Scientist escalates war of words on coral

| 24/11/2019 | 63 Comments
Greg Challenger, President of Polaris Applied Sciences, which is partnering Verdant Isle

(CNS): Greg Challenger, a marine ecologist and president of Polaris Applied Sciences, which is partnering with Verdant Isle Port Partners to attempt to relocate over a dozen acres of pristine coral in the cruise port dredging area, has attacked the credibility of Dr Carrie Manfrino, the president of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI).

Challenger, whose firm could earn $10 million trying to relocate and regenerate the reef elsewhere, said the world renowned oceanographer “lacks a basic understanding” of the work he did on damaged coral off Seven Mile Beach.

Responding to Manfrino’s presentation at the official launch of the Cruise Port Referendum group’s ‘no’ campaign, as reported on CNS, Challenger implied that the independent scientist was spreading misinformation.

He claimed that the work his company had done off the coast of Grand Cayman, which was largely paid for by the late Paul Allen after his luxury yacht, MV Tahoosh, caused the damage, had been a success. He said “all the corals that remained after the anchor and chain damage” were reattached, and he refuted the CCMI findings that it had failed because 80% of the site is dead. He said the survival rate was high for reattached corals in this instance, as it has been in all of their cases.

He also said that Manfrino incorrectly claimed the coral restoration work at Eden Rock to repair damage caused by the SAGA container ship was unsuccessful, claiming that the undamaged and partly damaged corals were attached successfully.

“The coral relocation project for the proposed port redevelopment is a very different project to these as this is carefully planned relocation rather than repairing significant damage. We plan to attach all corals successfully, as we always have, and expect strong survival of those corals,” the Polaris representative said about the proposed costly project.

And despite the obvious massive marine destruction that the cruise port project will cause, Challenger defended the piers and even claimed it was “an environmental project in our view”.

Repeating the recent talking points that government and Verdant Isle have been pressing home at public meetings, he said that reducing anchoring on corals with the piers “will start a recovery process for a much larger area than that proposed to be affected in George Town harbour”.

He added, “The anchor damaged areas can be restored as has been done in the past. There is a net benefit of ecological gains in the longer term even if relocation is only partly successful. We fully anticipate success as we have in every other similar project. The net environmental benefit of many acres of reef no longer damaged by anchors, coral relocation and the coral nursery could be substantially greater than no-action.”

However, given the massive amount of ancient pristine coral reef and wrecks that are in the direct line of fire, as well as the surrounding reefs and marine habitat that face indirect destruction from the construction period and later the cruise ship operations, his claims are unsubstantiated.

Challenger attempted to suggest that he was not conflicted, despite the role he will have in the lucrative but speculative project. He said he had never worked for a cruise company and had no affiliation with the industry.

“This is an environmental project. I’m not saying this because Polaris want to do the job — hire someone else and I still say this is an environmental project. Greatly reducing the anchor damage that has pulverized a much larger area of reef will have benefits in perpetuity,” he added.

Meanwhile, the public relations company for Verdant Isle has also denied that Dr David Vaughn, who, if the cruise project goes ahead, will be subcontracted by Polaris to attempt to regrow coral, is already setting up shop. Pictures on social media that appear to show the establishment of a coral growing lab were refuted by officials from Verdant Isle.

“Dr David Vaughan, or anyone associated with Verdant Isle Port Partners Ltd, has not undertaken the building of any laboratory, coral tanks or any infrastructure at all in Grand Cayman,” a spokesperson claimed.

“All Verdant Isle Port Partners, its suppliers and consultants fully respect the Cayman Islands referendum process and no work will be carried out until the people of the Cayman Islands have voted on the proposed port project and proper permits and licenses are in place,” the Verdant Isle spokesperson added.

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Category: development, Local News, Marine Environment, Science & Nature

Comments (63)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I can’t believe all the coral lovers forgot that Climate change is causing coral reefs to die all over the planet. So no one can guarantee success with the reefs anywhere in the world due to mostly temperature swings. So let’s be grateful that there is a group of professional people who can glue corals that can grow. Thank you

  2. JTB says:

    Well Mr Challenger, it looks like you’ll have the opportunity to test your case in court, thanks to the National Trust….

  3. Anonymous says:

    Meantime cancer has claimed another victim.
    It seems that many here die before their time of cancer. Yet nobody is paying attention.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I propose new campaign
    “This is my home, I live here” for marine life and residents.

