A CCMI survey indicates the coral reefs in Grand Cayman are in fair condition. - Photo: Mark Muckenfuss

The Cayman Islands’ coral reefs are in fair condition according to a recent survey by the Central Caribbean Marine Institute. They actually earned a “fair-plus,” which is a middle-of-the-road rating on a scale that runs from very good to critical.

And while Grand Cayman’s reefs are slightly less healthy than those of its Sister Islands, CCMI spokeswoman Kate Holden said, “It’s not all doom and gloom. We can correctively protect the reef.”

The institute will detail the most recent data on the status of local reefs during a lecture on Feb. 28 at 5:45 p.m. at the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, kicking off a yearlong education program to bring more attention to sustaining and improving the condition of the offshore environment.

The Healthy Reefs campaign will be targeted at students, teachers, water sports and dive operators, tourists and the community at large, encouraging people to learn more about Cayman’s reefs. It’s the first in what Ms. Holden expects will be a series of annual campaigns.

“At this stage, it’s just getting people to understand, ‘Why does this matter?’” Ms. Holden said. “We will work with professional conservation managers and regional stakeholders.”

Four lectures are planned over the course of the year. The next will be tied to Earth Day, April 22, and a June lecture will be given from an underwater site, via CCMI’s Reefs Go Live program, which allows audiences to interact with scientists during a live dive.

In addition, posters and informational material will be distributed at dive shops and hotels throughout the islands.

The public will be encouraged to help by doing such things as using reef-friendly sunscreen – some sunscreens contain compounds that are deadly to coral – avoid using plastics when possible and protect sea life in other ways.

“Always follow local sustainable fishing guidelines,” Ms. Holden said, whether actively fishing or just consuming seafood. “From a local perspective, we need to protect reef species. Given the current pressures, we need to be very careful.”

The Feb. 28 lecture will focus on the results of a July 2018 survey. A team of six divers surveyed 25 reefs across the Cayman Islands, looking at eight sites on the Sister Islands and nine on Grand Cayman. CCMI surveyed the same sites in 1999, allowing scientists to compare two “snapshots” in time. The presenters will look at the changes that have occurred during that period.

A question and answer session will follow the lecture.

Ms. Holden said the campaign will give Cayman residents a clearer understanding about the importance of the islands’ reefs.

“The coral reefs are critical to livelihoods on the island states,” she said, “particularly tourism.”

She hopes people will not be satisfied with having fair or fair-plus reefs around the islands.

“They could very easily move to poor,” she said. “We need to protect them to maintain the [current condition] or even improve it.”

The upcoming lecture is free, but registration is requested at http://donate.reefresearch.org/reefsurvey. More information is available at www.reefresearch.org.

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