Nearly two dozen volunteers have signed up to help with the Department of Environment’s efforts to contain the spread of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease in Cayman’s reefs.
DoE sent out a call for volunteers, shortly after shutting down 43 dive sites along the North Wall in October due to the onset of the disease.
“The response from the public has been wonderful,” said a DoE spokesperson in an emailed response to queries from the Cayman Compass. “We currently have 20 experienced volunteer divers dedicated to helping us with our response to SCTLD and that number is growing every week.”
The coral disease, for which there is currently no cure, was first spotted at Penny’s Arch dive site in June, by a member of the public who reported it to the DoE. In an attempt to prevent its spread, in addition to closing the dive sites, the DoE removed boat moorings and established a ‘coral-firebreak’ in which highly susceptible stony corals were removed from nearby uninfected reefs.
Although Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease has been plaguing Caribbean reefs for nearly a decade, several crucial details about the affliction remain a mystery. Scientists still do not know how it is transferred from one reef to another, let alone from country to country.
“Researchers around the world do not have enough information on this disease in order to eradicate it so, at this stage, we can only try to slow the spread,” said the DoE. “Only time will tell whether our response efforts have been effective.”
Since an October meeting on the disease with water-sports operators, during which the DoE announced its preventative measures, there have been no additional sightings of the coral disease.
However, the DoE said, “The recent storms at this time of year have hindered our ability to monitor how far the disease has spread,” but added it was not aware of any new dive sites being affected.
DoE said the volunteers are currently being trained how to differentiate between Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease and other threats such as coral bleaching.
Members of the public who believe they have spotted diseased coral are encouraged to submit a picture, along with details about the sighting, through the Epicollect app.