Earth Day reef survey

Divers all around Cayman participated in the annual Earth Day Reed Watch Survey during Earth Week.

The event was coordinated by the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Watersports Committee in cooperation with the Department of Environment.

Divers and snorkellers were asked to fill out forms compiled by the DoE.

According to John Bothwell, research officer with the DoE, the organisation is confident of record returns this year.

‘We gave out about 400 survey forms and we are hoping for a good return. Last year almost 350 surveys were returned which was 75 per cent more than the previous best years,’ he said.

Once the results have been collected, it will be compared to past Reef Watch Surveys dating back to 1997.

Mr. Bothwell said that the results are quite useful to the DoE.

‘It gives us a snapshot of reef health and we can compare that to previous returns to see changes in the reef,’ he said.

According to Mr. Bothwell, the number of different creatures such as snappers, groupers, lobsters, turtles and parrotfish observed by the divers has remained relatively constant.

Divers also consistently rated the condition of the reef as average to good.

The survey also allows the DoE to track the number of sightings of various types of coral as well as sponges and gorgonians. The survey also asked divers to record ‘touches’.

‘A big part of the survey’s purpose is diver education. By having them look critically at their environment we hope they will ‘self-educate’ about where they are, appreciate it more and become more interested in preserving it rather than simply looking at Cayman’s reefs as a replaceable diving attraction,’ said Mr. Bothwell.

The survey has also been adapted to include new threats to Cayman’s reef environment.

‘One of the main changes for this year’s survey was the addition of lionfish. We’re naturally interested in adding to our knowledge of the distribution of this newly introduced and potentially very damaging invasive species,’ said Mr. Bothwell.

The lionfish was included in the survey to give an indication of the prevalence of the fish compared to other species.

‘It will also serve as a baseline to track future changes in lionfish population. Hopefully control efforts by the DoE, the dive community and the public will be effective but it will be future Reef Watch Surveys that will tell us whether we are or not,’ he said.

Participating dive operators Deep Blue Divers, Divers Down, DiveTech, Eden Rock Diving Centre, Lobster Pot Dive Centre, Ocean Frontiers, Off the Wall Divers, Red Sail Sports, Sunset Divers, Tortuga Divers and Wall to Wall Divers offered those returning completed surveys a free Earth Day cloth bag or t-shirt. Many of the operators also offered a free tank for shore diving or a free one-tank boat dive for divers participating in the Reef Watch Survey or free snorkelling gear for participants.

According to Mr. Bothwell, the survey will continue to form an important part of the DoE’s activities well into the future.

‘In Cayman, we’ve been very fortunate with the appreciation our local and visiting divers have had for the reefs and their fragility over the years and we don’t want that to change.’