Almost a year after they were established, Cayman’s coral nurseries are thriving under management by local dive operators, overseen by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment. Divetech, Ocean Frontiers and Sunset House, with assistance from Red Sail Sports, set up the nurseries on Earth Day 2016, and they’re tending the corals to kept them clean and thriving.
The concept behind coral nurseries is to collect live corals from healthy reefs and install these fragments on coral trees made of PVC pipe and anchored to the sea bottom. The coral sits higher in the water column and the trees sway with the currents – giving the corals the best opportunity to feed on sea nutrients.
“These coral fragments show accelerated growth in open water and we can use these thriving corals to “seed” our local reefs,” said Steve Broadbelt, co-owner of Ocean Frontiers, which is overseeing the largest coral nursery.
“The coral fragments are looking great! Much better than we thought,” said Jerry Beaty, an advisor to the board for Sea of Change (SOC) the nonprofit helping the operators with funding and guidance.
Beaty and other (SOC) members got their first glimpse of new coral growth in December when they returned to Grand Cayman to hold another coral restoration clinic for dive staffers maintaining the nurseries.
“We’ve generated, easily, 700 feet of linear coral that we didn’t have in April when we set up the coral trees, and a lot of it has to do with the clarity of Cayman’s water – the coral really likes it and is doing very well,” he said.
Coral reefs world-wide are suffering because of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and other stressors, so Cayman’s dive operators are committed to conservation and restoration.
“With what’s happening worldwide to our reefs, every piece of coral counts,” said a happy Lois Hatcher, who oversees Ocean Frontiers’ coral nursery. “90% of the fragments in our nursery are still attached and alive, even after the big storms that we’ve had.”
Hatcher has been involved in two successful coral restoration projects in Grand Cayman, including the Carnival Magic Reef Restoration Project that responded to damage done by a cruise ship anchor in George Town Harbour.
Ken Nedimyer, president of the Coral Restoration Foundation, and a consultant for Sea of Change, conducted classes about out-planting techniques, the next step in the restoration process. The clinic was held at Sunset House and classroom sessions were followed by a boat trip, courtesy of Red Sail Sports, to the Carnival Magic Reef Restoration site for hands on training.
“The Cayman operators have been great with the nurseries – Red Sail Sports provided a boat and crew to get our group out to the restoration site, everyone is involved,” said Beaty who gives them all high marks for the project. “I would like to see more information about the trees getting out to the local public because education is key in conservation.”
The dive operators are already using the coral nurseries to educate customers. At Ocean Frontiers divers can sign up for a coral nursery dive which includes a class room session on the coral restoration process followed by a dive at the nursery where they can help clean the trees.
“I give them a brief intro on the restoration program and explain why it’s important in light of everything threatening reefs today,” said Lois Hatcher, “We also go over coral etiquette – how not to disturb the coral fragments during the dive.”
Sunset House is also giving divers an opportunity to experience coral restoration up close. General Manager Keith Sahm: “We give them a full understanding of the program and then we take them out to the site where they help maintain the coral trees – we’ve got our 4th tree up now.”
Beaty and the Sea of Change team are impressed with the work done by Cayman’s dive operators – a 2016 grant helped establish the nurseries. The organization will visit in April to monitor progress and see what to expect in 2017.