By Guy Harvey
The travel ban imposed in March instantly created the long-awaited opportunity for me to get started on writing a new book. From previous experience, I knew it would take around three months to do the manuscript, requiring an extended period of uninterrupted time researching and writing. My first autobiography, Portraits from the Deep, was completed in early 2002, and so I picked up the story then and recounted the different fishing, diving and research expeditions undertaken by the GH team since then. In the course of doing this over long periods of time, particularly when working with long-lived species like sharks, rays and groupers, there are measurable changes in fish populations. Some changes are bad, such as the continued annihilation of sharks for the fin trade, and some are good, such as the recovery of some species of grouper, white seabass and the introduction of more fish sanctuaries and marine parks. The ban on importation of billfish into the USA is a major legislative achievement, closing off the main market for billfish and other loopholes. The narrative for my new book is about 110,000 words and will be liberally illustrated with my artwork of action jump shots as well as underwater photos. The book is currently being edited, and the goal is to have it completed in early 2021.
Meanwhile, during the shutdown, my painting continued through the productive avenue of our Facebook Live sessions on Tuesdays and Saturdays from my home studio here in Grand Cayman. The larger format paintings were best suited for this exercise during which we talk about different art styles, art media and the life history behind each species being discussed. My daughter, Jessica, has done a wonderful job hosting the series of FB live chats, and we’ve reached more than 3 million viewers. I never imagined that this would be possible, but the pandemic forced us to look at new ways to get our conservation message out.
I turned my full attention back to art production in June, concentrating on a series of new fish designs for our line of apparel focusing on freshwater species of trout and salmon. Then I began working on tropical reef species. As the pandemic continued and limited our ability to execute scientific expeditions to other countries, we made use of the added time at home to be even more productive. The best part was when the authorities in Grand Cayman lifted the ban on boating, fishing and diving. After being restricted to land, we appreciated being out on the water more than ever.
The famous Stingray City was closed, but we worked with the Department of Environment to allow us to perform our biannual stingray survey. I was quite curious to see how the stingrays were faring after three months of not being fed by tour operators. Fortunately, we found the population to be thriving, and interestingly, the rays were noticeably darker. We speculated that because stingrays are naturally nocturnal, they had changed their feeding patterns and were not spending daylight hours in the sun on the shallow sandbar. They had returned to their more natural darker colour.
With the airport still closed in September, we made the 80-mile trek from Grand Cayman to Little Cayman and experienced amazing diving on Bloody Bay Wall and other incredible sites. Fish populations seemed healthier, especially Nassau grouper, and we logged a lot of underwater video footage for future Virtual Field Trips as part of our Education Initiative. One downside to the lack of sport diving is that the lionfish are also back.
As difficult as it has been to live under stay-at-home restrictions, I encourage everyone to make best use of this time to be creative productively.
Stay well and healthy.
Fish responsibly, and dive safely.