well, that is a tough one. Sustainability is the minimum we can strive for, in protecting what we have. Mother Nature endowed this country (and the world) with incredible natural resources that are awe-inspiring. From mountains to plains, oceans to ponds, deserts and more, they all have eco-systems. We need to stop interfering with eco-systems that have their own natural balance.”

To find out more about the Stingray Awards, visit www.cita.ky/stingrayawards

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