The Cayman Islands is thrust into the international spotlight once again, as the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft denies responsibility for destroying a coral reef with his 300-foot mega-yacht.
The story has been picked up by news outlets all across the globe, but it was broken here first by Cayman 27’s Joe Avary, who went underwater to get a first look at the nearly 14,000 sq/ft of damage.
A massive coral head, almost the size of a small car, lies askew and out of place on what’s left of a coral reef on Cayman’s west side. The damage, concentrated in the vicinity of the Doc Poulson wreck and the Kinife dive site, is extensive.
The DOE told Cayman 27 this large swath of damage, almost the size of three basketball courts, was likely caused by the anchor chain of Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen’s mega-yacht Tatoosh.
“There were several areas I saw where there were coral that must have weighed in the area of several hundred pounds that had been picked up and rotated and rolled off on top of everything,” said Cayman Eco Divers’ Aaron Hunt.
Paul Allen’s company, Vulcan Inc, has been quick to point out in statements to media they were explicitly directed to anchor in the West Bay replenishment zone by the Port Authority.
“Of course they tell you where to park, but it’s at your discretion to figure out how to park,” he explained.
Mr. Hunt isn’t buying Vulcan Inc.’s excuse. He’s been captaining dive boats in Cayman waters for years, and told Cayman 27 once a vessel is anchored, it’s up to the captain to ensure its anchor or chain isn’t damaging anything below.
“My boat in particular is used by the IYT international yacht training programme here on island to help train new captains. One of the very important things that we always emphasize is that you have to make sure of what you’re dropping your anchor on and what’s around it,” said Mr. Hunt.
He said holding a vessel and its owner accountable, in this case a billionaire philanthropist who has donated millions in the name of ocean conservation efforts, is not about naming and shaming.
“This isn’t about pointing fingers, this isn’t trying to make somebody feel bad or look bad, this is about trying to make sure that situations like this stop happening,” he said. “But more importantly to fix the damage that’s done.”
He said reef damage incidents involving mega-yachts and cruise ships have become far too common these days. He hopes this time the country receives compensation for the destruction of a precious natural resource.
Under the National Conservation Law, damaging coral in Cayman’s waters is an offence, no matter where it occurs.
Penalties could include a fine, jail time, and the confiscation of the vessel.
Cayman 27 reached out to the DOE for the latest on the investigation, but were they are no longer able to comment on the Tatoosh incident. The DOE instead referred us to the Ministry of Environment’s press team.