    Imagine aliens land on planet Earth and choose your city, town or village as a perfect location for whatever. Then they forcibly relocate you to your new “home” of their choice. How’d you like that?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Yeah let’s take the word of a guy with a Masters from the Florida Institute of Technology who is getting paid for the coral to be ripped up and who runs a company whose primary experience is in pollution remediation against that of a non profit academic with a PhD from the University of Miami who specializes in this area. Sounds sensible.

  6. Bertie : B says:

    Dig up all the dead and glue them back together an see if they grow back . Corral takes centuries to grow , and one ill advised port to kill forever .

  7. Anonymous says:

    Anyone remember back when Dart named a group “FORCAYMAN investment alliance”?
    If you want to make fun of the Verdant name you have a really short memory.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Do you all know what they call cruise ship tourists in Lisbon, Portugal, which is invaded almost daily by cruise ships? They call them “human pollution.” It is ruining the city. When Grand Cayman gets invaded by 2.3+ million of these people every year, it will be ruined as well, not only for the stay-over tourists, but also for us residents. This referendum is decision that will affect generations to come. The jobs the government vows will be lost will be gained by al the new hotels. Vote no Cayman.

    • Anonymous says:

      Worse, the negative response defacto yes vote could actually mean fewer cruise tourists, since there aren’t ships or itineraries to bring those kind of numbers to hope to justify a port, and Unity Cabinet have committed the people of Cayman to subsidize the widening gap from our best arrivals year ever, 2018 with 1.9mln, to 2.5mln even while Eastern Caribbean Ports, offline for years, slowly resume active hosting service. That’s hundreds of millions in direct subsidy on a widening gap to be paid for by you and me. Money committed for 25+ years (if all goes according to plan) that can’t go elsewhere, even if we have our own emergency. Verdant Isle are not posting any bid bond or performance guarantee. This should be very unsettling for anyone voting, and a central counter-point, among so many others. The ships don’t exist and Verdant Isle (whoever the benefactors actually are), a brand new disposable shell company without any operating history, and haven’t been asked to post a dime of performance commitment. #VoteNo

      • Melvin McCall says:

        It would be interesting to know what kind of deal ($$$$$) our leaders made with Verdant and what Verdant really gets. Sounds like a shill outfit to me.

  9. Anonymous says:

    “Greatly reducing the anchor damage that has pulverized a much larger area of reef will have benefits in perpetuity”.

    No part of the original plan included restoration of the deeper reef anchor sites. It is hard to envision any could occur if anchoring will remain a necessity when there are more than 4 ships in port.

    Is this another diversionary tactic by CIG?

    • Anonymous says:

      The anchoring area was sacrificed to the cruise ships over two decades ago. If you’ve been out there you know it’s all FUBAR. Sadly, this comment is complete nonsense and it detracts from any of the other claims he’s making here. He just doesn’t seem to understand what he’s taking about.

    • Anonymous says:

      it IS in the plan. 6 anchor sites will be reduced to 2 anchor sites. A significant reduction.

      • Anonymous says:

        Sure. Reduce from 6 anchor sites in a completely destroyed area to 2, in exchange for which you tear up 12 acres of so far untouched coral and generate a sediment plume that will kill You den Rock and Devils Grotto. Sounds fair.

      • Anonymous says:

        1. So the plan is never to have more than 6 ships in port?

        2. The original plan has no mention of restoration of the anchor sites. The depth alone will make any such work significantly more complicated. What are the data for restoration at similar sites?

      • Anonymous says:

        Regardless of any reduction in anchoring sites there was no proposal to perform restoration on any of them.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Very much like what many expats want to do with the locals – “let’s move them somewhere out of the way… never mind that’s where they were born, they’re in the way of progress…”

    • Anon says:

      11.08am That’s a good idea, let’s start with the Civil Service, and move them all to the Brac which is used to government employees doing very little, yet supporting the island economy.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Question: Is the plan to actually try and rehabilitate (cement over, add limestone bounders, then transplant corals to those boulders) the part of the Port where the ships have smashed to ‘moonscape’ over dozens of years? Or are we to assume that it will somehow naturally grow back over the next 50 years?

    • Anonymous says:

      Consider that our hard corals need hundreds of years, of ideal location-specific conditioning, to expand a single inch. The house-sized structures took entire geological eras of ancient history to form beginning perhaps sometime in the Triassic period. They are not “fixed” by some guy being paid to glue it somewhere else, or strap a seedling coral to a bar of pvc. If nature wanted coral there, it would have taken hold millions of years ago in that spot. It is incredibly arrogant for anyone to claim that humans can somehow be paid now to completely offset or “fix” the time required to create and sustain new reef. Let’s also be reminded that we are also looking at massive losses extending from the cutter-suction dredge zone into the adjacent particulate suffocation zones, where presumably these $10mln coral relocations will go, and further down below upon the spectacular elephant sponge belts which exist off GT Harbour from 200-450 feet, that nobody is talking about. Those are like nowhere else on Earth. How much are those worth?

