Cayman reefs in fair health, say experts

| 16/10/2019 | 18 Comments
Cayman News Service
Researchers survey the reef (Photo courtesy CCMI)

(CNS): Researchers at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute in Little Cayman said the results of work conducted throughout last year on local reefs has revealed that the coral cover has declined since the last survey 20 years ago from 21% to 17%, leaving them in fair rather than good health. Marking its 20th anniversary, CCMI repeated the reef survey of 1998, which produced the latest snapshot of the reefs in the area and documented the changes that have occurred.

The experts looked at the same 25 sites around the Cayman Islands that were examined two decades ago and found that coral cover had reduced across all three islands. Little Cayman has 22% cover, but that is down from 28% during the first survey. Cayman Brac reefs remain the least healthy with a decline from 15% to 13% coral cover.

However, fish density has not changed and the average length of fish across the three islands has increased, except for parrot fish on Cayman Brac, which have decreased, which means that the reefs are still healthier here than many other places around the world.

The report reveals that in 1998 well over half (56%) of Cayman’s reefs had good coral cover; now only 29% are considered to have good cover. But despite this decline, 63% of our reefs are still rated as ‘fair’ when it comes to cover, making Cayman’s reefs some of the healthiest in the region. In comparison, in Jamaica coral cover is down to just 8%.

CCMI said that with so much bad news about reefs, it is critical to reduce the threats to the reefs in the Cayman Islands. With an increase in macroalgae and human pressures, and as other natural problems such as bleaching become more frequent, the reefs will be come less resilient.

“Given the concerns regarding increasing sea temperatures, reducing human pressure is the most urgent action that our community can undertake to protect the reefs,” authors of the report state. While herbivorous fish density and size have not decreased in the last 20 years, algae is increasing to levels that the fish are unable to manage, the CCMI warns.

“It is imperative to address this further by active and targeted reef management of algae and herbivorous fish, and by increasing awareness of the great value coral reefs provide,” the experts added. They said that if the newly proposed marine park expansion plans are implemented, that would be a great help.

But although Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour announced during Prince Charles’ visited to the Cayman Islands in March, more than six months ago, that the government was moving ahead with the added protections, nothing has happened to make that a reality.

“All stakeholders must come together, including the government and reef managers, researchers, corporations and the public who reside in the Cayman Islands, to prevent further decline in reef health and invest heavily in restoration efforts to improve the condition of the reefs of the Cayman Islands,” CCMI said.

But despite the need to protect what we have left, government is still planning to embark on the cruise berthing project, which will both directly and indirectly destroy dozens of acres of ancient pristine coral reef in the George Town Harbour.

The CCMI recently raised its concerns about that project and its impact on the reefs and on Seven Mile Beach, given the role coral reefs play in the creation of sand. But despite the knowledge and expertise of the independent CCMI marine scientists, government has dismissed their concerns in favour of the findings of paid consultants.

See full report here

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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (18)

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  1. Kate Holden says:

    Posting on behalf of CCMI.

    Dear Readers
    CCMI conducted this work over a 20 year period and the aim was to analyse trends of coral reef health across all three islands, from 25 different sites. The same sites were surveyed in 2018 as 1999. For clarification, the sites surveyed on Grand Cayman did not include George Town Harbour.

    The report results, already summarised as part of our Healthy Reefs Reef Lectures in January, March and July of 2019, indicate the trajectory for coral reefs, if they are not protected. We discuss the results in detail in the report…

    Key messages from the report can be found here:

    The full report can be found here:

    For information on the status of George Town Harbour, the 2015 EIA by Baird goes into great detail.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Of course the CCMI will be ‘saying this’ right in the middle of a campaign. Wonder if any other experts have an alternative view of the situation? A port area is not a dive site. We have many other dive sites.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Its that Cruise berthing facility in town making the coral decline!

  4. Anonymous says:

    What about effect of The Dump’s leachate on coral health? Has anyone tested chemical composition of sea water around corals?

