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Sunday, Apr 11, 2021

DoE to Hold Meeting on Stony Coral Disease

DoE to Hold Meeting on Stony Coral Disease

The Department of Environment (DoE) will be holding a meeting with local watersports and dive operators this coming Friday, 26th February, from 1-3 pm at the Government Administration Room 1038 to discuss Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) on coral reefs in the Cayman Islands.

SCTLD first emerged on Florida's coral reefs in 2014 and has since spread throughout most of the Caribbean region. Upon the discovery of the disease near Rum Point in June 2020, the DoE immediately began monitoring and mitigation efforts. To date, it has not yet been found in Cayman Brac or Little Cayman. Despite the DoE's best efforts, the SCTLD infection continues to spread across Grand Cayman's northern coral reef track between the public moorings 'Delia’s Delight’ (19° 21.537' N, -81° 14.718' W) and westward to ‘Conch Point Reef’ (19° 23.6238’ N, -81° 24.003’ W). The disease is primarily progressing west towards the Seven Mile Beach Marine Park (map attached).

The rapid progression of the disease over 8 miles can be due to many factors, including;

The prevailing westerly water currents carrying the water-borne disease;
Corallivores (animals that use coral as a natural food source) possibly transferring the disease to healthy corals after feeding on infected corals;
The direct contact of corals on the reef with each other;
The possible transfer of disease by humans conducting watersports activities in an infected area, then moving to another geographic location.

On the 16th October 2020, the DoE held an emergency SCTLD Advisory Meeting to inform the diving community of the history of SCTLD and DoE’s preliminary action plan in response to this lethal and fast spreading disease. It further recommended avoiding infected dive sites on the North of Grand Cayman and discussed the necessary protocol for decontaminating dive equipment. A link to this session can be found here: https://youtu.be/97ItvlR22T4 

On the 22nd January 2021, a further advisory was issued highlighting a 2 mile westward spread towards the DoE management ‘coral firebreak’, located immediately west of the Ghost Mountain dive site. At that time, SCTLD had not passed this boundary. However, further monitoring and observations confirmed that the disease had progressed and infected the shallower reefs inside the North Sound, such as the Rum Point, Stingray City, and Vidal (Barcus) Cay areas. Due to the high prevalence of SCTLD and the increased likelihood of transmitting this infection to other sites, all SCUBA divers, snorkelers, and associated companies who access the North Sound were recommended by the DoE to implement a decontamination protocol for all watersports gear immediately. Details of this advisory and how to decontaminate your gear can be found here: http://doe.ky/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/DoE-Advisory-SCTLD-Decontamination-Protocol-2021-1-22.pdf 

Preliminary results indicate that the DoE’s management interventions, including the coral firebreak, did slow the disease spread, which was progressing at over one (1) mile a month. Unfortunately, as of the 10th February 2021, the disease has now breached the coral firebreak. To inform stakeholders about the disease status and update the community on DoE’s response to the threat, including how you might help, we are inviting you to attend this important briefing.

Please email Tammi.Warrender@gov.ky with 1) your name and 2) the company you represent to register your space by 5 pm on Thursday 25th February.

Unfortunately, this meeting will not be available via Zoom, but a recording will be shared ASAP. Meeting details will be provided to all persons registered.

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