The grounding of a cargo ship has permanently scarred one of the island’s best-loved and most photogenic dive sites, Eden Rock.
Portions of the popular swim-through cavern system have caved-in, leaving at least one tunnel impassable. Divers and snorkelers are struggling with the notion that Eden Rock will never be the same.
“Unfortunately, we’ve lost a great site, the Caymans have lost a very great site to the damage,” lamented Eden Rock Dive Centre Senior Instructor Andy Barnes.
The iconic Eden Rock was one of Cayman’s most spectacular dive sites, at least until its unfortunate run-in with a 328-foot cargo ship.
“Imagine taking a belt grinder, a giant belt grinder straight down onto the reef until it was perfectly polished flat,” described avid freediver Tom Quigley.
“There are pieces of reef that are the size of cars broken down, closing up entrances to caverns and caves,” added Mr. Barnes.
Friday morning, the 2900 tonne Saga container ship was on its way to its next port of call when it ran aground south of the harbour, damaging at least five sections of coral reef.
“From that mooring ball, there’s damage for the next 150 meters,” said Mr. Quigley, gesturing off shore towards the field of damage.
The DOE told Cayman 27 it took two tugboats to extricate the vessel from the reef system.
Monday, DOE and Port Authority boats were on the water, installing new marker buoys to replace the ones that Paradise Snorkel and Scuba manager Chris Bodden said have been missing for months.
“The force of that cargo ship hitting this reef has structurally destabilized some parts,” said Mr. Quigley.
The impact caused some of Eden Rock’s legendary swim-throughs to fill with rubble and debris. At least one tunnel was completely blocked with debris.
Mr. Barnes said the country has lost a national treasure.
“No matter how much money you throw at it, repairing a reef like this, it will never be the same again,” he said.
Cayman 27 contacted Environment Minister Wayne Panton, who called the Saga grounding and the damage inflicted at the treasured dive site ‘an absolute shame.’ The minister said there was no excuse for such a navigational accident, and added the marker buoys had nothing to do with it.
Monday afternoon, the DOE issued the following statement online regarding the marker buoys:
“The only buoys in the Eden Rock area are vertical red buoys with a white strip, which resemble a dive marker flag, and they were installed for public safety to ensure that snorkelers do not enter boat traffic lanes (not to depict marine protected areas, which is the DoE’s remit). The DoE is not responsible for maintaining these swim marker buoys. They are not Marine Park marker buoys or navigational buoys; there have never been Marine Park buoys in this location as the Marine Park boundary extends from North West Point to Sand Cay. This is the first incident involving a cargo ship making a navigational error in this location since the cargo dock was constructed. The DoE is working with Port Authority and Maritime Authority to assess the steps that can be taken to prevent such incidents occurring again.”