Mission Blue: CCMI Preserves Cayman’s Coral Reefs for Future Generations

Nestled on the tranquil and unhurried island of Little Cayman is the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI), a research centre that has been dedicated to studying coral and underwater wildlife for almost 20 years. Founded in 1998, the non-profit organisation is housed within the Little Cayman Research Centre (LCRC), a cheerful yellow beach lodge that is steps away from its classroom, the ocean. The facility offers fully equipped laboratories and oceanographic instruments to its resident and visiting scientists and research assistants, as well as lectures and educational events to the general public.

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Of the three Cayman Islands, Little Cayman is by far the most popular among scuba divers. It’s the ideal location for CCMI to study, with its exceptionally healthy reefs, fish populations and coral formations. Only a half-mile to the west of LCRC, divers plunge beneath the deep blue waters surrounding the famous Bloody Bay Wall. Ranked by divers across the world as a top dive site, they venture into an ecosphere teeming with sharks, green sea turtles, fish large and small, and coral reef of varying shapes and colours.

Among its research programmes, CCMI studies the health of coral reef in the Cayman Islands and how factors such as climate change and ocean temperatures may lead to a decline in the health of the ecosystem as evident in coral bleaching. The research gathered and knowledge gained is shared with the Cayman Islands Department of Environment and other government bodies, private entities, divers and dive operators, tourism partners and the local community, along with suggestions to reduce major human threats and promote realistic solutions.

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Several culling events have been held in Grand Cayman Cayman to reduce the impact of lion fish on the marine environment [photo: thescubanews.com]
In addition, CCMI heavily studies the invasive lion fish, which first made an appearance in the waters of Little Cayman in early 2008, and shortly thereafter in its sister islands, Cayman Brac and Grand Cayman. While beautiful and exotic, the lion fish is predatory in nature and reproduces at an extremely high rate. To mitigate the population spiraling out of control, CCMI initiated a study along with the University of Florida to determine whether culling would effectively reduce the number of lion fish in and around the waters of the Cayman Islands. With successful results following their research, the scientists began to implement a culling initiative that was quickly put into practice by several dive operators across all three Cayman Islands. Today, many local restaurants feature lion fish as a specialty dish on their menu, such as lion fish tacos and lion fish ceviche.

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Dr Carrie Manfrino, founder and director of research and conservation (left), with CCMI researchers

In addition to its research programmes, the CCMI’s ocean literacy programme is geared towards ensuring local children are “ocean literate” by the age of 12. Several educational events and courses are offered for children, including a marine ecology camp, young environmental leadership course and a fun-filled eco-weekend free of charge for students who attend a local government-operated high school. Courses provide students with the opportunity to get in the water and get up close and personal with fish and coral to identify species. Students also clean up the beach and generally learn more about our impact on the underwater environment. Additionally, several colleges and universities offer a study abroad programme in partnership with CCMI, enabling students to study the evolution of the coral reef environment in Little Cayman.

For more information about the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, its research programmes and educational courses, call 345-948-1094 or visit reefresearch.org.

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Published: Skies Magazine, March 2016

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