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Cayman Dive Operators and Volunteers Work Against Time to Restore Damaged Coral Reef

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Damaged Coral Reef in Grand Cayman

Coral Reef Devastated By Cruise Ship’s Anchor

In the waters off George Town, Grand Cayman, a group of approximately 50 volunteer divers led by local dive operators, and guided by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment (DOE), are working tirelessly to repair a coral reef severely damaged by a cruise ship anchor in mid-August. Working in teams with designated leaders, following project coordinators under the direction of the DOE, the divers are carefully removing the rubble, dead coral and sediment, crate by crate, knowing that time is critical.

Damaged Coral Reef in Grand Cayman

“Right now it’s basic triage, and any live corals are being put aside for reattachment once the rubble is removed,” says Ocean Frontiers’ Lois Hatcher, who is trained and experienced in coral restoration. “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.”

Damaged Coral Reef in Grand Cayman

Hatcher and Keith Sahm, Sunset House General Manager, are coordinating the structured project, guided by the Department of Environment. They are making sure the work is done carefully, methodically and safely. Both stepped up after they heard the news that the Carnival Magic accidentally dropped its anchor on the dive site. Frustrated by lack of immediate action, Sahm organized an emergency meeting on the 18th September at Sunset House and an overflow crowd of volunteers showed up motivated and ready to go to work knowing that time is critical and government manpower is short. Two days after the meeting, the volunteers made their first dive on the site, saw the extent of the damage and realized what they are up against.

“The chain damage is just terrible! The captain had let out 5 shots of chain – about 450 feet – with each link weighing between 50 – 100 pounds,” says Keith Sahm. “It’s a sickening feeling to know that thousands and thousands of years of coral growth has been demolished by an error in judgment, or mechanical problems.”

Damaged Coral Reef in Grand Cayman

“A lot of man-hours are needed to restore a reef – first with the triage, then the reattachment and maintenance,” says Lois Hatcher, adding that it could take up to 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.

The goal is to execute a coral restoration project similar to the one carried out in 1996 when the Maasdam cruise ship dropped its anchor on a shallow dive site in George Town damaging 7500 square feet of the reef. That restoration project, conducted by local divers, including Lois Hatcher and the Department of Environment, took about 9,000 hours of underwater work over three months. Officials say that coral bed could take more than sixty years to grow back. The Carnival Magic has damaged almost 12,000 square feet of reef located in deeper water, so the volunteer army has its work cut out for it.

Damaged Coral Reef in Grand Cayman“We are all just volunteers, so I applaud absolutely everyone’s effort here,” says Sahm. “Thank goodness we have folks like Peter Milburn and Lois Hatcher that worked on the 1996 project and are still here to help. And a special thanks to the Marine Conservation Board for easing guidelines and laws so we can do this restoration work – it’s unlawful for anyone to touch or pick up coral, dead or alive in the Cayman Islands. We wouldn’t be able to do this important work without the help of the Board and Department of Environment.”

The restoration work is difficult and exhausting, but everyone involved knows it will pay off in the years to come. While the dive site won’t be what it was originally, restoration can at least make the reef stable enough to sustain life again. The rubble also needs to be removed as soon as possible to prevent further damage when the next big storm kicks up.

Damaged Coral Reef in Grand Cayman

While an investigation into the Carnival Magic incident is conducted, the repair work at the site continues non-stop and to date, more than 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. The challenge for Sahm and Hatcher will be keeping up the enthusiasm and pace of the repair work during the months ahead.

Damaged Coral Reef in Grand CaymanAccording to the Coral Restoration Foundation (CRF), a nonprofit conservation organization, the key to a successful project is to engage the community, something that is now taking place on Grand Cayman. Sunset House, Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports, Divetech, Don Foster’s Dive and other local operators are providing boats and tanks for the dozens of volunteer divers. Southern Cross Club staff in Little Cayman will participate during an upcoming trip to Grand Cayman. Foster’s Food Fair, a local grocer, has donated the plastic milk crates being used to remove the rubble, while the local Subway has provided free sandwiches for the restoration crew. The hope, according to Sahm and Hatcher, is to encourage long-term involvement and partnerships that will keep the momentum going.

Damaged Coral Reef in Grand Cayman“This is something we really need to do as a community, try to repair the damage to this beautiful reef,” says Hatcher. “If nobody’s going to be held accountable for this, we have to be accountable for it.”

Team leaders and coordinators met with a Department of Environment officer on Monday for a project review, and according to the DOE, the results are encouraging because of the progress that has already been done.

The project has an on-going need for more volunteers. Anyone interested in helping is asked to visit the Facebook page Cayman Magic Reef Recovery where volunteer dives and updates are continually posted.

Marine Life & Conservation Blogs

Western Ecology Tour: Notes from the Field – Scotland

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Scubaverse blogger, Donovan Lewis, is currently on the Western Ecology Tour. The aim of the expedition is to travel to the northern reaches of Scotland, along the West Coast to the Llŷn Peninsula in North Wales, and finally onto Pembrokeshire, diving the best the west has to offer. The expedition is looking to live life in a minimalist way, camping and cooking out in the open air.

The teams aim is not just to dive sites, but to tackle conservation issues and shed light on projects up and down the UK, they have three projects which the trip will be focusing on. These projects include the Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland, Project Seagrass, and Neptune’s Army of Rubbish Cleaners (NARC). The team will be accompanied with a Biologist or expert that works on each of the 3 projects to aid and guide the team, but also help shed extra light on the critical conservation work being carried out.


Here are Donovan’s notes from the first leg of the trip:

The time has come for the Western Ecology Tour, I’m going to be giving you updates throughout the expedition. It’s been an amazing first two days up here in the Highlands of Scotland. The first day we dived Loch Duich, where we did 3 dives. We dived on local dive sites lead by members of Shark & Skate Citizen Science Scotland. Our first site,next to the Ratagan Youth Hostel, was a slope with a muddy bottom absolutely covered in life, including squat lobsters, brittlestars and anemones.

Our second dive was at a site unfortunately known as the Rubbish Dump, an area that was littered with trash such as bottles, plates, fishing line and quite literally bags of bones. The third dive was at School Bay, a bay with a school in it, this was a thick muddy bottomed dive site that was covered with sea pens, fireworks anemones, and scorpionfish.

The second day we dived in Loch Carron, where we dived Conservation Bay it was a light drift dive on a wall covered in dead man’s fingers and kelp. The second dive was in Castle Bay which started in a Bay with a castle at the top of a cliff, this was again another draft dive with walls covered in Dead Man’s Fingers that ended at the end of a slipway and a flat sandy seabed, which littered with flatfish, crabs, gobies and decorator crabs.

This is a quick blog on what we’ve seen, however at the end of our trip keep your eyes out for an Expedition Report about what we saw and experienced.


If you’d like any further information and to keep up to date with Expedition Western Ecology Tour check out the webpage https://andythenortherndiver.com/expedition-wet/

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Marine Life & Conservation

Ghost Fishing UK clean up at the Plastic Free Awards

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The ocean conservation charity Ghost Fishing UK has netted the ‘Best Plastic Campaign’ prize at the ‘Plastic free Awards 2021’ for their voluntary work cleaning up our oceans of lost fishing gear.

It is estimated that 640,000 tonnes of lost fishing gear or ‘ghost gear’ is lost into our oceans each year. Modern fishing gear is primarily made of plastics and not only continues catching and killing wildlife once it has been lost, but leaves a legacy issue of broken down plastic circulating in our oceans. These fragments known as microplastics can be ingested by animals and ultimately end up in our food chain.

The Plastic Free Awards returned for their second year to celebrate those making the biggest waves in the fight against plastic pollution. The awards are a unique opportunity to recognise the achievements of campaigners, innovators, small businesses and communities across the UK leading the charge on plastic.

Partnering with Iceland Foods Charitable Foundation, the awards are designed to bring together environmental champions and leaders of the plastic free movement. With 12 award categories covering all areas from Best Plastic Campaign to Youth Activist Award, anyone can be nominated; yourself, a friend, family member, school, community, or business – anyone you think is a plastic free hero. Shortlisted nominees are chosen by a panel of expert judges.

Volunteer divers from the charity Ghost Fishing UK are carefully selected to survey and recover lost fishing gear which is reported through their website. Both divers and fishermen are invited to report fishing gear losses so the team can recover them, stopping the cycle of death and pollution in its tracks.

The materials are then stored until they reach sufficient quantities to be recycled into various items, including plant pots.

Operations Officer and trustee for the charity Fred Nunn is based in Cornwall and said: “It’s so humbling to be recognised by the community when there are so, so many others all doing truly amazing things all towards a common goal.”

Scuba divers who make the grade are put through an intensive training course over three days to prepare them for dealing with ghost nets. The job underwater can be dangerous, often with poor visibility, hard physical work and the ever present risk of the divers becoming entangled in the nets themselves.

On the day of the awards ceremony, many of the divers missed the event as they were finishing up a project in Brighton to remove a huge net form the wreck of the Cairndhu, operating from Channel Diver. They were assisted by a trawling vessel who heard the team were in the area and offered to help, using his fishing boat to haul the net on board. The fishermen are hoping to be able to repair and re-use the net depending on how badly it has been damaged whilst entangled in the wreck. If not, the net will be sent for recycling.

Trustee Christine Grosart said: “Today was a fantastic day! It was brilliant to have a trawling vessel offer assistance to our mission to get the net off the Cairndhu but to go on and win this award in the evening was the cherry on the cake.

Many people think we do this for a living but we don’t – we all have day jobs, families and normal lives to work around. It takes special individuals to give up what free time and cash they have spare to this cause and that is why they are so deserving of this award.

I was watching the awards from the middle of the Danish north sea on board a sat diving vessel and they could hear me shrieking from the Bridge!”

Chair Dr Richard Walker was also out on Channel Diver, photographing the day’s mission as it unfolded. He was travelling home when the winners were announced: “To actually win this award means more to me than you can imagine. It means that I can publicly thank all of our dedicated volunteers, who scuba dive to recover lost fishing nets from the reefs and shipwrecks around the United Kingdom and the huge contribution that our divers make in keeping the projects happening.

I can praise our instructors who teach our divers how to be safe and effective on our projects and show my appreciation to our committee who look after our administration, who send our message to the public, who make links with the fishing community and other groups.”

 Ghost Fishing UK this weekend is rolling out a new reporting system dedicated to fishermen and fishing vessels to be able to report lost fishing gear anonymously. The charity is very keen to work with the fishing community in harmony to help solve the problem of ghost fishing by getting accidentally lost gear out of the sea as soon as possible.

To report lost fishing gear, please head to the charity’s website: www.ghostfishing.co.uk/report

If you are a fisherman and know of any lost fishing gear, please report it anonymously here:

Ghost Fishing UK – Fishing Community Reporting Form

Richard Walker said “I want to thank each and every one of the Ghost Fishing UK team, and all of our supporters. They are all a key part of the job to reduce our dependence on plastics and preventing it from getting into our beautiful oceans.

And finally, a big thank you to the Surfers Against Sewage and the Plastic Free Awards for this prestigious award.”

For more information about Ghost Fishing UK visit their website by clicking here.

Header image: Richard Walker

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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