Take the plunge: how to make a difference when diving in the Cayman Islands

Beyond the palm-fringed beaches and tranquil seas of the Cayman Islands is a destination with conservation at its core. Discover how the islands work to remain a Caribbean paradise for generations to come.

By Cayman Islands Department of Tourism
Published 5 Feb 2020, 14:59 GMT, Updated 5 Nov 2020, 05:13 GMT
From Stingray City and Starfish Point to the 20ft Bloody Bay Wall, the Cayman Islands are ...
From Stingray City and Starfish Point to the 20ft Bloody Bay Wall, the Cayman Islands are considered one of the best diving spots in the world.
Photograph by Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

With 365 dive sites, crystal-clear waters and abundant marine life, the Cayman Islands are considered one of the best diving spots in the world. Visitors can experience the world’s best 12ft dive site at Stingray City, the beautiful Starfish Point and Bloody Bay Wall at Little Cayman, plunging thousands of feet into the depths and home to strawberry and orange vase sponges, sharks, barracudas and eagle rays. But the health of coral reefs is vital to the continued upkeep of this unique underwater attraction, and it’s under threat, with coral reef coverage declining due to climate change and human impact.

Carrie Manfrino, founder and president of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, and Kate Holden, director of advancement, explain how travellers can help with their mission to keep the reefs healthy.

Remind us of the problems facing coral reefs and the importance of protecting them.
Carrie: Corals are struggling to adapt to increasing temperatures. On top of that, we have El Niño weather events where heat accumulates in the ocean and the corals begin to turn white and bleach. Miraculously, they often recover, but when the temperature stays warm for a long period of time they perish. Corals are also affected by overdevelopment, pollution and the degradation of the natural environment, which is critical to preserving the ecosystems that, in turn, help to preserve our own environment.

What’s the Central Caribbean Marine Institute doing to improve coral reef health?
Carrie: The organisation was established in 1998, and in 2005 we opened the Little Cayman Research Centre on the north side of the island. Our sole focus is looking at how and why some corals survive, and others don’t. This includes trying to create corals that are more resilient to temperature and resistant to bleaching. We put the corals out in the wild to understand how they’re going to respond. Once we have a population of more resilient and resistant corals, we can do more replanting.

Thanks to conservation efforts, more than 31,000 yearlings have been released onto the islands’ white-sand beaches.
Photograph by Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

What can I do to help during my trip to the Cayman Islands?
Kate: We recently launched the Healthy Reefs Initiative, where citizen scientists will help us understand what’s going on in the reefs. From 28 June to 4 July and 4-10 July 2020, divers can join us as citizen scientists to help us save our coral reefs. The’ll explore the reefs with our scientists, help us to deploy our experiments, measure and monitor coral and fish communities, and take photographs to document the project. They’ll help us to understand and solve some of the mysteries about coral reefs.

What are the facilities like and what will I see?
Carrie: You’ll stay in our research station, which is a beautiful facility with offices, labs, dorms and private rooms as well as the first sustainable off-the-grid bath house in the Cayman Islands. We have a full scuba centre with a 14-person dive boat and our own scuba gear. The week is full board with Caribbean curries and lots of outdoor barbecues. Our facilities are on 1,400ft of beachfront next to the Bloody Bay Marine Park. You’ll see parrot fish, grouper, damselfish, stingrays, nurse sharks, reef sharks and even turtle nests.

How can I get involved if I’m not an experienced diver?
Kate: We offer membership as a way of donating and gaining more insight into what we do. We also have our Reefs Go Live initiative, a live streaming and teacher resource programme, which is aimed at breaking down barriers to understanding the ocean and encouraging students to be ocean-literate. You can also visit Little Cayman and take a tour of our research station, plus there are reef lectures and other activities. There are plenty of snorkelling opportunities on the islands, too.

As a traveller, what can I do to help protect marine health?
Carrie: If you’re a diver, really work on your buoyancy. Make sure nothing is dragging along and touching the reef. When you take photographs, be conscious of the fact that this is the most critically endangered ecosystem in the ocean. Choose green-accredited hotels and resorts that work hard to reduce their impact on the environment. Avoid single-use plastic, and finally, take your waste away with you, from empty shampoo bottles to used batteries. Cayman is a small island with a huge number of visitors, so this makes a huge difference because it’s tricky for us to get rid of that waste.

Vegans and vegetarians are well catered for in Cayman and can fill up on meat-free curries and truffle potatoes at Vivo, or jerk tofu at Bread & Chocolate.
Photograph by Cayman Islands Department of Tourism

Looking to help? Here are two more ways to give back on the Cayman Islands

Get involved with wildlife on the islands
Witnessing a turtle as it’s released into the wild is unforgettable, especially since these beautiful creatures are considered Cayman’s original inhabitants — and the reason why Christopher Columbus named the islands ‘Las Tortugas’. Now, thanks to conservation efforts, more than 31,000 yearlings have been released onto the islands’ white-sand beaches. Just as memorable is the blue iguana, a majestic lizard that’s Grand Cayman’s largest native land animal. They’re well protected, and through the National Trust’s volunteering programme, visitors can spend a few hours at the Blue Iguana Recovery Program, helping with feeding and food collection, pen cleaning and light maintenance.

Check out the local produce
From surf shacks serving conch fritters to Michelin-starred restaurants offering langoustine and Dover sole, the Cayman Islands has it all. Increasingly, restaurants are sourcing ingredients from independent producers, with an emphasis on farm- or boat-to-table eating. At The Brasserie on Grand Cayman, owners King and Lisa secure their own sustainable fish supply, provide organic eggs and recycle food waste in the chicken coop. The honey for their glazed pumpkin comes from the restaurant’s 50 bee hives, and coconuts come from their own plantation. Vegans and vegetarians are well catered for in Cayman and can fill up on meat-free curries and truffle potatoes at Vivo, or jerk tofu at Bread & Chocolate. Coincide a visit with the Cayman Cookout, the foodie event of the year held every January on Grand Cayman.

Essentials

British Airways flies to the Cayman Islands four times a week, or daily via Miami. Return prices start from £623 per person.

To find out more visit about how to get involved in protecting the Cayman Island’s reefs click here

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