More than a year since the carnival Magic dropped anchor outside the designated area, destroying a George Town reef, work continues to restore what’s left of the 16,000 sq ft damage site.
It wasn’t the first, or the last time a cruise ship destroyed one of Cayman’s dive sites.
Flash back to 1996… On January 12th, twenty years ago, the Maasdam cruise ship ran aground on Soto’s reef.
That time, the cruise line wasted no time coughing up cash to fund a restoration effort.
“To be honest with you, it’s the first time I’ve ever cried underwater. It was so bad,” said Peter Milburn, who in decades of diving has logged tens of thousands of dives. He remembers the emotional upwelling during his first look at the damage to Soto’s reef after the Maasdam cruise ship ran aground.
“Coral scattered all over the place,” said Mr. Milburn. “It was just scattered like somebody just picked them up and threw them all over the place. The damage was really tremendous and it was heartbreaking to see it.”
Mr. Milburn was tasked by the DOE to coordinate a reef restoration effort using funds provided by the cruise line. Within days, paid divers were in the water, doing multiple dives a day.
“We lifted up the big coral heads, took them out on the bottom with lift bags, re-positioned them, brought them back, put them back on top of the reef, we used some of the dead coral to wedge them in place, then we started working on replacing the actual coral with the glue,” said Mr. Milburn, referring to the ‘Liquid Rock 500’ epoxy used in the Maasdam project.
In just three months, some 140 divers teamed up to finish the restoration project. Mr. Milburn says it was tedious work, but it was a job he says had to be done.
“We knew the situation, we don’t repair that reef, it’s going to deteriorate, it’s going to get worse,” explained Mr. Milburn. “I mean things scattered all over the place, but you would not believe how tidy it was at the end when we finished with it.”
Twenty years later, he looks back on the Maasdam restoration with pride. He told Cayman 27 divers today are highly unlikely to notice any evidence of the Maasdam incident.
Mr. Milburn said the island’s dive professionals jumped at the chance to be a part of the project. He recalls some divers clearing $1500 dollars a week on the restoration.
He estimates 25 to 35 percent of the transplanted corals have survived.