Dive community tackles coral reef damage

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Cayman’s recreational and professional divers have joined forces to try to repair damage done to nearly 12,000 square feet of coral reef wrecked when a cruise ship dropped its anchor on the site last month. 

On Saturday, 28 volunteers took to the water from Don Foster’s Dive in George Town to remove rubble from the reef. Initially divers are targeting a shallower area, about 60 feet deep, and moving the debris in plastic crates to a sandy patch closer to the shore. As the project continues, they will remove rubble from deeper levels. 

Sunset House general manager Keith Sahm, who is heading up the logistics of the volunteer-led project, said that while the work done on Saturday was just the beginning of what will be a long-haul project, “at least we’ve made a start.” 

Any live dislodged coral that can be salvaged will be re-attached using epoxy, a waterproof cement, but before that can be done, the debris needs to be removed, he said. 

“We cannot rebuild until we get rid of all the rubble,” Mr. Sahm said. 

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Divers worked in teams to fill crates with rocks and dead coral and then swam or walked the crates to the newly created rubble site before returning to the reef to refill the containers. 

The reef was seriously damaged last month when a Carnival Magic cruise ship accidentally dropped its anchor at the site. 

On Saturday, the divers carried out an orientation and assessment dive to familiarize themselves with the site, before re-entering the water to begin removing the rubble. Prior to the dives, they were briefed by Department of Environment research officer James Gibb, Russell Hartridge of Don Foster’s Dive, and Ocean Frontiers’ Lois Hatcher. Ms Hatcher was involved in the Maasdam reef restoration project in 1996, after a Maasdam cruise ship dragged its anchor on Soto’s Reef in George Town. 

Sunset House meeting  

The plans for the recovery project first took hold during a meeting at Sunset House on Thursday night last week. 

At that meeting, Ms. Hatcher told volunteers, “[We need to] uncover any corals that are still alive or attached to the reef structure, or buried and threatened under rubble. 

“When the next big storm comes in, all that rubble is going to move around, so the quicker we can get it out, the better, because if it starts moving around, it’s going to start killing everything in its path.” 

She also highlighted some differences between the Carnival Magic’s cruise ship anchor damage and the damage to Soto’s Reef in 1996.  

“What I want to emphasize is … this is going to take a lot of time. The Maasdam took about 9,000 hours over three months, so this is probably going to be going on for months, possibly a year,” she told volunteers. “The damage that we’re dealing now is from 60 to 110 feet [deep], the damage in the Maasdam was shallower [40 feet].”
“The number one thing that we want to do is to secure any of the large dislocated corals … that will give it a lot better to recover,” she added. 

“This is going to be something where we really need the community to come together. If nobody’s going to be held accountable for this, we have to be accountable for it,” she said. 

‘Slow, calm, deliberate’  

Mr. Gibb, following Saturday’s dives, told divers the ongoing work should be “slow, calm and deliberate,” to ensure not only diver safety but also that live coral at the site did not sustain any further damage. 

“As we get further into this, we are going to find more and more live coral and will start to put that aside,” he said.  

More than 100 people have joined a Facebook page, created Aaron Hunt of Cayman Eco Divers, that is being used to communicate details of the project to divers. Mr. Gibb said any other divers who want to get involved can check the “Cayman Magic Reef Recovery” Facebook page to find out when dives will be organized.  

Three more dives at the site were scheduled for Sunday, and more will be organized on a regular basis as the project continues.  

Local companies have also joined the project, with Harbour House Marina providing the epoxy, Woody Foster suppling the lift crates, and Sunset House and Don Foster’s suppling free air tanks for the dive volunteers. 

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Divers enter the water at Don Foster’s Dive to begin restoring a coral reef damaged when a cruise ship dropped its anchor. – PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY

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Divers deposit crates of rocks and dead coral at a newly created rubble field in a sandy patch closer to shore. – PHOTO: NINA BAXA

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A diver monitors the restoration work. – PHOTO: NINA BAXA
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3 COMMENTS

  1. This is what I try and tell people who ask me why do you love Cayman so much…..how wonderful, people stepping up and giving back to their magnificent waters and what they give for people to enjoy…be proud of yourselves for making a difference in the scope of life !!

  2. My congratulations to the volunteer divers who are giving their time and energies to repair the damaged reef. It is a public service. To the organizers, staff and dive companies who are making their boats available for this work kudos as well.

  3. Like Lois, I was involved (pretty much full time) with the reef restoration project back in ’96. It’s awesome that so many people are stepping up to the plate to help again. Well done! I’ll be back there with you as soon as I return from holiday!