Cayman’s reefs in peril from bleaching

| 27/09/2009

(CNS): Local reefs are suffering from significant amounts of coral bleaching, the Department of Environment (DoE) staff has confirmed following reports from the diving community as well as a ‘bleaching potential’ alert from the recently installed ICON monitoring station in Little Cayman. The news of the damage comes at a time when tourism is fighting to survive and the local reefs remain one of Cayman’s key selling points. The DOE said nearly all corals in the shallow reefs to about 30 ft now show signs of moderate to severe bleaching, while approximately 80% of corals in the deeper reefs to 120 ft are exhibiting the early signs of coral bleaching.

The DOE staff recently conducted a rapid assessment of reefs on the north, west and south coasts of Grand Cayman and found the distressing results. The DoE said the bleaching appeared more intense on the north coast although the department stated the reasons for this are not fully understood at this stage.

“Coral bleaching is a stress related reaction whereby the coral colonies lose their colour and ‘bleach’ white either due to the loss of pigments by microscopic algae living in symbiosis with their coral hosts, or because the algae have been totally expelled.  Bleaching is closely associated with sustained elevated water temperatures and UV light and has been linked to global climate change as the world’s oceans heat up,” Timothy Austin explained in a department release.

The DoE has warned that while corals can recover from less severe bleaching episodes recovery is variable and in some instances entire reefs have been lost to single bleaching events.  “The last major bout of bleaching to impact the Cayman’s reefs occurred in 1998 with significant mortality following. Minor bleaching events have been recorded in the warmer summer months with increasing frequency during the last decade,” the government expert added. 

The DOE has a Long Term Coral Reef Monitoring Programme, in place since 1997, to the track the health of Cayman’s reefs, which the DoE says will monitor the current extent and severity of impact associated with the recent bleaching having only just completed an extensive video survey at 55 reef sites around all three islands. 

“Monitoring efforts will be increased over the next few weeks to better quantify and assess the impact of this bleaching event and to determine levels of recovery,” Austin stated. “The DOE expects this current bleaching episode to increase significantly in severity in the following weeks as water temperatures remain above the threshold 29.5 degrees Celsius.”

There is hope however based on past water temperature data collected since 1996 that suggests local waters start cooling down from mid-October, which hopefully may bring some relief for the heat stressed corals.

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  1. on no says:

    This is bad news but can anybody stop it…I think the larger the population gets the less reef and sealife in general there will be…this is bad as for Cayman… Sorry to say but the world is dying and Humans are the cause..  Maybe the world can heal but it will take hundreds of years and about 3 billion less people

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have been here almost three years and enjoy snorkeling/diving. One spot in particular had a great big coral head in probably 8-10 of water. Home to lobster and fish, in a replenishment zone.

    I’ve seen people fish, seen the results of someone taking conch, but I was shocked when I saw two kids (teenagers) climbing on the coral and using it as a diving board.

    That coral head is now 75% dead. It took two people all of about 15 mins to almost completely ruin what took years and years to create.

    There just seems to be a lack of respect to one’s surroundings and others, especially from the environmental aspect (reef, dog kills, lack of recycling, poaching).  Same attitude extends to other aspects of the community and why some people think it is ok to rob and steal other people’s property.


  3. the sun sets in the west says:

     At his infamous Ritz-Carlton meeting LOGB said we waste our time worrying about "a few scrappy reefs" when he was trying to justify his lack of consideration for the environmental impact the cruise berthings would have on our reefs. Does anyone remember that stupid remark? I bet not… I was disgusted to hear him say such a thing.

    Between the nutcase we have as a leader who has no regards or the environment and global warming… I think the future of cayman is very grim indeed.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Our seas belong to the earth.  All seas are connected as one.  Global warming due to air pollution seems to be one problem, and nuclear and chemical wastes into the sea seem to be the other problem.  This is a worldwide problem.  I’m not sure if this is caused from anything being done in Cayman, or if it is just the one world connection of the ocean?  Jesus soon come!!  Get ready!!  What goes up must come down!!  Everyday de bucket a go a well, one day de bottom a go drop out!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    For an Island that relies so heavily on its ocean’s ecosystem it really doesn’t take much care of it. I know that a lot of the bleaching has to do with the climate, but what about the polution and chemicals in the water? Our waters are advertised to the world as being the most beautiful… maybe once upon a time. Our seas are over fished and polluted. Not to mention the paoching and keeping of undersized fish. Believe it or not all these things play a role in our ocean ecosystem.

  6. AJ says:

    How can anyone expect the enviornment to get much attention when not even the LOGB, who is also head of tourism, gives it any consideration?  Nice role model he is for our children!!! 

    Hey LOGB, here’s something for consideration.  Our stay-over tourism has a lot to do with the diving around here.  Our reefs go, our stay-over tourists go, there goes a BIG part of the tourism industry and there goes the money with it.  Give the DOE more teeth and better policies to help protect one of the best assests these islands have! 

    (Yes, I do understand that bleaching is more to do with warmer water temperatures that the DoE cannot control, however, the DoE needs more strict enforcement when it comes to human interaction with the reefs.)

  7. Sir Henry Morgan says:

    The coral reefs of the word are all going to die, it is just a matter of time. There is nothing we can do to prevent it so you might aswell get down there and take pictures now because they wont be here for too much longer.

  8. Sav/New says:

    This shows more than ever why we should be preserving our reefs and not trying to destroy them for a mere buck or two.   

    • Anonymous says:

      The reefs are fubar’ed. A slight increase in temperature will cause further destruction and loss of habitat for reef fish and the whole cycle is subar-ed. Last but not least the reef as the protective barrier that Cayman enjoys will be gone making it more susceptible to mother nature and these small islands will erode much more quickly.

  9. Jeff, the Muff Diver says:

    21 comments about a fake snake and not one about Cayman’s only real attraction to many….says a lot about how much credence to give to the regular poster on the site now doesn’t it.