Healthy Reefs

CCMI works to protect healthy coral reefs and vibrant oceans for the future. We believe we can save coral reefs for the future, if we act now. Our Healthy Reefs efforts in 2019 and beyond seeks to build engagement throughout the local community – without whose support, the future for corals is uncertain.

With more than 70% of the world’s coral reefs under threat, the now is the time to take action for our reefs. Much of our work is dependent on understanding the health of the reefs. We have lots of exciting plans in place for the Healthy Reefs campaign including:

  • survey and monitoring of coral reefs
  • development and implementation of a coral reef ‘health check’ programme
  • sharing latest research and findings from the Little Cayman Research Centre with the public through the Reef Lecture Series, Reefs Go Live programmes, educational posters, and fun events that get everyone involved!

Join our Healthy Reefs effort! No matter where you are in the world, you can play a part in protecting coral reefs for future generations.


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. 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.)
  • Sign up for the Healthy Reefs Challenge to stay engaged with suggestions for changes you can make


  • 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: Two decades of resilience on the reefs of Little Cayman

with Dr. Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, PhD; Director of Research, CCMI

Date: Wednesday, 22 July 2020
Time: 12 noon Cayman time (UTC -5)
Location: online (registration link will be posted soon)
Cost: FREE; registration is required and donations are appreciated

Since 1999, researchers at CCMI have been monitoring the health of the coral reefs around Little Cayman Island by surveying various aspects of the community on an annual basis. Long-term monitoring studies such as this enable assessment of the resilience of the reef to changing conditions over time and also give a better understanding of the true impact of global climate change. Following the standardized protocol of the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA), these surveys document patterns of local  change over the last two decades and enable regional comparisons through the Healthy Reef Framework developed for evaluating the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef.

During this lunchtime lecture, CCMI’s Director of Research, Dr Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, will share findings about the change over time for coral cover, coral composition, algae, and fish density and biomass from CCMI’s 20 year data set of annual reef monitoring activity. She will take participants through the findings contained in the recently released technical report, discussing the results and what they tell us about the stability of the coral and fish populations on Little Cayman.

About the speaker

Dr. Goodbody-Gringley received her PhD from Harvard University in 2009, where her dissertation focused on coral reproductive ecology and genetic connectivity across the Caribbean. She completed her undergraduate degree in Biology at the University of Georgia and participated in the Three Seas Program through Northeastern University before continuing on to graduate school. After completing her PhD, she worked as a postdoctoral researcher at MOTE Marine Laboratory, where she developed on coral restoration techniques and examined the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill. She then spent a year in Italy at the University of Bologna studying genetic connectivity of corals within the Mediterranean, before taking a faculty position at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. In Bermuda, Dr. Goodbody-Gringley’s research focused on ecosystem function, the adaptation of corals to extreme environments, and the management of invasive lionfish. To conduct her research, she uses technical rebreather diving to access deep reef systems and determine their capacity to serve as areas of refuge under future climate change scenarios. As the Director of Research and Distinguished Scientist at CCMI, Dr. Goodbody-Gringley leads the Reef Ecology and Evolution Laboratory, where she continues to explore deep reef ecosystems and examine the resilience of coral reefs through adaptation and acclimatization.


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