DoE: Dive volunteers helped save coral

Over three days last week, hundreds of volunteer divers worked to clear sand that was smothering coral at Eden Rock. Those efforts may have paid off, according to Department of Environment Deputy Director Tim Austin.

A cargo ship that became stuck in the sandy bottom of the George Town Harbour on 11 Sept. led to sand inundating the popular dive site.

After the volunteers did their bit last week, using their hands to waft sand off the affected coral, the DoE then used its Marine Resources Unit pump to try to blow the rest of the sand from the reef.

“While there is still a lot of sand in the area, we are confident that, with the helping hands of the 300+ volunteers, we made a big difference and a lot of coral was saved,” Austin said in an email to the Cayman Compass on Wednesday.

He said DoE staff will continue to monitor the site “to try and establish a quantifiable level of coral loss from the incident”.

But he added, “Regardless, we are very pleased with the effort and the amount of coral that was saved in this important location.”

Port Authority Director Joseph Woods earlier described the incident that led to the area becoming covered in sand as an accident.

The cargo ship, which was heavily laden with aggregate, got “slightly grounded” as it approached the George Town dock, Woods told the Compass last week.

A tug pulled the ship free and led it to the dock to unload its cargo, but the operation stirred up sand that was transported by currents down the coast to Eden Rock. Woods said there was no suggestion that anyone had done anything wrong, adding, “This was no one’s fault.”

“The vessel was approaching the cargo dock completely outside of the Eden Rock area, which is marked by buoys, when it became lodged on an uneven part of the [sandy] sea bed and required the assistance of a tug to dislodge it,” he said.

In a Facebook post on Monday, the DoE said any experienced divers who wanted to continue the “sand wafting process” to remove more sand should ensure they only use their hands, with no gloves. A technique on how best to do this has been posted on the DoE Facebook page.

Here are a list of do’s and don’ts when dealing with clearing sand from the coral:

– Bring a dive buddy before entering the dive site.
– Practise perfect buoyancy before wafting the sand.
– Use your hands to waft sand off the corals directly into the sand channels.
– Take care not to accidentally touch or kick the corals.
– Work smarter, not harder. Start wafting at the top of the reef and work your way down towards the natural sand channels.
– Use anything other than your ungloved hand to waft sand off the corals.
– Use scooters, gloves, fins, paddles, clipboards, etc.
– Kick the corals.
– Touch the corals when wafting; it will hurt them and it could hurt you.
– Hold on to the reef with one hand while wafting with the other hand. There could be coral recruits that you can’t see.
– Wear gloves as it is illegal to wear gloves while diving and snorkelling in the Cayman Islands.

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