Published in LIME magazine, By Sarah Sekula
For clown fish and sea cucumbers, the Caribbean’s coral reef system serves as the ultimate maritime mecca. Home to tube-like sponges and waving sea fans, it’s no surprise that these celebrated sanctuaries are one of the most biologically diverse environments on the planet.
That is, until a hurricane sweeps by, the water temperatures rise or a boat drops anchor on one of the fragile figures.
Once that happens, it can take one coral head 250 years to grow only to the size of a living room couch, according to the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (www.reefresearch.org), located in Little Cayman. Or, sadly, the damaged coral might not regenerate at all or could become so scarce that it gets added to the world’s Endangered Species List.
Such is the case for both Staghorn and Elkhorn coral, once abundant in Cayman Island waters.
“Between 1999 and 2006, we have seen a 40 percent relative loss in corals,” says Carrie Manfrino, president and founder of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, who has studied the reefs for the past 14 years.
Like so many other experts in the field, Manfrino is concerned. The best advice, she says, is “to treat our reefs as sick children. All activities directly around the reefs should be minimal.”
In other words, the 1,000-year-old structures deserve our respect. Not only because they are a marvel of nature but because they provide a wealth of environmental, economic and health benefits. In fact, scientists say coral has the potential of leading to cancer-treatment drugs, according to Manfrino’s institute.
Without them, there would be no natural barrier to protect coastal homes from flooding, tourism would be hit hard and food sources would be depleted.
So the question is: What can we do to promote the resiliency of reefs? Fortunately, immediate action can likely make a positive impact on recovery and conservation efforts, says Manfrino.
Ultimately, all we are saying is: Give coral a chance.
For more information or to learn about the Coral Reef Conservancy, which focuses on preserving and rejuvenating the world’s coral reefs, visit www.reefresearch.org. For more about the Cayman Islands, visit www.caymanislands.ky.
Take Caution with Corals
- Hover above the reef and don’t touch the sea floor.
- Keep your gauges tucked in and be aware where your fin tips are.
- Don’t feed the fish.
- Report any coral reef damage to your dive operator or to the Department of Environment.
- Use only biodegradable cleaning agents.
- Maintain your engine for peak efficiency.
- Use moorings or anchor in sand where permitted.
- Never anchor on coral or in sea grass beds.
Source: Central Caribbean Marine Institute