The promise of repairing our reefs

Clarifying CCMI commentary on Polaris

Guest column
Central Caribbean Marine Institute

The Central Caribbean Marine Institute is responding to the letter sent to the Cayman Islands media on 22 Nov. by Polaris Applied Sciences, questioning the information in the presentation that was made by CCMI President Dr. Carrie Manfrino, at the Cayman Port Referendum launch on 21 Nov.

Dr. Manfrino discussed the success and failure of restoration and relocation in the Cayman Islands during this talk and subsequent other talks and releases. As CCMI have previously stated, there are many challenges with the different types of coral restoration – and actually, this discourse between CCMI and Polaris highlights the issue perfectly.

Dr. Manfrino did refer to the coral relocation work Polaris did following the damage by Tatoosh, based on the results presented at the Gulf Atlantic Fisheries Institute conference in 2018. She also referred to the damage from a Carnival ship in the Eden Rock area, which the CCMI team surveyed in October 2019.

Dr. Manfrino has never made a reference to the Saga container ship restoration by Polaris, because the information is not publicly available via peer review or professional presentation and the CCMI team have not surveyed the site.

Polaris feel that CCMI has misconstrued the results from their work in the Cayman Islands, according to their press release, and that the CCMI team have misunderstood the nature of the projects conducted. This is not the case. CCMI merely want to help the voting public and Caymanian stakeholders to understand the context for discussing the measures of success in relocation and restoration work from an ecosystem perspective, undertaken in the Cayman Islands and further afield.

Corals do not always grow and recover, as stated by Mr. Challenger in his release, and it is exactly this point that CCMI is trying to convey. CCMI is not trying to discredit Polaris, just highlight that the way restoration projects are measured (in this case, the ones conducted in Grand Cayman) is not a clear, direct comparison to the coral relocation project being proposed for the George Town port project.

For example – and this is merely for descriptive purposes – if 99 corals are pulverised by a boat hull or anchor damage and one coral remains, and this one coral is successfully re-attached and thrives in the future, scientists interpret reattaching one coral as 100% restoration project success.

Whilst this is a success for this one coral, the 99 remain perished. CCMI is not questioning how Polaris has recorded their results. They are using industry standards. CCMI is trying to put a wider context on what “success” is. In the case of the Tatoosh coral reattachments, the team repaired damage that was accidental, rather than relocating corals to make way for a port. The engineers and scientists at Polaris made a huge effort to save all of the available 1,200+ live corals (and other organisms like sponges and soft corals) at the Tatoosh site. Meanwhile, they estimated another 5,000+ perished because they were either pulverised or not recoverable. They reported that 89% of the reattached corals survived after two years and “a loss of ~80% coral cover at the Tatoosh injury site”.  The final coral cover was only 1.8% and not anywhere close to the average coral cover of 17% in the Cayman Islands.

By comparison, the number of corals at the Tatoosh injury site represents less than 1% of the corals that they are proposing to move from our harbour. Therefore, comparing the two projects is like comparing apples and lemons.

On the Tatoosh project, CCMI’s message is: The site has not recovered and despite the Polaris success, it was not possible to restore the reef because of the nature of the injuries at the site. This is not their fault and at no time have CCMI inferred as such. The pier relocation effort is aimed at moving 180,000 corals. How will we measure success? These questions have been asked and the answers are not available.

In the case of the George Town dock proposal, it is not Polaris’s decision to remove the coral – they are simply being tasked with the job, if the project moves forward. CCMI is respectful of this and of the team’s experience in coral relocation.

CCMI has checked the recent Compass, Cross Talk, Cayman News Service and Radio Cayman coverage and we feel we have not miscommunicated the Polaris projects. We have released the commentary/script from the CPR meeting and we do not misconstrue the Polaris projects.

We have found one small error in a slide from the CPR presentation, which indicates that the Carnival project at Eden Rock was completed by Polaris. This was a simple error, for which we profusely apologise. This error has been made in isolation, was not supported in the speech itself and has not been released in any other format. CCMI believes that energy should ideally be put into defining the coral restoration and relocation strategy, so voters can go to the ballots feeling informed and not confused or misled.