Kicking off two days of adventure on the island of Antigua, our first stop was to visit Stingray City for the opportunity to jump into the ocean and see them up close. After a short boat ride to a floating dock, we climbed out of the boat and down the ladder into the shallows on a sandbar.
Since there are coral reefs along the north side of the island, we didn’t have to worry about waves. There is only the floating dock and a ring of buoys to mark the spot. No fences, screens, or anything else to keep the stingrays in that spot. So why are there here? Regular feedings. When there’s no tourists to feed them, the guides from Stingray City still come out for a visit and bring them food to keep them coming back to this spot.
I’ve petted a stingray before, of course. I saw plenty of them in my youth in the Indian River Lagoon, and on later trips while visiting the Bahamas. But this experience was a first. I had never just stood in the ocean with stingrays swimming all around, bumping and rubbing past us as they swam by. And at three to four feet across, these were much larger stingrays than I had ever been around!
With a little help and encouragement from our guides, Sandy was one of the first to hold a stingray. Now, these are not trained animals. They haven’t been kept in any kind of enclosure to help them recognize some trainer or particular human. These are wild marine creatures that have adapted to people being around them. They’ve learned that when there are people in the water, that means they will be fed. “See people, get squid” is a pretty easy concept. It’s not something we’d want to try at home, however, with alligators and crocodiles sharing the same waters with stingrays.
The folks at Stingray City provided us with masks and snorkels if we wanted to snorkel with the stingrays or across the reefs. It was enough to just stand there and watch them swim past, but a few people did snorkel. They also provided buckets of squid for us to feed the stingrays, and instructions on how to share the ocean safely with these beautiful creatures.
If I hadn’t been on their tour, with people who’ve spent years around these unique creatures, being surrounded and circled by a dozen stingrays of this size would have been really intimidating. We had one lady from England in our group who was extremely nervous about getting in the water, especially after seeing how large the stingrays were. While it took quite a bit of coaxing, we eventually got her to join us and smile for the camera.
Before boarding the boat for the return trip, I was talking to one of our guides. He pointed out why we had been taught the “stingray shuffle,” something all Floridians know about. When resting, the stingrays lay along the bottom of the ocean, covering themselves with sand. Only their eyes and tail remain visible. If you step on one, their first reaction is to flip up their tail and strike you with a painful sting, something you don’t want to have happen. By shuffling your feet, you’ll bump into the edge of the stingray and it will swim away, instead.
Visiting Stingray City in Antigua was a fascinating family-friendly activity that anyone interested in marine life can try. Learn more about the facility on their website.