Ocean temperatures are rising for the season, and the Department of Environment is on the lookout for signs of coral bleaching.
The DOE has been actively monitoring Cayman’s coral reefs since 1997. Wednesday (19 September) a small team of DOE staffers, volunteers, and visiting scientist Tammi Warrender made tracks to some spectacular dive sites on the north wall to see how Cayman’s corals are doing.
While our water temperatures have yet to reach that critical threshold that triggers bleaching, it’s inching closer and closer. The prediction from NOAA’s Coral Reef watch calls for a 60% probability of bleaching over the next four months in the Caribbean, and the Cayman Islands are already under a bleaching watch.
“The temperatures are starting to get a little bit hot around Cayman, like 29°c, so we just went out to see if we can detect any preliminary changes in the coral health at this time,” said Ms. Warrender.
She noted several unhealthy corals, including one colony about 90 feet deep on the Andes wall dive site.
“There are some pale corals, some partly bleached corals but none of the pure white bleached corals that you would normally see when temperatures get too hot,” said Ms. Warrender.
Ms. Warrender said temperatures are likely to increase through late September and into October, when coral bleaching first appeared last year.
“This is just the very beginning and we are expecting it to get a little bit worse, but whether the coral bleaches or not, it just depends on how warm the temperature is and for how long,” said Ms. Warrender.
Ms. Warrender told Cayman 27 Cayman’s Coral Watch programme is calling on assistance from citizen scientists to gather coral bleaching data for the DOE.
“When we have a map of the dive sites that are being reported to DOE, we can then pinpoint areas that haven’t been surveyed, so it is basically trying to cover as much of the island as possible,” said Ms. Warrender.
Ms. Warrender said you don’t need an underwater clipboard and pencil set to help out.
She said if a Coral Watch volunteer sees a bleached or unhealthy coral, they can snap a pic of it and include their dive watch in the shot so they can record the depth and temperature to enter later in their spreadsheet.