Divers come to aid of imperiled coral

800 feet of reef smothered in sand

Update: An “incredible” response from Cayman’s dive community Wednesday afternoon has helped save some of the impacted coral colonies at Eden Rock.

Large sections of the reef at the popular site were coated with sand.

Divers responded in droves to a call by the Department of Environment to assist in an unusual operation involving scores of people using their hands to create turbulence to waft the sand off the coral. By the end of the day, the department estimated at least 150 volunteers had been involved.

Despite the success of the effort, there were still large deposits covering the reef on Wednesday evening. The Department of Environment is renewing the call for volunteers to return to Eden Rock tomorrow at 2pm to assist.

The DOE will also continue to use a pressure hose to clear some of the sand.

Tammi Warrender, who organised Wednesday’s dive, said the damage was “horrific”.

She said it was uplifting to see such an “incredible response” from divers and that their efforts had already made a huge difference in saving some of the impacted coral.

She urged people to come out and assist again Thursday, saying it is a race against the clock to stop the smothered corals from dying.

ORIGINAL STORY: About 100 divers gathered at Eden Rock Dive Centre Wednesday afternoon to help the Department of Environment clear sand that had swamped a section of reef off the George Town coastline.

DoE Deputy Director Tim Austin told the Cayman Compass he was “overwhelmed” by the show of support from the local dive community.

Some 800 linear feet of reef is lying under a blanket of sand, that was kicked up from the seabed during “an encounter” with a tugboat and a ship.

The DoE put out a call for divers to help remove the sand which is smothering the coral.

Austin said it was likely some coral had already died, but with some species being more resilient than others, he hopes that if the divers manage to remove the sand, much of the coral can be saved.

The divers were instructed to use their hands to “waft”, creating a current to dislodge the sand from the coral.

Austin told the Cayman Compass that the DoE was alerted to the problem when some divers at Eden Rock called saying they were concerned about the amount of sediment they had come across on the reef on Monday.

He said, “The likely suspect at the time was a ship operating in the harbour that ran into the sand, ran aground, and then the tug… was used to pull the ship to the wharf, and in doing so… stirred up a great deal of sand. That sand was transported by water current down the reef to Eden Rock and consequently has smothered the living coral.”

Coral that is covered in sand is often able to clear itself, but in this instance, the quantity of sand involved makes this impossible.

The DoE was also using water pressure generated by pumps on board one of its boats to dislodge larger volumes of the sand on Wednesday afternoon, Austin said.

He added that the number of people who had shown up at Eden Rock to help was going to make “a significant impact”.

Eden Rock Dive Centre and Don Foster’s were supplying air tanks for free to the volunteer divers Wednesday.

This is not the first time the Eden Rock site has been impacted by boat traffic. Four years ago, a 328-foot cargo ship, Saga, had to be pulled free by tugboats when it ran into the reef, which is popular for shore diving and snorkelling. The impact sheared off the tops of shallow coral heads, leaving rubble in its wake.

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  1. Is it possible for Cayman Islands to require pilot boats for captains unfamiliar with the territory? In this case, would that have helped avoid this tragedy? I’m wondering where we are on those requirements. Where might I find information?