Healthy Reefs

In 2020, the world came to a halt, and very quickly the positive impact of global lockdown due to reduced carbon emissions and limited use of natural resources became evident. Most importantly, we collectively saw the natural world emerge from the shadows as a lockdown created space for them. Unfortunately, this respite from human impact was short lived, and the effects are quickly being swallowed up as travel and consumerism ramp back up to pre-Covid-19 levels.

Now that almost two years have passed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, CCMI has been able to evaluate the impact a reduction in ocean activity has had on local coral reefs. We knew the pause in local ocean activity would provide a brief respite for nature, allowing it to recover from the constant presence of human activity, at least that activity below the surface.

However, climate change and coral disease did not take a break, and coastal development continued, continuing to place significant pressures on local reefs and their long-term survival. The pressures to the health of local coral reefs never truly went away; they simply shifted during this time and re-energised stakeholders to stand up for coral reefs and take action.

At CCMI, we are invested in finding the secrets to coral resiliency that will allow our reefs to survive – in spite of the pressures put on them. Through our long-term coral monitoring efforts, we see the reefs in Little Cayman are resilient and can bounce back to a healthy state after a period of stress.

CCMI’s 2022 ‘Healthy Reefs for the Future’  emphasizes the need for swift action that ensures coral reefs can survive beyond the challenges of today. 

Our important research through the Healthy Reefs campaign is evidence that Little Cayman’s coral reefs show positive traits of resiliency, with continued high coral and fish abundances. However, shifts in species contributions and colony size indicate that while coral cover remains high, Little Cayman is not immune to human impacts and global climate change. As we move into 2022, we will expand monitoring efforts as local ocean activity increases and in response to the presence of coral diseases. Our message for the year that the efforts we put in and actions we take today can ensure our reefs are healthy in the future.

We have many exciting plans in place for the Healthy Reefs campaign including:

  • continuing annual AGRRA survey of coral reefs to add to our 23-years of knowledge of the status of Little Cayman’s reefs
  • increased coral reef monitoring in response to disease
  • increased monitoring in response to changes in local ocean activity
  • producing our third annual Reef Report Card for an update on the Little Cayman reefs
  • sharing latest research and findings from the Little Cayman Research Centre with the public through the 4th annual Grand Cayman Reef Lecture Series, Reefs Go Live programmes, educational materials, and fun events that get everyone involved!


Coral reefs are often referred to as ‘rainforests of the sea’ because of their tremendous diversity of species, vibrant colours and tremendous levels of productivity and interconnectedness. Unfortunately, due to changing environmental conditions and increased human activity near tropical coastlines, once vibrant reefs that teemed with dozens of species of fish are in decline. This is a worldwide occurrence where more than 70% of all coral reefs are under threat, and it is time to help our reefs stabilize and return to a healthy state.

But what does that look like? If a reef was healthy, you would expect to see:

  • high percentage of coral cover
  • low levels of macroalgae
  • high diversity of reef fishes and invertebrates
  • high density of reef fishes and invertebrates
  • clear waters (low levels of sedimentation)
  • no coral disease or bleaching
  • 3D reef structures that provide crevices for reef inhabitants to hide



When CCMI first started in 1998, we undertook a three island survey, where scientists conducted a baseline study using the Atlantic & Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) protocol on the status of Cayman’s coral reefs. We measured and counted fishes, algae and corals to species level, as well as recorded coral health and mortality. Twenty years later, researchers again headed underwater to assess the same sites using the same methods, comparing the results from the two surveys.

Looking back over this time period CCMI is pleased to report that while there is evidence of decline in Cayman’s coral reefs (particularly in Grand Cayman), some of the metrics indicate stability in reef health. For the Sister Islands, coral cover, coral size, fish density and fish size for the most part indicate no significant changes since 1999. Given the concerns regarding increasing sea temperatures and increasing human pressure, it is a relief to see that reef health has not declined significantly between 1999 and 2018. Similarly, the decline in coral disease, particularly on Grand Cayman, is one very positive result of the surveys; corals appear healthier despite the various disease epidemics that have affected the region recently.

