Yearly coral spawning to be captured by underwater webcam

underwater Caine Delacy

 

An underwater webcam was restored just in time to capture one of the ocean’s most elusive sights – coral spawning. This once-a-year phenomenon, by best estimates, was set to occur Wednesday night, and will likely happen again Thursday. 

“This is the first year we’ve tried to observe it with the webcam,” said Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers in East End. “We can tilt and pan the camera around, and there’s nothing quite like watching it live. People can view it from thousands of miles away.” 

Viewers can watch a live feed of the mountainous star coral spawning Thursday night from the webcam stationed in East End by logging on to Ocean Frontiers’ website at oceanfrontiers.com/webcam. The solar powered lights will be switched on between 9:45 and 11 p.m. for the Web broadcast. 

Each year, usually during August or September, many of the corals in Cayman’s reefs spawn simultaneously, releasing eggs and sperm together to cross-fertilize and scatter in the current.  

Mr. Broadbelt said different species of coral release their spawn in slightly different ways and at slightly different times, with the mountainous star coral putting on the most spectacular show. 

“It’s the most visible, and it happens all at once,” he said. “When the bundles drift to the surface, it’s like a reverse snowstorm.” 

Mr. Broadbelt said predicting the “due date” of the spawning isn’t an exact science. The timing of the synchronized spawning is connected to water temperature and the lunar cycles, but the exact triggers are unknown. 

The webcam is a partnership between Ocean Frontiers and a nonprofit group in the United States called Teens4Oceans. Headquartered in Boulder, Colorado, the group’s mission is to teach marine sciences to high school students in an effort to create future ambassadors for the marine environment. This is accomplished, in part, by bringing the coral reef into the classroom via underwater webcams. 

It was touch-and-go whether Cayman’s webcam would be up and running in time to capture the spawning event. Last month, the autonomous solar powering platform took on water during torrential rainfall and turned upside down, submerging equipment and solar panels in the saltwater. 

Teens4Oceans raised $25,000 to restore the platform and replace damaged equipment. The platform was returned to the water on Tuesday. 

Launched in March, Mr. Broadbelt said the reef cam has been a big hit. “It gets a lot of traffic. Last month, it had 109,000 visitors, which was way beyond what anyone predicted.” 

Providing a lens to the underwater world is a novel way to promote Cayman, he added. “It’s good for the Cayman Islands as a whole in that people can view the reef, which keeps them thinking about where to go for their next tropical vacation.” 

Mr. Broadbelt said Ocean Frontiers’ regular Wednesday afternoon dive includes a stop at the webcam site, which is located inside a protected lagoon. Visitors will often tell friends and family to log on at a certain time to watch them in real time as they dive at the reef. 

“It is becoming quite a popular spot to wave,” he said. 

FRONT Reef cam top view

The underwater camera is in place to record images of the annual coral spawning. – PHOTO: Caine Delacy
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