Coral reefs are in decline, and Little Cayman’s Central Caribbean Marine Institute is changing its focus to help bring about a comeback.
CCMI President and Director of Research and Conservation Dr. Carrie Manfrino told Cayman 27 the institute is shifting its focus to find solutions to the decline of coral reefs. She said CCMI is intensifying its focus on coral reef restoration, looking at ways to build resilience in corals and support re-generating coral reefs.
That’s not to say CCMI’s days as a haven for research students in pursuit of advanced university degrees are over. In CCMI’s 20 year history, Dr. Manfrino said more than 20 masters and PhD’s have been granted as a result of research done at the facility.
She said CCMI’s next 20 years hold new promise.
“We are told we are the epicenter of Little Cayman, I like that idea,” said Dr. Manfrino.
In 20 years, Dr. Manfrino has seen the institute grow from a concept into a cornerstone of marine science in the region.
“We have managed to bring scientists in from all over the world to work on all kinds a very exciting work,” said Mr. Manfrino.
And now, as CCMI turns 20, Dr. Manfrino said the organisation is shifting focus to unlocking the solutions to coral reef decline.
“Most of our focus is going to be on research and on actions, where we can actually regenerate different species on the reefs,” said Dr. Manfrino.
She said that means looking at ways to refine coral nursery techniques and boost success rates for out-planted corals. One project in the works is using 3D imaging to better track growth of this Acripora palmata, AKA elkhorn coral.
“What we need to do is take those individual corals back out into the wild so that then eventually they will reproduce on their own,” said Dr. Manfrino.
She told Cayman 27 the renewed focus on the coral reef also extends to its inhabitants.
“It’s not just corals that are in trouble here, we’ve lost sea urchins, we are not really clear on our fish populations, we see some big declines,” she explained.
For CCMI’s milestone 20th year, Dr. Manfrino said the institute is launching an ambitious three-island population survey.
“We are going to look at the fish populations, the coral populations, what’s happening with the algae, we are going to create a story that will be a report for our community for them to understand what our reefs are going through and how they have changed over the last 20 years,” said Dr. Manfrino.
In CCMI’s two decades, it has grown from just three employees, to six back in 2013, to 15 today. That growth is helping the institute expand its presence in here Cayman.
Dr. Manfrino told Cayman 27 CCMI plans to open a Grand Cayman office in April, which she said will allow it to impact around 1,000 students, either through its Reefs Go Live programme or new programmes it is planning to roll out in Grand Cayman.