Reef preservation, not recovery, priority for Cayman

| 06/05/2015 | 2 Comments
Cayman News Service

Scientists study Cayman’s coral reefs

(CNS): With some 80% of the National Conservation Law now implemented, the Department of Environment has emphasized the importance of protecting local coral reef systems and not depending on restoration to save them in the future. When it comes to damage from ships’ anchors, the NCL will help the DoE to enforce the law but it is more important to prevent the damage in the first place than try to collect fines to cover the costs of recovery because rebuilding reefs is very difficult, DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie has said. 

With numerous other natural threats, from the invasive lionfish to coral bleaching incidents, preserving the reefs is much more important than the massive challenge of trying to repair them.

Speaking at a recent press briefing about the implementation of the NCL, Ebanks-Petrie said coral reefs are very complex systems that cannot easily be restored and the preference for the DoE is to conserve what we have, which, while under threat, is in much better shape than many other areas in the region that have been forced to turn to restoration.

However, restoration has its place and can make an important contribution, the director said, as she revealed a new policy which Cabinet has approved to create properly managed nurseries to cultivate some of the fast-growing coral that is consistent with the life history of the corals.

She explained Cayman was in a really good position to move towards coral restoration. The DoE boss said that in discussions with marine specialists, the fact that the country took the time to think about a policy and how it would manage coral restoration would help ensure a better outcome. In places where unregulated restoration has taken place, the projects have come into numerous problems. Some are having to be wound back in and management practices improved. Already, Ebanks-Petrie said, the British Virgin Islands are using the Cayman policy document to guide their future plans, noting that Cayman was once again leading the way on reef management.

“We are not going to discount the role that coral restoration has to play … but it is really important that people understand that it is not possible to fully restore coral reef that has been damaged,” she said. “It’s way too complex of an environment and we can’t regrow everything that has been lost.”

The director said the worrying thing about restoration is that on the surface people think if reef is damaged it can be restored. “Well that’s just not true. We can restore only very small components of what has been lost,” she warned,

As well as the impact of invasive species, coral bleaching, climate change and other natural problems, there have been a number of incidents recently which involved damage by luxury yacht anchors as well as the well-documented crushing of reef in George Town by a cruise ship  that was anchored outside the port zone. Although Carnival cruise lines has donated some funds, under the previous legislation the DoE could not impose fines on either the cruise line, the Cayman Islands Port Authority or the shipping agents which guided the ship because of the difficulties in proving the liability.

While the new law will make it easier to successfully fine or enforce the law, legislation can’t repair the damage and it is the emphasis on preservation to encourage the reefs to flourish naturally that will help Cayman maintain what is still one of the best preserved reef systems in the region.

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (2)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Please note that the date of the article and Sharkey’s response is listed as June 5, 2015 (6/5/2015) when it should be May 5, 2015 (5/5/2015). Have we moved through the month of May so fast? Mother’s Day celebrations took place two days ago.

  2. Sharkey says:

    I agree with Ebanks-Petrie with her suggestions for prevention . I think that we should also establish the new anchorage with new markers for where cruise ships can anchor, also fixed moorings that visiting yachts must use and be directed by the Port authority and custom to use . With all the new measures in place, up the fines, and the power to be able to hold a ship or a yacht until the fine is payed . I think that marine environment should also be taught in schools, because this is their under water world to be taken care off .

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