Reefs survived

Observations indicate that Grand Cayman’s coral reefs suffered no irreparable or detrimental effects from Hurricane Ivan.

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society made a photo documentation of commonly dived reefs. The documentary was commissioned by The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, as a result of the resort’s partnership with Cousteau’s OFS Ambassadors of the Environment, an environmental education and eco-adventure children’s programme at the resort.

It was originally feared that the reefs, which entice thousands of tourists to Grand Cayman annually to explore their natural beauty, were significantly damaged by the severity of Hurricane Ivan in September, states a press release.

While storms such as hurricanes are not new to the Caribbean, the intensity and frequency of storms this past year lent cause to conduct an investigation not only to report the consequences of the storms, but to also lay the groundwork to preserve and repair damage to the reefs and its inhabitants as necessary.

Survey observations revealed that the hard coral structure of the reef was not significantly impacted and damage to encrusting corals, of which the reef is made, was minimal. Storms act much as forest fires do on land, temporarily devastating the landscape, but the natural resilience of such healthy ecosystems enables them to restore themselves. Thus, many ecosystems can handle an infrequent, intense disturbance.

These sites will generate a greater variety of species that may actually increase biodiversity on the bottom over the next few years.

In conducting the photo survey, Cousteau’s team, led by Dr. Richard Murphy and Denise Naguib, followed the lead of the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment, which holds responsibility for monitoring and managing the health of the reefs and has many years of quantitative studies documenting their condition.

Though not open until October 2005, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman is taking care to raise awareness of environmental issues through construction and beyond. The resort has created a new management position specially designed to protect and celebrate the natural and cultural resources of Grand Cayman (under the title of Executive Director of Culture, Environment and Destination Services), in addition to partnering with Cousteau’s OFS to custom-design a fun and educational children’s program. The purpose of the programme is to share the wonder of nature and to demonstrate important ecological principles to kids.

Jean-Michel Cousteau believes the Hurricane Ivan survey will be a useful instrument for The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman Ambassadors of the Environment programme to illustrate these principles and show how nature restores itself when protected from further stress.

‘An important message of the Ambassadors program is learning lessons from nature that can help us live more sustainable lives back home,’ Mr. Cousteau said. ‘Hurricane Ivan is providing a valuable natural experiment from which we can explore such concepts as the value of biodiversity, ecological health, resilience, disturbance and sustainability. These subjects are important to those of us concerned about our future because they are what keep our planet healthy and provide us with a vibrant ecosystem that enriches the quality of our lives.’

Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ocean Futures Society was founded to explore the oceans, inspiring and educating people throughout the world to act responsibly for their protection and to celebrate their vital importance to the survival of all life on the planet. Ambassadors of the Environment represents the Society’s commitment to prepare the next generation for the responsibilities they will inherit to manage the planet’s biosphere. For more information, visit the websites at www.oceanfutures.org and www.aote.org.

Situated on 144 acres stretching sea-to-sea from the acclaimed Seven Mile Beach to the North Sound, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman and The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman, blend a lush Caribbean backdrop with classic British-Colonial architecture. The resort features 365 guestrooms and suites, the first La Prairie Spa in the Caribbean, five dining venues including two restaurants by Eric Ripert of top-ranking New York restaurant Le Bernardin, several bars and lounges, a 6,000-square-foot luxury retail emporium featuring premium brands, the island’s largest ballroom, a tennis center by Nick Bollettieri, the Ambassadors of the Environment by Jean-Michel Cousteau children’s program and a Greg Norman-designed nine hole golf course. For reservations information please contact The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman pre-opening office at (345) 943-9000 or visit www.ritzcarlton.com.

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