Local divers begin work on crushed reef

| 30/09/2014

(CNS): Although it will take decades, if it works at all, local divers have begun the daunting task of attempting to repair almost 12,000 square feet of severely damaged coral reef in George Town harbour. The reef was crushed by some 450 feet of chain, weighing as much as 100lbs, when the Carnival Magic cruise ship dropped its anchor on the dive site in August. Around 50 volunteers have teamed up with the Department of Environment (DoE) and have begun carefully removing the rubble, dead coral and sediment, crate by crate. Divers say the damage is extensive and described as “just terrible”, with thousands of years of coral growth demolished by an error of judgment. (Photo by Len de Vries and Nina Baxa).

“Right now it’s basic triage, and any live corals are being put aside for reattachment once the rubble is removed,” Ocean Frontiers’ Lois Hatcher told dive news reporter, Adela Gonzales White. “Every day that goes by, more coral that is buried or heavily covered in sediment is suffocating. They need sunlight and a stable substrate to survive, so the longer they are unstable, the survival rate decreases.”

She explained that a lot of man-hours will be needed to restore the reef, starting with the triage stage to clean things up before efforts at reattachment and then maintenance, which could take more than a year to complete.

“We are also hoping to start a couple of nursery trees for the long-term keeping of live coral fragments, as they grow faster this way and can then be used to embellish what coral was replanted.”

While an investigation into the Carnival Magic incident is conducted, the repair work at the site continues non-stop. To date more than a 20 dives have been made and volunteers have put in 150 man-hours. Communication and coordination are done through a Facebook page that now has 265 followers. Boat trips are scheduled and volunteers, both locals and visitors, can sign up to help.

Hatcher said it was important work and if nobody is going to be held accountable for the damage, then they must be accountable.

In 1996 a coral restoration project began to try and repair the damage caused by the Maasdam cruise ship when it dropped anchor on a shallow dive site in George Town damaging 7,500 square feet of reef. That project took over 9,000 hours of underwater work over three months. DoE experts have said that site could still take sixty years to grow back. The most recent cruise ship damage was over a considerably larger area and in deeper water, presenting divers with a near impossible task.

Along with the experienced divers who worked on that project joining the current team, Keith Sahm from Sunset Divers, who organised the volunteers, said the Marine Conservation Board has also eased the guidelines and laws about touching or picking up coral to allow the work to go ahead.

The restoration work is difficult and the dive site won’t be what it was originally but the divers hope to make the reef stable enough to sustain life again.

Following a meeting Monday the DoE said the results were encouraging and progress has been made but the project needs more volunteers. Anyone interesting in helping is asked to visit the Facebook page Cayman Magic Reef Recovery where volunteer dives and updates are continually posted.

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Carnival should be paying for this.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Due to the fact that ultimately it was a Caymanian authority and a Caymanian individual who is responsible for this means that we will never actually see anyone get 'blamed' or have any sort of consequences. What an absolute mess, Cayman essentially has one resource – our beautiful and absolutely stunning waters. We don't have rivers and mountains and large agricultural plains like some of our other Caribbean neighbour islands. Why don't we understand that we need to protect our reefs, our waters and our marine ecosystems? Does the government realise that no one is going to spend thousands of dollars to come to Cayman and dive to see mashed up coral and destroyed aquatic habitat?

    • Anonymous says:

      We protecting our own

      • Anonymous says:

        Ironic that protecting your own means letting your own be trashed.

        • Anonymous says:

          Look around, its been happening for years in every facet of Cayman life, educaton, employment, environment, the list goes on and so wll this until there is nothing left and we are run into the ground.

      • Anonymous says:

        Protecting your own what? Cause you not protecting your own environment. Not protecting your own future. Not protecting our bread and butter when it comes to tourism. All we're doing is protecting stupid, obviously unqualified individuals just because they are "Caymanian".

  3. Anonymous says:

    We have many laws I be Cayman Islands. We just don't enforce them. 

  4. Absurdistani says:

    I've heard that Dept of Environment is meeting with Dept of Tourism to discuss this? Seriously? Just another day in Absurdistan.

