Cayman becomes focus for ocean scientists

| 29/10/2009

(CNS): A group of shark hunters and a group of scientists seeking to explore the earliest life forms on the planet are converging in Cayman this week as the islands’ ocean becomes the focus of important marine explorations. The shark hunters will be working with the Department of Environment (DoE) to carry out surveys of the local shark, whale and dolphin populations. Meanwhile, WHOI and NASA scientists will be plunging a submarine into the depths of the Mid-Cayman Rise to explore the earliest of the ocean’s life forms.

The shark team consists of Dr Mauvis Gore and Oliver Dubock from Marine Conservation International; Dr Rupert Ormond, chief scientist of the Save Our Seas Foundation; and Edd Brooks, a shark researcher based at Cape Eleuthera Institute in the Bahamas. The team will be assisting the DoE with surveys around all three islands and will also build on the DoE efforts to establish a public sightings scheme for recording observations of sharks, whales and dolphins seen in Caymanian waters. The team will be collaborating with marine scientists from the Department of Environment.

“We’re really excited to be working with this group of experts on these important issues. Sharks, as top-level predators in our marine environment are key components and we have very little reliable data or information on local species, populations and the pressures they face,” said DoE Deputy Director for Research and Assessment Tim Austin. 

“Additionally through this project we hope to expand on local efforts to better understand what species of whales and dolphins use Caymans’ waters as part of their home ranges or a seasonal migratory routes, as currently very little is known.”

The project is being jointly funded by the UK’s Overseas Territory Environment Programme OTEP, the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Cayman Islands Department of Environment.

The project leader, Dr. Mauvis Gore, said she was thrilled to be back in Cayman.

“The coral reefs here are impressive, but I’m excited that this time we to have the chance to focus on the area’s sharks. Well over 90% of the worlds shark populations have been lost over the past twenty years, largely through illegal fishing simply for making soup in distant restaurants. Here the marine environment is better managed and so there is a chance to ensure that endangered species are not lost.”

Dr Gore became well known for her work on basking sharks on the west coast of Scotland when one of these plankton-feeding giants (which grow to up to 10 metres long) crossed the Atlantic to appear on the coast of Newfoundland. The electronic tag fitted to the shark indicated that as well as travelling over 4,000km, the shark had dived to a depth of over 1200m.

Dr Gore said, “As well as checking on the numbers of sharks still present in Cayman, we need to find out how much they move about and how far they travel. Some of the bigger sharks here, like the tiger sharks, have also been recorded as travelling thousands of kilometres.”

Dr Rupert Ormond, a past director of the University of London’s Marine Biological Station in Millport, Scotland, said that the Save Our Seas has focused on highlighting the plight of sharks.

“In particular our ‘Rethink the Shark’ campaign has emphasised the fact that shark attacks are extremely rare, often the result of provocation, and that many more people are killed by toasters and chairs each year, let alone by bees or cars. In addition the research that we have funded worldwide has shown that the large charismatic sharks play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of the marine ecosystem,” he added.

The project will emphasise collaboration with local fishermen, dive operators and boat owners, who will be invited to share their knowledge and report sightings of sharks, whales and dolphins to the Department of Environment.

Meanwhile, deep down in the Cayman trench, NASA scientists and oceanographers will be seeking to answer questions about how life got started on earth by exploring the deepest parts of the ocean where life cannot depend on sunlight.

The Cape Hatteras, which crewed by Chris German of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and his colleagues and is the base for the exploration, was spotted in George Town Harbour this week, and according to reports in The Economist, the crew will launch Nereus, an unmanned submarine (left), to explore theunderwater mountain range that lies under almost 4 miles of water near Grand Cayman. The team has picked the Mid-Cayman Rise, part of the 60,000km-long system of mid-ocean ridges that zigzags around the planet, for their exploration because it is a particularly unusual part of that network, which they believe could reveal what the earliest life on Earth looked like.

The life forms these scientists expect to see might be similar to those that lived before photosynthesis. The vents of most mid-ocean ridges rarely produce hydrogen but there is reason to believe that hydrogen will be abundant in the vents of a particular type of ridge which could be present deep down under the oceans around Grand Cayman.

Scientists say that the ocean floor is the least understood part of the Earth’s surface, so any new data this team uncovers will be welcome. If the probe does come up with hydrogen-eating bacteria, it will give a boost to those who hope to find life on other celestial bodies, particularly ones that are far from the nurturing light of the sun. Today, the Cayman Trench but tomorrow, scientists may be looking on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

Follow the WHOI exploration.

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  1. dr mauvis gore says:

    I wanted to reassure the few who may have an incorrect impression about the OTEP project mentioned in the news item. This team is made up of both UK-based and the DoE expertise and it will be looking to see what types of sharks, whales and dolphins there are as these have potentially great value to Cayman as a natural resource for tourism here. We will be working with the communities as well, particularly the fishermen, to exchange knowledge. I might add that I have a vested interest in the area as I come from Jamaica, although that may not be any comfort to Caymanians! However, we welcome the public’s interest in the project and to contact the team through the DoE if you have any questions. Dr. Mauvis Gore

  2. Nina says:

    As a Christian and a fourth generation CAymanian, I am ashamed at the idiotic, ignorant posts I read here.

    Let us WELCOME Scientific discovery to our island. Let us WELCOME knowledge that comes from the depths of the deep blue sea.

