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DOE takes swift action to save rare coral from disease outbreak

The Department of Environment is moving swiftly to take action in an attempt to save a rare species of coral from a disease, transplanting pieces of healthy coral to different locations along the reef.

Breaking off pieces of these majestic and endangered pillar coral colonies and cementing them to other parts of the reef may sound like a drastic step, but the DOE told Cayman 27 fragmentation is actually one way this type of coral reproduces.

After receiving initial reports of coral disease at the ‘Killer Pillar’ dive site early this month, the DOE wasted no time in employing strategies to preserve these rare and beautiful corals.

Friday morning, Cayman 27 hit the water with Cayman Eco Divers who are assisting the DOE in its efforts.

“The reality is, we have this one site with seven, eight individual stands, three large stands of the pillar coral left in the entire west side of Grand Cayman,” said Cayman Eco Divers’ Aaron Hunt

He said in a short period of time, disease has ravaged the namesake pillar corals at the killer pillar dive site.

The DOE relocated healthy sections of this diseased pillar coral to a nearby site it believes is less susceptible to disease

His wife Brittany Balli, also of Cayman Eco Divers, discovered signs of disease on a recent dive with visiting scientists from Nova Southeastern University.

“It was really heartbreaking to see that,” said Ms. Balli.

She reported what she had seen to DOE.

“They really put a plan together pretty much right away and that is what we are doing now,” she said. “I think within a weeks time, we put a plan together, DOE was already in action, Eco Divers were also in action, and it still ongoing but it’s a very positive thing to see.”

On Friday’s dive, Ms. Balli took tissue samples of both diseased and healthy portions of the pillar coral, as well as soil samples of nearby sand, to be forwarded to scientists at the University of Georgia for further research.

“They are over at the [Cayman Turtle Centre] right now, conducting a series of evaluations, so we may be able to get that done before they leave on Monday,” said Mr. Hunt.

This week, the DOE removed healthy pieces of these diseased pillar coral stands, transplanting them to a nearby section of reef it believes is not susceptible to disease. The DOE also placed epoxy over the area where the band of disease meets healthy polyps.

“It’s just a really positive thing to see the Cayman community come together and trying to save the pillar coral,” said Ms. Balli.

Ms. Balli and Mr. Hunt both told Cayman 27 while the outbreak is troubling – especially in light of the wave of coral disease currently sweeping Florida – Cayman has several factors running in its favor.

“The deep water that’s nearby, the favorable weather, the marine park system that’s in place and the support of the Department of Environment and local groups goes a long way to making something like this happen,” said Mr. Hunt.

The DOE told Cayman 27 it’s hopeful its actions this week will ensure the survival of both the coral colonies and the transplanted corals.

The DOE plans to monitor the situation at killer pillar, and if its techniques are successful, it said will likely ramp up its efforts to save these pillar corals.

About the author

Joe Avary

Joe Avary

Joe Avary has been with Cayman 27 since 2014. He brings 20 years in television experience to the job, working hard every day to bring the people of Cayman stories that inform the public and make a difference in the community. Joe hopes his love for the Cayman Islands shines through in his informative and entertaining weather reports. If you have a story idea for Joe or just want to say hello, call him at 324-2141 or send an email to josephavary@hurleysmedia.ky

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