    • Anonymous says:

      Not just the dump’s leachate, the sewage system only serves 25% of the island. The land and subsurface runoff from septic tanks, soak always most likely contribute as much as the dump to toxic nutrient levels in our coastal waters.

      Now whose legal responsibility is it to check for pollutants in groundwater, and are they actually monitoring this? Absolutely not, since if they did they might find something alarming, and it’s then WORK to have to mitigate the problem.
      I guess as with other waste problems in Cayman it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Let’s do the Math on this one. In 1998 56% of the reefs had good coral cover. Now that is down to 29%. This equates to almost a 50% drop. At that rate what are things going to be like in 2038?

    I started coming to the Cayman Islands in 1992 and dived all three islands regularly for the next 20 years. During that period I witnessed a steady decline in the quality of diving, which seemed to be related to the increasing levels of development on land. This, coupled with the increasing costs, encouraged me to cut my visits down from 2-3 a year to one every two years, then in 2012 I made a final visit and haven’t (although I still follow your news) been back.

    Despite all the hype about diving in the Cayman Islands there are, as I’ve found out, other places in this region that are not just better, they’re cheaper and they’re quieter.

    And it’s not just the reefs that are declining. When I was diving Grand Cayman in the 1990s, the dive boats were full and there were a lot of them. I can remember cruising up and down North Sound waiting for a mooring to become free and up to four boats on the Oro Verde making night dives. When I was last over the weather was fantastic, with clear, calm sea but the dive boats were noticeable only by their absence, we were the only boat diving the Kittiwake. Are you killing off the activity that launched the Cayman Islands as a tourist destination?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Well, it has now been said by experts that the reefs, even in Little Cayman, is declining. Finally, let the cat out the bag. But some of you younger people may not have known that Balboa and Cali’s shipwreck were blown up with explosives in the harbor. They became popular dive sites. So they recovered and became beautiful. But coral reefs all over the world are declining except for some who signed a petition. We knew for years that the climate is increasing in temperature. We also know as human beings that when it’s hot outside, we look for shade, so do fish. Well, think for a minute, the port is going to help large populations of fish to find the largest shaded area in George Town. Water passing through is going to make the temperature colder.

  7. Kurt Christian says:

    Vote No

  8. Anonymous says:

    Experts: Caymans reefs in fair health.

    Unity Government: Hold my beer!

  9. Sunrise says:

    Welcome to earth, you alien!!

  10. Elvis says:

    For a Caribbean island that’s a disgrace then ?

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m guessing the Balboa was not part of their survey as this has been part of a completely wrecked for decades area due to being right in the middle of the port.

    • Courtney Platt says:

      Anonymous 6:37pm offers an entirely false argument. Anchoring occurs on the deep side of the Balboa in the sand and I have only seen one accidental spot of damage on the boiler room in 36 years of diving it. The Balboa remains visibly untouched by anchors other than that singular incident and is absolutely alive with 88 years of growth! That 32 people have given a thumbs up to this falsification prior to my reply reveals an issue of general ignorance of the state of our harbor’s reefs, fomented by proponents of the CBF. Please see CCMI’s report comparing the harbor’s reefs to the rest of the island. These are the healthiest reef sites we have and are significant additions to our tourism carrying capacity. Hundreds of visitors see these sites every day. The $23- $26M/yr that these reefs provide to our economy has yet to be properly included in the economic assessment of the CBF proposal and will significantly change the bottom line once properly accounted for. It’ not entirely your fault that you don’t know… our Premier stated right on the floor of the LA that our Government will not be revealing one single negative aspect of this proposed project and are leaving that completely up to CPR. You’ll have to look to CPR if you want to get woke.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Obviously building a massive dock for cruise shippers who don’t litter our shores and bring great wealth to these islands at no cost to you is more important than our pristine harbour, coral reserves and seven mile beach.


    Your Government

    PS we are not getting our pockets lined to push this project through. We promise.


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