Grand Cayman Eco Divers has officially launched their non-profit foundation “Eco Divers Reef Foundation” established 28 November 2017 and is based in the Cayman Islands. Founders Brittany Balli and Aaron Hunt, are a husband and wife team, that are dedicated to their Coral Nursery Program aimed to restore fragile and damaged reefs in the Cayman Islands. A primary focus of their coral conservation efforts is maintaining local coral nurseries and coral out plant sites. Since the inception of coral nurseries in the Cayman Islands it has proven to be successful. Likewise, they are devoted to ensuring a positive future for Cayman’s reefs by educating the youth and the community of the Cayman Islands about the importance of coral reefs, ocean conservation and the proper techniques of working with coral nurseries. Their non-profit foundation was created as a separate organization from their dive company Grand Cayman Eco Divers to help generate funding for coral conservation efforts in the Cayman Islands.
Conserving Cayman’s Reefs
Over the last few decades, the Cayman Islands has seen a significant loss of coral from contributing factors such as: coral bleaching events, disease, major hurricanes and other natural stressors. Cayman went from having approximately 30—50% live coral coverage on our reefs back in the 1980’s to a drop to 10-30% coral reef coverage presently. Conservation efforts taken now will help ensure a positive future for Cayman’s reefs that will benefit locals, tourists, and our economy. In particular, the coral nurseries have proven to be a positive step forward in conservation efforts and valuable long term benefits such as providing a sustainable way to rejuvenate fragile reefs, and to assist in ensuring biodiversity upon the reefs. With 365 dive sites surrounding our beautiful islands, it is imperative that we are proactive with conservation efforts to preserve our reefs.
The process involved in planning where to situate coral nurseries and out planting sites plays an important facet to the success of the coral nursery program overall. To begin with they are located in Marine Protected Areas. Sites that are up for consideration for a coral nursery and/or out planting site must undergo a full environmental assessment and surveys to gather valuable data accordingly. Primarily, the surveys collect valuable data about the environmental factors of that particular area. In addition other factors considered are the long term success rate of the coral fragments growing in the nurseries and the survival rate once out planted onto the reef. The surveys also serve to assess environmental factors, risks, location conditions (are they ideal or not well suited), determining predators, water conditions, temperature and depths that are ideal. Monitoring the sites take place over a period of months to gain a full comprehensive analysis and better understanding of the areas considered for an out planting site and coral nurseries. Once complete, the in-depth assessment determines an area to be favorable new coral nurseries can be established if needed, and viable coral fragments can be out planted onto new sites accordingly.
Presently, the are seven new locations for out plant sites. The new sites include three on the South West corner of Grand Cayman and 4 on the North West corner. The new locations presented ideal access, favorable environmental conditions as well as safe conditions for the coral to ensure a positive outcome. Typically, the coral out plant sites are not attention grabbers. The out plant sites serve to act as a long term recovery area to help rejuvenate the reef. Over the span of 5-10 years the success coral out plant will aid in reinvigorating the reef allowing for a healthy ecosystem, helping with spawning and creating a large robust centre of propagation to ensure genetically diverse corals to secure biodiversity upon the reef. The coverage of coral fragments out planted onto the reef is 1- 1 1/2km separation up to 12km area in length of reef, heavily seeded with new coral.
Become A Coral Restoration Diver
Students and volunteers, both locally and internationally, are encouraged to join the movement of preserving and restoring Cayman’s reefs. In regard to international students seeking to enhance their education about marine conservation and coral restoration, Grand Cayman Eco Divers have an excellent study abroad program. Students will become PADI certified Coral Restoration Divers and learn valuable skills and practical experience working with the coral nurseries and out plant sites. To learn more about their in-depth study abroad program click here
It Takes A Community
It takes a community to make a significant change and positive impact. Eco Divers Reef Foundation regularly host volunteer meetings focused on the coral nursery program. Their meetings serve to recruit volunteers, providing a special presentation about the coral nurseries and their PADI certified Coral Reef Restoration Diver Program. Brittany Balli and Aaron Hunt are presently the only certified instructors qualified to teach this particular course on the island.
The program is designed specifically to teach divers the required skills and proper techniques involved with working with the coral nurseries, growing the Staghorn coral fragments on the PVC pipe coral nursery trees, maintaining the coral nurseries, handling the coral fragments and out planting onto designated sites. In addition, participants are given a comprehensive understanding of the value of coral reefs, the role coral reefs play in ecosystems, as well as what threats are inflicted upon coral reefs such as coral bleaching, climate change, ocean acidification, and disease. The training course consists of two classroom lectures and two practical dives. The course is open to keen volunteers from ages 12 and above, with dive experience including open water level dives and above. Moreover, participants are taught the importance of marine protected areas and why coral restoration projects are key to marine conservation.
Grand Cayman Ecoo Divers
Jim Catlin Photography
Grand Cayman Eco Divers