Organiser of the Jamaica Inn Foundation Swim for the Sanctuary Bellinda Collier-Morrow underlined the importance of the event as a major marine health initiative and believes the open-water swimming event also has the potential to develop into a major international sports tourism execution.
Just over 100 swimmers and paddleboarders turned out to the Shaw Park Beach in Ocho Rios yesterday to throw their support behind the event which is used not only to raise awareness around the work of the White River Fish Sanctuary but develop diversity in the island's sports offering.
Belinda Collier-Morrow, co-chair of the White River Fish Sanctuary, a 370-acre protected marine area which covers sections of the St Ann-St Mary coastline, was thrilled with the success of the event and is looking forward to its continued development.
She pointed out that the 5k swim was added to help the event gain international recognition and credibility and is playing a major role in the sanctuary's ability to undertake its role.
"We had it last year as our first one as the longest race was 3k, but this year we've extended it to a 5k because 5k is an internationally recognised length, and what we're looking to do is have this as an international event," Collier-Morrow told the Jamaica Observer.
"We've had great success this year, last year it was massive as well. We see this moving forward being not just for the Jamaicans but also, you know, we're looking to get more international swimmers here and get on to the international calendar for a swim event," said Collier-Morrow.
Dr Carey Wallace, executive director of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, echoed those sentiments.
"This is our second year supporting the event because we believe that there are multiple, diverse activities that Jamaica will have a distinct and sustainable competitive advantage to develop, and when we develop these diverse offerings it makes the destination more enhanced and attract more visitors for a variety of reasons," Wallace reasoned.
Wallace spoke to the event's potential as a major international sporting offering.
"We were happy with the success so far, but the vision that we have is for it to become a major calendar event for all swimming enthusiasts from across the world and their families will make a choice to come to Jamaica for this event. So that's the vision that we have and so we invest in the development and building to ensure that these things can blossom," said Wallace.
National swimmer Zaneta Alvaranga was among the winners as participants competed in 5k, 3k, 2k, 1k, and 500m swim events as well as a paddleboard competition.
Alvaranga (1:30.51), the lone competitor in the women's 5k swim, was pleased to contribute to the initiative and said the exercise will be useful in her overall preparation.
"It wasn't my first 5k so I was just looking forward to seeing if I could improve since the last time I did it, I guess to keep up with the boys and not be the last person out the water. This really helped with my fitness because this week we did lots of aerobic swimming, and even out here I felt really fit, so this is also adding to my overall fitness and just help me in training," said Alvaranga.
The swimming standout is sponsored by Caribbean Producers Jamaica (CPJ) and the company was on hand to also lend its support to the efforts to preserve the sanctuary.
"This is very important to me because I believe in protecting marine life, the sanctuaries and so on. So I think this is a very good cause and hopefully more people can support the efforts next year," said Alvaranga.
Rojah Thomas, CPJ's director of retail sales, said the event is a perfect fit for the company's commitment to drive efforts towards the preservation of Jamaica's marine properties.
"It was very important that we come on board because it's an initiative that we support. We have launched our Care Protect Jamaica initiative, which has a direct focus on the protection and preservation of the marine ecosystem, and this being a swimming event, it's perfectly aligned.
"We are the number one purveyors to the hotel industry and the hotel industry could not survive without the preservation of waterways, beaches, corals. The entire ecosystem is very important, and without proper maintenance, then we would have no hotels, we would have no business, so it was a no-brainer to support any initiative that focuses on those aspects as well," said Thomas.
Debra Lopez-Spence, president Scotia Jamaica Life Insurance, another major sponsor for the event, was also happy to partner with Swim for the Sanctuary.
"It seemed to be a very natural pairing for Scotia Insurance to be a partner on this esteemed event, given that it's really about health and well-being and we have a lot of young people who are out swimming, so it's really about the future of Jamaica and a healthy Jamaica," she said.
"Also, the sanctuary and the cause around preserving and restoring marine life is also important for Scotiabank broadly because our vision, our purpose is for the future, and so if we're serious about that, then that means that we have to be thinking about what are the things that we're doing today to protect the future of the islands," Lopez-Spence added.
Benjamin Davis, 1:17.11, from Orcas finished in front in the men's 5k swim, with Zachary Randle (Y-Speedos), 1:27.58, and Samuel-John Hines (Kaizen), 1:38.41, finishing second and third.
Annastazia Chin, 55.19, and Thomas Issa (Y-Speedos), 47.06, swam in the women's and men's 3k events, respectively
In the male 2k swim Dirk Harrison (Y-Speedos), 30:59; Kaheem Lozer (Kaisen), 31:27; and Daniel Adelle-Jondeau (Y-Seepos), 31:32, took the top three positions, while the female equivalent went to Giani Francis (Y-Speedos), 34:12, who finished ahead of teammate Jada Dixon 44:12 and Blue Marlin Swim Club's Savannah Casserly, 44:20.
Zachary-Jackson Blaine (Tornadoes), 16:14; Liam Harrison (Y-Speedos), 17:45; and Kristof Chambers (Y-Speedos), 20:29 were top in the men's 1k swim, with the female 1k event going to Leanna Wainwright (Orcas), 16:15.
Second place went to Leah Chin (Orcas), 17:07, with third going to Kai Lawson (Tornadoes), 18:06.
Rhys Hunter (Orcas) won the 500m swim for males in 10:25 to finish ahead of Vikings' Dimitri Ventura, 10:25, and Joshua Martin (Vikings), 11:16.
Shandy Kariatsumari, 9:16, who competed in the 40-49 age group, won the female 500m swim with Sage Sinclair (Vikings), 10:50, and Jilane Kariatsumari, 11:24, following her to the finish.
Orcas topped the 4x100m relay in 7:04 to beat Tornadoes, 7:20, and Y-Speedos, 8:40.
Other sponsors of the event included Jamaica Inn Foundation, Couples Resorts, Wisynco, Rainforest, Chukka Caribbean, Iron Rock Insurance, Sagicor Investments, Marksman, One Great Studio, and Spanish Court.