View CCMI’s Reef Report Card for Little Cayman Reefs.

Please see the full Cayman Islands 20-Year Reef Survey Report here.


In the Cayman Islands, coral reefs are not only beautiful, but they provide a lot of value and support for our islands.

  • Coral reefs cover less than 1% of the ocean but are home to more than 25% of all marine species. This biodiversity is truly vital to healthy ocean ecosystems.
  • The marine environment generates $69 million USD from tourism every year in the Cayman Islands (Wolfs Company 2017)
  • The reef is responsible for $5 million USD protection to infrastructure in the Cayman Islands from storms and wave erosion each year (Wolfs Company 2017)

Healthy Reef Report and Little Cayman Reef Report Card

Whilst Little Cayman reefs are not immune to the impacts of local and global change, they have remained stable over time and appear to be more resilient than other Caribbean coral reef systems.

CCMI has put together an updated Healthy Reef Report based on more than 20 years of annual monitoring to share the critical findings and data analysis of the AGRRA surveys.

In addition, we’ve launched the Reef Report Card, which gives the status of Little Cayman’s coral reefs in an easy to use, concise tool.

2020 Healthy Reef Report Card

The 2020 AGRRA surveys reveal that Little Cayman’s coral reefs show positive traits of resiliency, with continued high coral and fish abundances. However, shifts in species contributions and colony size indicate that while coral cover remains high, Little Cayman is not immune to human impacts and global climate change.

2019 Healthy Reef Report Card

In summary, there has been a gradual decline in coral cover over the last 20 years, going from roughly 24% to 20% average coral cover. However, this change is not statistically significant. The slow rate of decline indicates that the reefs of Little Cayman are more resilient than reefs in other parts of the Caribbean where declines were rapid and have not rebounded.


No matter where you are in the world, you can help support and take action for healthy coral reefs!


  • Leave shells and pieces of coral on the beach and in the water. They’re homes for our precious wildlife and also provide important structure on the beach to help prevent erosion.
  • Use physical barriers (such as hats, rashguards, buffs) and “reef-friendly” sunscreen- sunscreen that doesn’t contain oxybenzone or octinoxate
  • Pick up and properly dispose of marine debris you may find – both on the beach and in the water
  • Avoid contact with reefs and marine life while enjoying time underwater diving or snorkelling


  • Return CayBrew bottles to the brewery, rather than throwing them away or recycling- they will be reused, which cuts down on carbon emissions and reduces waste in the landfill
  • Volunteer with a local organisation to help with beach clean ups or other activities to help the envrionment
  • Support small businesses and shop locally
  • Consider buying an electric car or used car on island
  • Buy locally grown produce at a farmer’s market


  • Reduce dairy and meat consumption
  • Choose sustainable seafood (for some help, you can refer to the National Trust’s Cayman Sea Sense guide)
  • Reduce disposable plastic consumption; recycle/dispose properly of what you must use
  • Purchase items with no packaging or glass or reusable containers (including laundry soap, toothpaste, shampoo etc.)


  • Turn off lights and fans when you leave a room
  • Unplug appliances and devices at night
  • Take shorter showers and turn off the water when brushing your teeth
  • Reduce the amount of fertilizer you use on your lawn and cleaning products used in your home
  • Keep your vehicle well maintained to ensure maximum fuel efficiency
  • Reduce energy usage in your home/office by adjusting the temperature by 1 degree Celsius
  • Invest in renewable energy


  • Evaluate and minimise your significant travel such as flights and cruise travel
  • Contact your local politicians and encourage them to support environmentally friendly plans & legislation
  • Offset your carbon emissions with a programme that uses accredited verified carbon units (VCUs)


  • Support CCMI as we undertake the Healthy Reef campaign!


In 2018, CCMI started something. We got people involved in learning about and taking action for coral reefs during the third International Year of the Reef! Based on the high level of interest in events and experiences offered by CCMI, we are motivated to continue outreach opportunities across the Cayman Islands. We hope you will join us in promoting Healthy Reefs!