    Where is the Port Authority in all this? Aren't they responsible for commercial marine traffic? It seems appropriate that they conduct the investgation and publish a report on this incident including identifying the party at fault so that a fine can be assessed.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Why is the elephant in the room being avoided. Someone is responsible for this happening and that company should be fined.

    • Anonymous says:

      Umm it's the port Athority. ie a cayman concern. Ain't gonna happen. It's a responsibility thing. We don't do that down here. 

      • Anonymous says:

        17:30, Maybe Mac can help us spell the word "responsibility" and tell us what it means?

      • Anonymous says:

        I would think it is the fault of the local pilot who directed the ship's captain where to drop anchor.

  6. Anonymous says:

    This is an example of the BEST of Cayman; and of the WORST of modern Cayman:

    The BEST – Divers/opertors of all origins & backgrounds, coming together to do the restoration work for the good of all!

    The WORSE – all agancies involved denying blame, and not even lending a hand to the restoration effort!  (for fear that helping out will look like an admission of guilt)



    • Anonymous says:

      Are they reL Caymanians restoring the reef, or paper Caymanians. 

      • Anonymous says:

        I don't believe the post even mentioned the nationality of the individuals doing the work.  The point was some were stepping up and doing it.  does it matter if they were reL or noT?

      • Peter Milburn says:

        What does it matter!!!!!!!At least someone is trying to help.Many Caymanians and others are involved.I am a paper Caymanian.So what?????????

  7. Anonymous says:

    Can anyone comment on whether our Government has reached out to the cruise ship responsible to assist in the repair or to assist in the costs to repair (preferably the former)?  There must be some form of environmental responsibility already imposed on these cruise ships under international standards and there should be some sort of campaign to ensure they take full responsibility and assist to remedy the problem.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you somewhat. But in this instance, the cruise ship captain didn't drop anchor whereever he felt like it. He was guided to this position by the local pilot. It's the local pilot's fault. He and the company he works for should be held accountable. But………

      • question thinker says:

        but the captain, if knowing the reef was there and still did it anyways isnt he to blame?

        the pilot is to blame too of course but by that you would be stating he tried to kill the reef on purpose so it is the way you veiw it that matters.

        • Anonymous says:

          Correctomundo. Captain retains responsibility even tho' there's a pilot. Nobody seems to care, really.

    • Anonymous says:

      1. Cayman would never dare upset the big daddy cruise industry. ( that's just the way it is)

      2. It was a caman entity that te them where to drop the anchor

  8. Anonymous says:

    Perhaps this is not the place for this comment but certainly "an error in judgment" does not explain the horrible situation.   Was the error in judgment by the cruise ship or by the port authority?

    One reason to fuly explain and understand how this disaster occurred is to assure that it does not happen again.

    Kudos to the volunteers.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Set an example and hand down the appropriate fine!

  10. Ancient Mariner says:

    This is what happens when amateurs are allowed to play pilot.  No matter how many years someone has spent at sea, or how many ship to ship operations a person has been present at, this does not qualify them as a harbour pilot.  Bear in mind that Grand Cayman is the only place in the world where the pilot does not even go aboard the ship he is guiding.  Pilotage is not compulsory in Cayman waters; perhaps the time has come for a qualified harbour-master to be appointed who can instruct visiting ships by radio precisely where to anchor safely.  This is what happens in most sea-ports around the world: you only take a pilot (if there is one) to berth the ship, not just to drop anchor.  It is probably not common knowledge that when a ship calls the George Town port by radio it is actually talking to the security guard at the gate!

  11. Just Sayin' says:

    I hope they are not working out there on Sundays. Especially that close to Elmslie.

  12. Peter Milburn says:

    Just wanted to point out that the damage to parts of Sotos Reef(Fishpot as I call it)has come back quite well in the years since the damage back in 1996.I have dived on it regularly and it is hard to tell where the damge was unless you know that area well enough to spot it.A lot of the smaller corals have come back nicely and it will eventually regain a lot of its former colour and beauty.Of course this may well be a futile labour of love if indeed the proposed new cruise dock goes in.Think well before you take out any of that big area of reef as it acts as a barrier to the big waves that come with cold fronts and hurricanes.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If the cruise docks go in, this will all be for naught.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Why no prosecution?