Volunteer divers working to restore coral reef severely damaged by a cruise ship anchor have launched a fundraising campaign to help sustain the effort.
Five months after the incident, no charges have been brought, and it appears increasingly unlikely that any of the parties responsible will contribute to the cost of the restoration.
The Environmental Protection Fund, which now totals almost $50 million, has also been ruled out as a source of funding because the process for community groups to apply for donations has not yet been established.
Meanwhile, volunteers – who have put in more than 600 man hours salvaging live coral from the rubble – say they are digging into their own pockets to pay for equipment and supplies, including marine epoxy to attach the coral back to the reef.
With the project expected to take at least a year to complete, they need money.
A fundraiser has been organized at the Green Parrot in George Town on Feb. 27, and a process is being established for people to make donations through the National Trust.
Simon Morris, who sculpted the well-known underwater mermaid statue at Sunset House and the Guardian of the Reef at DiveTech’s Lighthouse Point location in West Bay, has also committed to donate some of the proceeds from the sale of his artwork.
A report on the accident, prepared by the Department of Environment, said the cost of the damage to the reef could run to millions of dollars and urged government to seek voluntary donations from the three parties involved – the Port Authority, Bodden Shipping Agency and Carnival Cruise Lines – setting an ambitious target of $2 million.
The damage occurred when the Carnival Magic cruise ship was mistakenly guided by Bodden Shipping Agency pilot boats to anchor 650 feet outside the designated public port anchorage, and dropped its anchor on a previously untouched patch of coral reef.
Talks are understood to be continuing between government and Carnival Cruise Lines. Neither Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell nor the cruise line responded to requests from the Cayman Compass for comment.
Project coordinator Lois Hatcher of Ocean Frontiers said volunteers were hoping for a donation but couldn’t count on it.
“We hope they will step up with a donation. In the meantime, we can’t wait, which is why we have started our fundraising effort,” she said.
The volunteers have set $10,000 as a realistic target for their initial fundraising efforts. The money raised will go toward the cost of marine epoxy and other supplies, including boat hire, when necessary.
Marine science experts have recommended capping the affected part of the reef with concrete to prevent silt from affecting nearby corals, adding to the cost.
Ms. Hatcher said several businesses, including many of the dive operators, have already made donations in the form of tanks, equipment, boats, lift bags, cement and other supplies, as well as man hours.
She said the efforts are starting to pay off. Some of the salvaged coral had been reaffixed to the reef and is prospering.
“This is not just something that is important for divers; it is important for the whole island. Maybe 20 years ago it wouldn’t have mattered as much, but coral reefs have declined so much, every piece is critical,” Ms. Hatcher said. “We can’t afford to lose any more habitat. Coral reefs are the first defense against storm surge in a hurricane, so they are vital protection for the island as well.”
The fundraiser at the Green Parrot on the Royal Watler Terminal will feature live music, a barbecue and lionfish cook-off, as well a silent auction with prizes including a live-aboard dive trip on the Aggressor dive boat.