The Department of Environment’s Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) Response Team is holding Cayman’s first ever Coral Fest on Wednesday, 10 August from 5:30 – 7:30pm in the Governor’s Ballroom A at the Westin Hotel. This free-to-attend event aims to help people better understand the Caribbean and Western Atlantic UKOTs coral ecosystems and is co-hosted along with the UK-based Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and other UK Overseas Territories and is funded by the UK’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund.
Coral Fest will explore coral biology, ecology, and threats, while also celebrating the important ecological services corals provide. The event will run alongside a three-day workshop of members from the UKOT working group on coral conservation, including the DoE. The group collaborates across the UKOTs in the Caribbean and Western Atlantic and with regional experts to share knowledge and expertise to support coral reefs. DoE are partnering with organisations across the Islands for the event, to offer a wide range of coral-themed booths, games and raffle prizes.
An important focus of the festival is the destructive threat of SCTLD, an aggressive coral disease that has spread entirely around Grand Cayman. SCTLD was first discovered in Florida in 2014 but made its way to many coral ecosystems throughout the northern Caribbean, including five of the six UKOTs in attendance.
In June of 2020, the first report of SCTLD on the North Side of Grand Cayman emerged and began the rapid march of the disease around the reefs of Grand Cayman. To address the issue, the Department of Environment formed a SCTLD Response Team made up of 10 individuals, and commissioned the East End SCTLD Community Response Team, including scientists, boat operators and experienced divers, with the sole purpose of monitoring and mitigating the impact of SCTLD in the Cayman Islands. Unfortunately, once SCTLD is found in an area, it spreads very quickly from coral to coral, infecting and killing many corals along its path, leaving a less diverse algae-covered reef in its wake.
Marine scientist and SCTLD Project Coordinator, Tammi Warrender, explained about antibiotic treatment: “We are treating dive and snorkel sites which have been identified as priority reefs in Grand Cayman, because they are high in coral cover and particularly important for tourism or recreation. The antibiotics cannot stop the progression of the disease as we cannot ‘pre-treat’ the corals. However, the ability to successfully treat the disease lesions when they appear is groundbreaking research and allows us to save individual corals with the hopes that they do not become repeatedly infected. At the same time, we are also collecting data to aid other researchers in developing new treatment methods and sending coral samples to specialists who are investigating the cause of SCTLD.”
Ms Warrender said they were doing everything in their power to give reefs their best chance of survival, in particular advising the public on their role. Since little is still known about the disease and how it spreads so quickly, advisories have been distributed across the islands with guidelines for disinfecting dive and snorkel gear, and boat bilge water, to slow the spread in Grand Cayman and to prevent transferring the disease to the Sister Islands which are currently SCTLD-free.
Ms Warrender said: “Obviously there is a chance of natural spread but we have strong indications from here and other countries that the disease might be spread by people as well. All it may take is for one item of contaminated dive gear or one boat with infected bilge water to be taken to the Sister Islands and suddenly our safest corals face the devastation of SCTLD.”
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