The Cayman Islands have launched an exciting coral replenishment project in order to help promote the health of local reefs. The initiative is a response to the decline of Caribbean coral reef systems, which are estimated to have lost up to 80 percent over the last 30 years.
The Department of Environment (DoE) has issued permits for six groups in the Cayman Islands to grow coral as part of a project that is overseen by a U.S.-based non-profit, the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF). Local volunteers will draw on the expertise offered by the CRF to utilise their proven methods in the field.
During initial training sessions, volunteer divers were informed that they would be working with coral “trees,” which are devices attached to the ocean floor and suspended mid-water by floats. Once secured, they are populated with staghorn corals that have been removed from nearby reefs. “The guys [CRF] showed us how to construct the trees and gave guidance on where to locate them,” explains Lee Bush, a volunteer who manages the Divetech coral nursery. “Once the structures were in place, we were shown how to safely select, remove and relocate corals onto the branches.”
The coral is left to grow for a period of around nine to 12 months. During that time, volunteer divers attend the site on a regular basis to make sure that the apparatus is kept clean of potentially destructive algae. Following the growth period, the fragments are then either planted out on the reef or broken in half to put back on the trees.
In addition to the benefits of increasing the coral population, the regeneration project has created an opportunity to provide environmental education for locals as well as visitors to the Islands.
Interns from environmental awareness group Save Cayman recently had the opportunity to learn about the project whilst working on the trees. “We want our interns to get a firsthand experience of working with the environment and ecotourism, learn as much as possible and become environmental ambassadors,” says Save Cayman’s co-administrator Morgan Ebanks.
The intention of the Save Cayman intern programme is to provide field training for Caymanians between the ages of 18 and 25 in areas of conservation and sustainability.
A little over a year has passed since the implementation of the coral trees, and the success so far is tangible. “The corals look great! When we hung them, they were approximately five centimeters long per fragment,” says Jerry Beaty from the project sponsor Sea of Change Foundation. “Now the low average shows they have grown another five centimeters. We have around 2,700 coral fragments hanging on the trees. If you do the math of five centimeters per fragment, in nine months we have grown 442 linear feet of coral — that’s a football field and a half of coral that wasn’t there before.”
Fly Cayman Airways Express to Little Cayman and visit Bloody Bay Marine Park to experience the importance of the Coral Restoration Project first-hand, as you swim with exotic fish darting out of sheer coral walls plunging 6,000 feet into the ocean depths. For destination information, visit caymanairways.com/destination-guide.
Author: Drew McArthur