Divers hit the beaches for Earth Day

| 29/04/2016
CNS Local Life

Caymanian student Eryka Ebanks collecting coral fragments for Ocean Frontiers’ new coral garden

(CNS): Dive industry leaders say it is a 365-day commitment to keep Cayman’s environment a major tourist attraction that draws visitors from around the world. However, hundreds of volunteers made a special effort on Earth Day, 16 April, to tidy up beaches, roads and reefs as part of the annual cleanup in recognition of that day. Red Sail Sports employees, accompanied by operations manager Rod McDowall, picked up trash in the Safehaven area where the company docks its catamarans and dive boats. After they collected bags of trash, the volunteers put in a full day of work at the beach or on the catamarans.

“Everybody had a laugh, especially at some of the items we found,” said Gary Chernowski, one of the company’s watersports managers. “We found all sorts of stuff from fast food wrappers, beer and soda cans/bottles to car parts and rusty old shopping trolleys.”

Hundreds of volunteers collected tonnes of trash across the island on Earth Day, which is recognised across the world as the day to focus on protecting the environment.

In honour of Earth Day celebrations, Divetech offered free tanks and weights for divers willing to help clean up near shore reefs. The company also offered a free dive trip to those willing to participate in a fish count at the Kittiwake wreck for on-going conservation studies. Red Sail Sports offered a free dive trip for volunteer divers who participated in a lionfish cull.

“The local dive industry operates regular lionfish culls every month to try and keep the lionfish population down; this is something we are committed to as a community because it affects the whole dive tourism industry of the Cayman Islands,” said McDowall. “We are all in this together and we fight together to protect our reefs.”

Ocean Frontiers celebrated Earth Day by announcing the installation of Grand Cayman’s biggest coral nursery in East End near the dive shop.

“We are thrilled because our coral nursery has been in the planning process for more than a year and to announce this during Earth Day celebrations makes the occasion even more memorable,” said co-owner Steve Broadbelt. “The goal of our coral nursery is to grow coral fragments of the endangered staghorn and elkhorn corals and then out-plant the corals to designated reefs that have shown signs of coral loss or damage.”

The Cayman Islands Department of Environment is working with Ocean Frontiers and other local operators in coral garden projects.  Divetech and Red Sail Sports also participate in educational programmes year round to teach island schoolchildren about conservation.

CNS Local Life

Red Sails Sports staff collected bags of trash from the Safehaven area during the annual Earth Day cleanup

The Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman is a long-time partner in a research programme to protect the endangered Nassau Grouper. All the dive operators heavily promote conservation in pre-dive briefings and encourage guests to be careful while observing reefs and the creatures that live there. Trash is also a problem; discarded bottles, cans, fishing line, weights and other garbage end up on fragile reefs, causing problems for the marine life.

“We’ve seen octopus and other sea life actually make their homes in discarded bottles and cans, and that’s something to keep in mind when we do reef cleanups,” said Keith Sahm, Sunset House general manager and co-founder of SaveCayman.org.

“Let’s let them find an appropriate natural habitat to hide and not in an empty beer bottles carelessly tossed overboard. Earth Day needs to be on everyone’s mind 365 days a year and you can help by simply picking up after yourself.”

With an eye to a sustainable future, Sahm attended Earth Day Texas, the world’s largest annual forum for sharing conservation initiatives, discoveries, research, innovations, policies, products and more. He said everyone can play a big role in creating awareness and action to protect the environment, and it is up to us to work together to build a more sustainable future.

Everyone agrees keeping Cayman’s natural environment clean and healthy is good for tourism. The cleanup was done just before one of Grand Cayman’s most popular summer dive attractions – the annual migration of millions of silversides that fill the island’s near-shore reefs during June, July and August.

Dive sites like Devil’s Grotto, Eden Rock and now Kittiwake become locations of Cayman’s famed “Silver Rush” – tarpon feasting on the swarms of tiny silver fish.

Going ‘back to nature’ for Earth Day is also a good reminder for everyone that turtle nesting season is approaching. Trash-free beaches enable turtles to find good nesting sites and increase the chances of hatchlings surviving.

Red Sail Sports volunteers also participated in the ‘Shake Your Tin For Nature’ campaign to help raise awareness and collect money for the National Trust for the Cayman Islands environmental and educational programmes.  They were among 300 volunteers placed in high-traffic areas with banners and signs to remind commuters of the importance of Earth Day.

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Category: Marine Environment

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