    Let us WELCOME the immense spotlight this may give Cayman in light of our economic difficulties and low tourism rates.

    I am so excited to hear that Cayman will be used as a research site for marine animals and possibly information on the beginnings of life.

    Don’t be afraid of the truth. Praise God that we have the technology to investigate these things!


    • Anonymous says:

      But these people are trying to prove evolution.  Why is it suddenly "idiotic" to question those who question the Bible?

  3. L says:


    Asyou know, our tourism product consists of the coral and life forms of our seas. The UK‘s Overseas Territory Environment Programme OTEP is also funding this joint project. As you know, this is the UK we are talking about… I don’t trust the UK!
    DOE: You need to ask yourself the question, what instruments will they be using on our sea life?  What else will they be investigating whilst being here?  Will someone from the Department of Environment be keeping a log of what this crew does on the side? Will someone Caymanian be with them?  
    Caymanians, no matter who these scientist are, we have to value and protect our product from being negatively influenced.
    Concerned Citizen


    • Anonymous says:

      It never ceases to amaze me how people turn these articles to political or religious points. Are you’re lives that empty?  Honestly?

      This article and research has NOTHING to do with either so keep the idiotic posts out of this article for once.

      This is a great opportunity to see what it actually down there. Cayman has one of the deepest trenches in the world which remains largely untouched by man (or robot). We know more about space than we do our own oceans. I, for one, cannot wait to see what they uncover.


    • Bull Dog says:

      It is British territory.  The Brits can do what they want to it.

      • Candy says:

        Yeah, like trouble the mountain upon which we are on… I understand that they record more than 400 tremors at the base of our wall or trench every day. What better way to distable us than to sink us?

        Now that will be something to consider. See what the FCO did to the Chagos Islands. Sounds far-fetch, but in these days, any thing like a conspiracy is possible!  We have enemies! 

    • M. Isicks says:

      "Concerned Citizen" I feel only pity for you that you feel everything is a conspiracy. Science is an field of study that unites people, cultures and countries (for the most part). The article clearly highlights the level of co-operation between the scientists and the DoE and I am sure the DoE themselves are glad that someone is taking an interest in studying the regions sea life instead of destroying it with badly planned cruise ship docks.

  4. Young Caymanian says:

    "Stop these heretics!" how ignorant are you? Do you even realise that you are?

    At which point does it say they are coming to Cayman to convert us? Or are you reading another article?

    These people are coming to the Cayman Trench to research, to gain knowledge and understanding about the sea life that is down there, and what exactly is down there. Ok so they may or may not find out how life started, what is the harm in knowing that? They are scientist it is their job. Maybe they will find out the first form of life God placed on the earth, ever looked at it that way? OPEN YOUR MIND.

    Stop making a mountain out of a mole hill and reading into things too deeply. Take a step back and smell the roses and see a bigger picture might help lower your stress levels.

  5. Stop these heretics! says:

    "Meanwhile, deep down in the Cayman trench, NASA scientists and oceanographers will be seeking to answer questions about how life got started on earth by exploring the deepest parts of the ocean where life cannot depend on sunlight."  

    Is our new Christian constitution worthless?  Why are we allowing these people to come here and spread heresy about "how life got started".  Do our values mean nothing?

    • Anonymous says:

      You live in the dark ages, it is science, you know the subject you learned in school, or was school gainst Science as well? Do you think they are going to find the gates of hell? You and a lot of other people are so narrow minded its laughable and at the same time sad. Crawl out of your hole and open up your eyes, you are now livign in the 21st century in case you hadn’t noticed. And the reference to the constituion is idotic.


    • L says:

      Although it is IGNORANT for Scientist to just assume that there is no God or intelligent supreme cause of life, let us be careful not to grow a hatred for science and exploration; much less, people, such as, scientists

      We should never brand a group of people as HERETICS!  That is what the Roman Catholic Church did to Christopher Columbus and crew when he said the world was round. The Church, quoted such passages like Isaiah, and declared that the world was flat. They branded Columbus as a heretic and demanded he recant from his heretical teachings

      God has given us a mind to explore, invesitgate, to question. God has given us Science for a reason. I don’t think he has given us a mind to express hatred against scientists or people who like to ask questions and investigate for themselves. Even the Bible declares that we should love our enemies. I can’t see how anyone can say they are a Christian and have hate for others in their heart.  St. John stated that if you can’t love those who you can see, how can you love God who you can’t see???  I personally know that there is a God, but I would think twice before calling anyone a heretic, even if they make erroneous claims, that is just not right!  I know my God gives rain and sunshine to all people – both good and bad, so I too, will not separate myself from others who are flesh and blood like me. Jesus ate with publicans and sinners. For the day I call another a heretic, I call myself one too. Let us be careful in our judgements.

      Leave that to God!  Meanwhile love others and be willing to learn from others – that is humility (the mother of all virtues)



      • Christ is in the water says:

        Please stop getting your history from preachers. They get their degrees from weird Bible colleges that teach nonsense.

        The Church never condemned Columbus for saying the Earth was round. All educated people were aware of it at that time. Besides, the Church was way too busy burning witches, torturing people, and planning ways to kill and enslave non-white people to be concerned with Columbus and his views on geography.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Shark week coming to Cayman! Haha

  7. Anonymous says:

    Any public participation allowed on this ?