  12. Roger Davies says:

    Mr Challenger, if God forbid, this project goes ahead, and you “relocate a dozen acres of pristine coral, time will surely tell who is right, and I firmly believe your efforts along with the those of the current Government will prove to be an irreversible disaster for these islands.

  13. Anonymous says:

    If Verdant Isle is now being registered in the Cayman Islands as a new company..?? who is the Caymanian partner holding 60% of the partnership? ….as required by law!

    • Anonymous says:

      No, the Moxam family were the pioneers of making sure foreign companies could own businesses in Cayman so that law went out the window.

  14. Greg Challenger says:

    Greg Challenger here. It is unfortunate the Cayman Compass never spoke with me and put their spin on my comments, choosing instead to escalate “a war of words” that should not exist. I am happy to show people our work and speak with people in person as opposed to allowing the media to incorrectly speak for both sides. I have spoken with Dr. Manfrino and will continue that dialogue. Dr. Manfrino is a skilled scientist and her team at CCMI are very capable but they have not done the kind of work we do and it is understandable there are misgivings. The same is true for the public.

    Our team with Dr Harold Hudson, Sea Ventures and others have likely reconstructed more damaged reefs crushed by ships and anchors all over the world than anyone on the planet. we do this because of our lifelong love of. Oral reefs and desire to be marine scientists, not for money.

    “Do what you love and never work a day in your life”. Deepok Chopra.

    Reconstructed coral sites often have fewer corals because the ship that hit them crushed them, not because the work was unsuccessful. With more corals available, we can attain higher coral cover. It is hurtful to our team to have come to Grand Cayman twice in the recent past to help save your reefs from devastating ship damage, have been applauded as successful by other scientists, the DoE and the public, and now are badmouthed as scientists who only care about money. I am happy to speak with Dr Manfrino and concerned citizens, but perhaps not the Cayman Compass since it appears to be their desire to have a war of words in the media.

    You can find me on google as other readers have already done. Attached below is a link to a short segment of one small area we restored at Eden Rock after it was devastated by a cruise ship. The public loved us then. I am proud of our people which is why I must defend our company when misinformation is printed and our work is called unsuccessful. Our job on major disasters like Deepwater Horizon, Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas and all the way back to Exxon Valdez is to put together teams to accomplish impossible tasks. We are a small group, we don’t make all the money. We have never worked for a cruise line. We are usually welcomed with open arms to fix big problems, and we will always tell the truth.

    Best regards,


    CNS: Did you actually mean to refer to the Cayman Compass in the above comment or is that an error?

    • Greg Challenger says:

      I was in error referring to the Cayman Compass and not CNS. I apologize to CNS and the Cayman Compass.

      It is fine to oppose the project for whatever reasons people have. We understand. I can appreciate coral scientists with an opposing view as well. Everyone should have all the information available to make a decision that is right for them. Democracy is wonderful. There will be no hard feelings from us and we look forward to our next ship damage reconstruction where people will welcome our help. That came out wrong. We don’t look forward to ships hitting reefs, but sadly they still do. We fix them. It is very rewarding.


      • Anonymous says:

        Most school children know that hard corals grow very slowly, maybe as much as an inch every hundred years. The house-sized living hard corals and their many attendant symbiotic lifeforms, are therefore the product of hundreds of thousands of years of sustained enrichment with upwelled, current-specific nutrients, unique location-specific temperature, salinity, particulate, acoustic sweet spot, and surrounding life and feedstocks. These ancient hard corals host and provide hard cover for a countless number of symbiotic creatures, soft corals, sea fans, shelled creatures, in addition to free-swimming aquatic life, some of which may be able to escape. That backstory is part of the awesome beauty of these complex ecological creations. It’s why they are beautiful to us.

        Grand Cayman’s harbour is one of the most photogenic and accessible places on Earth to appreciate and view these biodiverse complexities. It is therefore an astonishing statement to suggest “we fix them” in an absolute wholesale sense, when the millennia-old creation, and attendant inhabitants, are completely smashed/pulverized and replaced in 10 minutes by a tiny single seedling coral, strapped to a tube of PVC.

        They aren’t even close to being physically and morally equivalent, and nothing is “fixed” or replaced of consequence, except perhaps, the improved cash position in your bank account. The $10mln contract you stand to win, paired with your callous hopeful comment towards further destruction, speaks to your credibility. Glad we can all read and have this clarity on the composition of the Verdant Isle Partnership.

