'Magic' act a class act: Time to take a bow

Organizers of the “Magic Reef Restoration Project” have announced that their efforts to salvage a George Town harbor reef, which was seriously damaged in late August 2014 by a cruise ship anchor, will conclude around the end of this year.

We’ll take this opportunity to give a pat on the back to this group and its volunteers, mainly comprising members of the Cayman Islands dive community, for the efforts and sacrifices they have been making over these past months. We’d also like to acknowledge the significant financial contributions from the Carnival Cruise company, which made a voluntary pledge of $100,000 to aid in the recovery effort.

Although the offending anchor belonged to the Carnival Magic cruise ship (which has subsequently become eponymous with the damaged reef), it appears that neither Carnival nor the ship captain bears responsibility for the destruction that occurred.

As our readers will recall, on Aug. 27 — a day of rough winds — the Magic cruise ship was guided by a Bodden Shipping Agency pilot boat to an area 650 feet outside the designated public port anchorage, where it dropped its anchor on a previously untouched patch of coral. Nearly 12,000 square feet of reef was damaged, to varying degrees.

The Department of Environment’s initiative to build a possible criminal case went nowhere, and the three parties involved in the incident — Carnival, Bodden Shipping and the Port Authority — weren’t about to shoulder the blame. Of those, only Carnival stepped up with checkbook in hand.

Most striking and (considering the economic importance of our country’s coral) most puzzling, has been the lack of financial support from Cayman’s government.
Despite the formation of a much-ballyhooed National Conservation Council, and the accumulation of $52 million in the country’s so-called “Environmental Protection Fund,” not one penny was allocated to address directly the clear and present environmental catastrophe at the Magic Reef. The government did, however, recently siphon off $5.1 million from the Environmental Protection Fund — with most of that going toward consultants and the completion of studies and reports, including the cruise port environmental impact assessment ($2.5 million), Integrated Solid Waste Management project ($1 million) and various DOE projects, including studies of blue and green iguanas ($1.5 million).

The good people of Cayman should consider this as an instructive introduction to the practice of natural conservation by government committee.

The cruise port EIA has drawn much attention for consultants’ estimates that some 30 acres of reef and associated marine habitat in George Town harbor could be destroyed or negatively impacted by the construction of the cruise berthing project. The consultants broached the idea of “relocating” some of that affected reef, with the caveat that there is no guarantee of success, and the caution that such an endeavor could cost $13 million or more.

The Magic Reef Restoration project, we think, has illustrated a few points that are relevant to the broader cruise berthing debate.

First, it shows how difficult, expensive and time-consuming the process of trying to “save” live coral is.

Second, it shows who has been willing to demonstrate, with deeds and not just with words, how much they care about Cayman’s coral — that is, restoration project organizers, volunteers and donors (including Carnival, dive shops and other local businesses).

Third, it shows, by omission, who wasn’t there, who didn’t lead the charge, and who wasn’t willing to allocate money and resources for the coral restoration — the Cayman Islands government.



  1. My fiancee and I diverted our round the world 6 month dive trip to Grand Cayman specifically to help with the reef recovery. As PADI Rescue Divers we are suitably qualified and with guidance from the local team we were able to help, all be it for the short time we were on the island.

    What happened is a ecological nightmare, and for a wonderful island that I only visit for the wondering diving, I’m so pleased to be apart of such an effort.

    I truly wish that the story of this unfortunate accident could reach a wider audience as divers the world around would come to help.

    The Caymans is such a beautiful place above and below the water. I struggle to understand the logic behind why wanting to affect this.

    I hope that logic prevails.