Scientists are attempting to save a rare species of “pillar coral” blighted by disease.
Department of Environment staff and visiting experts began amputating healthy tissue from the affected corals on Monday. They plan to regrow it in coral nurseries and re-attach it to reefs using concrete epoxy.
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said the black band disease had affected multiple colonies of pillar coral – towering structures that rise like skyscrapers from the reef.
He said the corals were rare in Cayman and the department had decided to act swiftly in an effort to save them.
The outbreak, at a dive site known as “killer pillar,” was spotted by staff from EcoDivers who noticed black bands forming on the seven-foot tall structures.
Mr. Austin said everything above the distinctive bands was still healthy and could be salvaged.
A crew from the Department of Environment investigated the site last week and were returning Monday to attempt to cut away healthy tissue from the affected corals.
Tammi Warrender, a visiting scientist working with the department, said, “The disease spreads from the bottom up, so we can take the healthy part and replant it far enough away for it to regrow.”
She said the department had consulted with experts in Florida where coral disease has impacted large swathes of reef.
“We think this is the best plan. We came to the conclusion it is better to try to do something. This is one of the rarest corals on the reef,” she said.
The DoE is also reaching out to dive centers around the island asking them to keep eyes open for other impacted coral colonies.
Ms. Warrender said the broader concern was that rising water temperatures had caused coral bleaching in recent years in Cayman. She said the corals did recover from bleaching, but the stress left them more susceptible to disease.