Reef restoration in home stretch but volunteers still needed

It’s been a long, hard road, but organizers and volunteers of the “Magic Reef” restoration say their work on repairing the coral reef damaged by a cruise ship anchor drop more than a year ago is paying off. 

At an information session held at Cayman Cabana in George Town on Friday, Joe Avary, who has been involved in the restoration project from the beginning, briefed the audience on the work that had been carried out over the past 13 months. 

Despite the devastation done to the reef, Mr. Avary said the incident had “spurred a lot of positivity,” with divers offering their time and expertise to help rebuild the reef and the community coming together to raise more than $28,000 at a fundraiser in February. 

He pointed out that since the Carnival Magic cruise ship dropped its anchor on the reef, outside the designated anchoring area on Aug. 27, 2014, no one had been held accountable for the incident. 

The ship was guided by Port Authority-licensed 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, severely damaging thousands of square feet of the coral reef. 

Mr. Avary said when the damage was first discovered and the extent of it was assessed by the Department of Environment, it was not clear what could be done to remedy it, but “Lois Hatcher had a plan for what to do to make it all better.” Ms. Hatcher has spearheaded the project, coming up with a plan of action and organizing teams to carry out the work. 

Since the work began, divers have put in more than 1,000 man hours and shifted 10 tons of rubble. Teams are now concentrating on attaching surviving salvaged coral to the reef, which Mr. Avary described as “underwater landscaping.” 

Although the work is in the home stretch, organizers are still looking for volunteers to help with the work. “If you know divers who want to come out and help, this is their chance to get involved,” Mr. Avary said. 

Initially teams of divers were either transported to the site on dive boats run by local dive operations that donated their boats and their crews’ time to the restoration efforts, or they swam from Don Foster’s dock to the reef. Later, the reef restoration team purchased a boat, called the Honey Badger, from funds raised in February and from a $100,000 donation given by Carnival shortly afterward. 

The strenuous work of moving rubble from the damaged site to another location in the sand flat is complete so the team is now rebuilding the reef itself, taking the coral that somehow survived the anchor and massive chain scraping along the reef wall, and cementing it to the reef. “We’re building it back up right now,” Mr. Avary said. 

“Now, it’s starting to look like a real coral reef; we have sponges that were displaced that are now back in there,” he said, pointing to some before and after images of the reef. 

Many of the milk crates, donated by Foster’s Food Fair, that had been holding the salvaged sponges and other coral are now back on land as divers empty them and the coral is placed in its new, and the volunteers hope, permanent home on the reef. 

To volunteer or to get more information, visit the Cayman Magic Reef Recovery Project Facebook page. 

Joe Avary shows a video highlighting the work that has been done to restore the ‘Magic Reef’ at Cayman Cabana on Friday night. – PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY
Joe Avary shows a video highlighting the work that has been done to restore the ‘Magic Reef’ at Cayman Cabana on Friday night. – PHOTO: NORMA CONNOLLY