        • Anonymous says:

          Why are you people so rude and disrespectful? Can’t we have differing views without all this hate? The man did show any callous hope for anyone’s destruction. His company is in the business of helping when there is a situation where coral is destroyed. He is part of the SOLUTION. Firemen and ambulance drivers get paid paid when there is a disaster but they are not sitting by hoping for one to happen. The point is these things happen and it’s good that we have professionals equipped to help when they do.

          • Anonymous says:

            He is a part of the solution? The corals are doing just fine and they will stay that way after we win the referendum. No “solution” needed.

          • Anonymous says:

            “you people” – that’s all I need to hear. Good afternoon.

          • Anonymous says:

            That argument falls away when he supports the destruction in the first place. You read the part where he says this is a net positive, right? It’s 10 million times net positive for him, for the coral and seaside living there, not so much.

          • kate says:

            Are you for real? You obviously have no understanding of the issues at hand, this man is the problem, not the solution. Speaking of being disrespectful, there is quite a bit of disrespect being shown at this time and it is coming from the elected members of parliament. From the speaker to every back bencher, have displayed and shown disrespect to the Cayman Public and to the Honourable House. If you are a Caymanian and haven’t recognised this fact, may I suggest, that you take time to reflect, (think seriously about) all the possibilities and your options. It is utterly amazing, when you can think, make intelligent decisions for yourself, ensuring the preservation of your country and in the long run, end up being a winner. Upon reflecting, exercise your democratic right and Vote 19. December 2019.

    • He gets paid whether he succeeds or fails. says:

      Dr. Challenger, if you are so certain that your methods will be successful, then you should only be paid if the coral is relocated successfully, and continues to thrive years after relocation.

    • Anonymous says:

      The thing is Mr Challenger we don’t have ‘a problem’ yet, – surely as a marine scientist you would attest to avoiding any such potential problem to begin with.

    • Jotnar says:

      One thing to repair damage already done. Then, yes, you are a hero. Providing the cover so a ruthless corporate can come in destroy the environment and claim, incredibly, that the existing environment will be improved, not even the damage mitigated, quite another. And the fact you are getting $10 million entirely incidental to your completely independent scientific opinion, right. You are a bit like the guy hired to plant seedlings after a logging company has clear felled first growth forest, except you want to be hailed for saving the environment whilst taking their blood money for destroying it in the first place By all means get paid handsomely for trying to mitigate their depredations, but don’t treat us like fools and tell us that it’s all for the best. You my friend are an enabler, not a hero. Hope your kids are proud of you.

  15. Anonymous says:

    In the end it is all about money.
    The rest is politics.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Why are they called Verdant Isle. They need to check the meaning of the word in a dictionary.

    • A. Lovinggood says:

      I totally agree with you Anonymous 5:05 am – a complete disrespect and disgrace to the entire family of the late Leila Ross Shire who wrote our national anthem. I have thought that all along since this name has appeared.

  17. V says:

    Coral is endangered. Leave it alone. Do you see what the Brazilian native tribes do to the government who try to destory their land? Yea, get ready for the revolution fellow Caymanians.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Money will corrupt just about anyone.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Well, for a start he is someone who has successfully relocated WAY more coral than Dr. Manfrino. Let’s start there shall we?

    • Anonymous says:

      Relocated? Or glued back where it was before someone broke it off? Two subtly different issues related to the question of how well corals survive being moved and ‘replanted’ somewhere else.

    • Concerned diver says:

      Wow. Successful!!! Really! You need to go and look at the “relocation” sites on island. They are NOT a success. Most of the coral is now dead.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Hmmm sounds like morally bankrupt scientists claiming that climate change doesn’t exist as a direct result of human influence …

    Sad times.

  21. Kurt Christian says:

    Vote No

  22. Anonymous says:

    WE all know the piers are an ecological disaster. Is Gran Cayman happy to accept that

  23. Anonymous says:

    So above are the comments of a scientist for sale chasing a big pay day. He has a masters, note not a professor. If you look up his bio, he seems to have done more work on oil spills rather than coral relocations.

