Exploratory dive shows damage at 180 feet at ‘Magic Reef’ site
Volunteer divers continue the methodical process of sifting through rubble and dead coral in an effort to rebuild a section of reef damaged by a cruise ship anchor.
So far, divers working in depths of between 60 feet and 110 feet have removed an estimated 8,000 pounds of rubble from the site in around 250 dives.
Over the past three weeks, scores of divers have been continuing the painstaking work of searching for live coral that can be salvaged amid the wreckage of some 12,000 square feet of reef.
Working in teams, the divers fill milk crates with dislodged live coral, which can be reattached to the reef with marine epoxy.
Rubble and dead coral are deposited in large sacks, which, when full, are floated by divers using lift bags to a sandy area inland from the reef.
An exploratory mission by technical divers, using rebreather equipment to allow them to access depths beyond the recreational limit of 130 feet, showed damage to the reef extended far deeper than originally imagined.
GoPro video footage shows what has been described as “scarring” on the reef, caused by pieces of rubble cascading down the underwater slope, as deep as 180 feet.
Up to now, the volunteer effort, named the Cayman Magic Reef Recovery project, has been led by dive centers, including Sunset House, Red Sail Sports, Ocean Frontiers, Don Fosters and Off the Wall divers. The dives involve resident volunteers but are led by dive professionals working to an overall strategy.
Keith Sahm, general manager of Sunset House, said dive centers were able to give more time to the project during the slow tourist season. But he suggested visiting scuba enthusiasts could become involved in the restoration effort when things pick up. He said the dive center had already been contacted by scuba diving tourists who wanted to help out with the restoration effort while on vacation.
Mr. Sahm said, “We have a number of people inquiring if they can help. One thing we are certain about is that we won’t turn this into a money making thing. It is all voluntary. The dive centers are using their own fuel, their own time.”
He said the community had come together to assist, with Foster’s Food Fair supermarket chain donating the milk crates, Flowers Block donating the large bags for rubble disposal, and Wes van der Bol supplying the lift bags. Others, like Subway, have helped by providing sandwiches, while law firm Appleby has put together its own dive team to assist with the project.
Mr. Sahm is in the process of establishing a charitable arm to help with funding.
He said it was important to maintain the initial enthusiasm for the restoration effort over a much longer period.
“We have to pace ourselves on this, because it is not going to be done in a month. It will take a year at least,” he said.
The 1,000-foot Carnival Magic cruise ship was guided by Bodden Shipping Agency pilot boats to drop its anchor outside of the designated anchorage zone, in front of Don Foster’s Dive Centre in George Town on Aug. 27, severely damaging the coral reef.
No-one has been held officially accountable for the damage, although the Department of Environment has said it is conducting an investigation.