Coral spawning event makes history


Grand Cayman made history Wednesday night with a live Web broadcast of coral spawning, a once-a-year phenomenon that is a spectacular underwater show. 

“This is the first time in the world it’s happened,” said Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers in East End. 

He estimates between 3,000 and 5,000 people tuned in to watch the first-ever live streaming of a coral-spawning event.  

“There was a lot of interest,” Mr. Broadbelt said. “A good number of people locally were watching.” 

Capturing this rare event went down to the wire. The underwater webcam and its platform had been damaged after being submerged in saltwater during a torrential rainfall, and was restored just in time.  

“Everything went very well,” Mr. Broadbelt said. “We recorded the live stream and posted it on YouTube. I’m very happy with it.” 

A repeat performance of the mountainous star coral spawning was expected Thursday night as well, with the webcam set to provide another live feed. 

Wednesday’s spawning took place from 10:10 p.m. through 10:20 p.m., as was predicted. It can be viewed on YouTube, under the title “T4O Cayman Lagoon Coral Spawning”. 

Estimating when the spawning will occur isn’t an exact science as the timing of the synchronized spawning is connected to water temperature and the lunar cycles, but the precise triggers are unknown. 

Annual coral spawning of reefs is something spectacular to watch live, Mr. Broadbelt said. But to observe it, people had to be at the right place at the right time, and underwater. Now, with the reef cam, anyone with a Web-enabled device anywhere in the world is able to watch the coral spawning as it happens. 

The webcam is a partnership between Ocean Frontiers and Teens4Oceans, a nonprofit group in the United States that teaches marine sciences to high school students in an effort to create future ambassadors for the marine environment. The group raised $25,000 to repair the autonomous solar powering platform. 

Mr. Broadbelt said Wednesday’s event served as a test run, and he expects interest to build next year as the word spreads to the dive community, students, marine biologists and aquarium enthusiasts.  

“We estimate there could be hundreds of thousands of viewers,” he said. 

The webcam has been in place since March. Located inside a protected lagoon on the reefs adjacent to Ocean Frontiers, the reef cam provides a live window to Cayman’s underwater world. The site is among the stops on Ocean Frontiers’ regular Wednesday snorkel trip, and has become a popular place for visitors as they will tell friends and family to log on at a certain time to watch them live at the reef. 

Cayman Underwater Webcam WGI 2013-7850

This underwater webcam enabled thousands of viewers to watch coral spawning live on Wednesday night. – PHOTO: CAINE DELACY