    “Greg left Beak in 1998 to help form Polaris Applied Sciences, Inc. Greg is currently the President of Polaris and provides scientific support and project management for oil spill and ship grounding emergency response and Natural Resource Damage Assessment under the Oil Pollution Act. Recent project work includes principal investigator for the POSAVINA oil spill in Boston, MA, scientific support for the PENN 460 oil spill in Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island, assessment of a coral reef grounding in Palau, Micronesia, investigation of potential fishery effects in the NEW CARISSA oil spill in Oregon, assessment of coral damages resulting from a cruise ship grounding in Cancun, Mexico, and restoration of a salmon stream impacted by a gasoline pipeline explosion in Bellingham, Washington”

    So who is he to critic professor Carrie Manfrino? I know whose opinion I trust. Not a company chasing profit. Give us a break Polaris. We are not so stupid as you think.

    • Anonymous says:

      Polaris has worked with organisations like the United Nations and worked on the Deep Water Horizon restoration – but they are not qualified to work in Cayman? Come on people, stop and think for a second, it’s embarrassing.

    • Anonymous says:

      With a $10million pay check at stake I’d swear on a stack of bibles black was white if necessary.

      • Greg Challenger says:

        Scientist for sale? Dr Manfrino is a salaried worker just like me. Her salary is likely higher than mine. The first time we embellish the truth for money, our reputation is gone and we never work again. Who would hire us, industry or government? We work for the UN, World Bank and many others and this job is not worth losing our long history of integrity and success. It is not worth it for anyone and any amount of money. The last thing we want to do is damage our reputation. We will have many dozens of workers, boats, barges, and a lot more equipment. That money doesn’t come to me or our team personally, it pays for the project. Our salaries won’t change one nickel if the project happens or does not happen. If our guys do a great job they’ll get a Christmas bonus. That’s it.

        • Anonymous says:

          Then why are you claiming to able to do something when all the evidence suggests it won’t work? It’s almost like you’re planning to use this project as a massive, headline grabbing scientific experiment. Consider this – if, as a number of experts have predicted, the project fails the reputation of everyone involved will be well and truly busted but they’ll still have the money won’t they.

          The credibility issue you have is that to date nobody who got into bed with CIG on this project emerged with their reputation untarnished and you’re heading in the right direction to become the next victim.

          • Anonymous says:

            sigh, again, this organization has worked with organisations such as NOAA, the World Bank, the United Nations, the US Military and Governments around the world. they have proven results that you can go and see. do you think organisations such as these would hire people like this if they were a ‘headline grabbing experiment’.

            Please think carefully for more than a nanosecond.

        • Ellen Prager says:

          Hi Greg, I looked for data regarding your previous coral relocation or restoration projects and the long-term survival rates (not success on attachments) and could not find any. It would be very helpful in this discussion if there were scientific data to refer to. Hoping you can point people to some data like independent surveys done two, four, six years out etc. Short term often looks good, but long term results in most cases have not panned out unfortunately. Harold Hudson’s work has always been exemplary, but he is not in charge of this at Polaris, would he brought in separately and what role would he play? Thanks

          • Anonymous says:

            Thank you for your questions Dr. Prager. We are coming in as one team. Dr Hudson has been on our team on projects since 2007 in Hawaii, Mexico and Grand Cayman. He has a voice regarding the work plan and I have always listened to him. There are some reports of the long term survival of corals (5 years +) that we have attached with Sea Ventures and NOAA in Puerto Rico. You could ask Dr. Sean Griffin (NOAA) for copies. In general, after a year or two, the attached corals track the reference condition. Cases of immediate success followed by long term failure usually means a natural event damaged corals in the area and not just the reattached corals. As you can imagine, as much as we would like to publish our success, we are both very busy and it can be difficult to find a shipowner who wants the story of their ship crashing into a reef discussed in the literature. I thank Bill Precht for publishing our Tatoosh work and the good people at NOAA who undertake years of monitoring when we have no funding to do so.

          • Anonymous says:

            Well said Ms Prager. Facts supported by evidence is what we need and I haven’t been able to find any either. CCMI is a not for profit unlike your company. I would believe Prof. Manfrino any day over you. Sorry but evidence is everything and you appear to have none Greg. We don’t want your help or Dr Vaughan’s who claims he is a ‘Gift to Cayman ‘. Leave our reefs alone. Go back to your oil spills pretty please.

        • Put our money where your mouth is. says:

          If the cruise port project goes through, you and your team will be paid whether you succeed or fail, so we have every reason to question your credibility and integrity. Agree to only be paid if the coral is successfully relocated AND continues to live for years after. Put our money where your mouth is.

          Your success should be measured by whether the coral continues to thrive for years to come, and not by whether you succeed in relocating it. Any Caymanian can tell you that yes, you can relocate a tree. That doesn’t mean that its going to survive after you stick it back in the ground.

        • Anonymous says:

          How many Caymanian marine conservation students will be employed on a gap year experience with this project?

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