Reef Lecture: Contributions of thermoregulation to immune protection in fish

Dr. Daniel Barreda, Professor – Immunology and Animal Health, Department of Biological Sciences and Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Canada

Date: Tuesday, 24th May 2022
Time: 5:45pm- 7pm
Location: National Gallery of the Cayman Islands; Dart Auditorium

We request advanced registration as seating is limited. The event is FREE thanks to the support of our Healthy Reefs sponsors.

The interactions between host and microbes over millions of years of evolution have shaped how animals respond to infection. Despite continued updates to these defense strategies there are remarkable similarities across animal species. This talk will focus on recent developments in fish research, which give us additional insights into the importance of the aquatic environment and how we manage our own health.

About the speaker: 

Dr. Barreda earned a B.Sc. in Microbiology/Biochemistry from the University of Victoria and a Ph.D. in Physiology and Cell Biology from the University of Alberta, Canada. It is here where he became interested in comparative model systems and fish health. He went on to a PDF in Medical Immunology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 2003 and was recruited back to the University of Alberta in 2006 as the first cross-appointment between the Faculty of Science and the Faculty of Agricultural, Life and Environmental Sciences. He was promoted to the rank of Professor in 2016.

Dr. Barreda is well recognized for his contributions to the development of high-resolution quantitative tools for evaluation of cell function, animal immunity and health. Projects are often cross-disciplinary and take advantage of academic-industry-government linkages to address relevant issues at the interface of animal performance and health; fish and aquaculture health remain a core interest of the Barreda lab. Since 2006 Dr. Barreda has secured over $10M in research grants (21 grants as a principal investigator), published over 70 peer-reviewed articles, and mentored 67 trainees in fundamental and applied projects. In addition to research and innovation awards, Dr. Barreda has received a number of teaching awards including an Inspirational Instructor Award and the University of Alberta Provost Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

Reef Lecture: CCMI Reef Report Card Update

Matt Doherty, Research Technician, CCMI

Date: Thursday, 9 June
Time: 6:00pm- 7:00pm
Location: Southern Cross Club, Little Cayman (virtual registration available!)

We request advance registration as seating is limited. The event is FREE thanks to the support of our Healthy Reefs sponsors.

Participate in this Reef Lecture with CCMI’s Research Technician, Matt Doherty, as we continue our World Ocean Day celebrations with the release of our 2021 Reef Report Card!

CCMI has been monitoring the reefs in the Cayman Islands for more than 23 years during our annual summer Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Results Assessment (AGRRA) monitoring efforts. In this session, Matt will provide the first look at the results from last year’s surveys of Little Cayman’s reefs, sharing the current health status and long term trends we are seeing through the data analysis.

About the speaker: 

Matt Doherty is originally from England, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in marine science from Swansea University and his master’s degree in environmental management from Nottingham Trent University. Matt’s most recent post was in the Seychelles, where he managed the restoration programme for the Marine Conservation Society. Prior to that, he worked at the Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute in Sint Eustatius where he completed his master’s research and assisted with various research projects. Matt also has extensive experience with photogrammetry, having worked remotely for the University Haifa to create 3D models of coral reefs using machine learning technology as well as a strong background with statistical analyses and programming.

At the Little Cayman Research Centre, Matt’s focus is primarily on CCMI’s long-term coral monitoring projects, including the Healthy Reefs campaign, as well as monitoring involved with restoration and laboratory work for the National Science Foundation project.

Healthy Reefs Virtual Art Gallery

For the third year, Ms. McDougall’s art class at the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre (CIFEC) were tasked with designing a poster in support of CCMI’s Healthy Reefs awareness campaign.

We invite you to visit our Healthy Reefs Virtual Art Gallery and enjoy the beauty of the art and the talent of these students.

Notecards and posters of select designs are available for purchase. Contact us to buy yours!


Tremendous thanks for those who are partnering with the Healthy Reef campaign: