CAYMAN’S CORAL NURSERIES
Grand Cayman is very lucky to be home to coral nurseries. A coral nursery is a PVC “Tree” used to grow corals. Small specimens of coral are collected off a healthy “donor coral” under Department of Environment (DOE) supervision. After collection, the samples are hung on the PVC “Tree” to grow. During their time in the nursery they are maintained by regular cleaning, and having any algae or predators removed. The nurseries are also monitored for disease and are measured frequently to track growth. After 9 months to 1 year, when the samples reach the desired size they are removed from the PVC trees and are attached to the reef under DOE supervision using an Epoxy mix.
The initial ideas behind coral nurseries were to help create and grow new reefs, and to help coral reefs recover from physical damage such as boat anchors, and climate change induced coral bleaching. Coral nurseries are an important component to marine conservation, as they provide a collection of species that can be added to the reef to help regenerate areas that are stressed or damaged. Additionally they provide an opportunity for education through their installation and maintenance. Coral nurseries can be found around Grand Cayman from East End to West Bay at four local dive facilities: Ocean Frontiers, Cayman Eco Divers, Sunset House, and DiveTech.
(Coral fragments are being carefully hung by the Cayman Eco Diver's team)
Ocean Frontiers in East End was the first dive operator to have a coral nursery. Ocean Frontiers’ coral nursery is the biggest on island, and has plans to expand. “We are thrilled to announce the installation of Grand Cayman's biggest coral nursery, located in the East End of the Island near Ocean Frontiers dive shop" says Steve Broadbelt of Ocean Frontiers. Ocean Frontiers currently has 10 coral trees with both Staghorn and Elkhorn fragments. The scope of the entire project is to eventually expand to 60 trees.
Cayman Eco Divers has three trees set up at Waldos Reef, which are accessible from the Riviera Resort in George Town. Cayman Eco Divers is nursing Staghorn Coral growing at a depth of 30 feet. Cayman Eco Divers was founded with the ideals of giving back to the community and to help protect and nurture Caman’s precious reefs. Therefore having a coral nursery was a logical next step. “Cayman Eco Divers offers an on site training program to guests, giving them a chance to take part in the Coral Nursery experience. Guests are also encouraged to join us as we plant corals around Grand Cayman” said Aaron Hunt of Cayman Eco Divers. Ken Nedimyer from the Coral Restoration Foundation oversaw the creation of Cayman Eco Divers nursery.
(Ken Nedimyer gives an overview to Cayman Eco Divers.)
(Aaron Hunt of Cayman Eco Divers uses a kayak to transport the PVC Trees the the nursery)
(Harvested coral waiting to be placed on the coral nursery by the Cayman Eco Divers)
Traveling across the island east to west the next coral nursery can be found at Sunset Divers, located at Sunset House. Sunset Divers has four trees suspended in 15-22 feet of water. “The nursery is located to the north of Sunset House Reef. Three of the four trees are active and one is a quarantine tree. Our nursery is growing Staghorn Corals which are all 100% healthy” says General Manager Keith Sahm. Mr. Sahm continued, “Sunset Divers chose Staghorn corals because they are fast growing. Our nursery contains a variety of species and genotypes to reduce the risk of mortality from bleaching events and predation, and to maintian genetic diversity.” Sunset Divers are very excited about their coral trees for the educational and conservation benefits they provide. They are equally excited to watch their corals grow and mount them on living reefs when they are of size.
Lastly there is Divetech, which is located in West Bay. DiveTech started their coral nursery with three trees and have been approved for up to 10 trees. Their coral trees are suspended in 30 feet of water off the Lighthouse Point Dive Resort over a depth of 70 feet of water; allowing the trees to be pulled down to deeper depths for protection from winter winds. Two of their trees are active, and one is a quarantine tree. “The coral trees have been doing great. We have been maintaining them weekly by cleaning off any algae or predators. We are really looking forward to watching all of them grow and getting to train divers on how to maintain the nurseries.” says Joanna Mikutowicz, owner of DiveTech.
(DiveTech’s Coral Trees in West Bay)
Stacie Sybersma, Project Manager at The Cayman Islands Tourism Association [CITA] says “The Cayman Islands Tourism Association is very grateful that four of our Watersports members are taking on this project personally, by creating their own Coral Nurseries. The nurseries are a huge asset to Cayman’s reef health as they provide a stock of healthy corals that can be transplanted to a damaged or stressed reef.” It is this sort of forward thinking that is helping Cayman maintain its position as a top diving destination. The local dive community is investing in the health and prosperity of the reefs personally, which is safeguarding their health and beauty.