Healthy Reefs

In 2023, CCMI will mark 25 years of operations in the Cayman Islands. One of our most important efforts in this time has been our long-term coral monitoring project, which has taken place annually since 1998 on Little Cayman reefs. Through this regular effort, scientists have been able to observe the health and status of these reefs over time, identifying trends in reef health and noticing that Little Cayman reefs demonstrate their resiliency and ability to bounce back to a healthy state after a period of stress.

This work has shown us there is hope for coral reefs for the future, and it has highlighted the urgent need for our ongoing research to understand this resiliency to disease, warming temperatures, changes in the ecosystem composition, and other outside factors that continue to put pressure on local reefs, jeopardizing their long-term survival.

CCMI’s 2023 ‘Healthy Reefs for the Future’  emphasizes the need for swift action that ensures coral reefs can survive beyond the challenges of today. 

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

  • continuing annual AGRRA survey of coral reefs to add to our 24-years of knowledge of the status of Little Cayman’s reefs – one of the longest running efforts of its kind in the region!
  • increased coral reef monitoring in response to disease and changes in ocean activity
  • producing our fourth 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 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


Long Term Records to Strengthen Our Understanding of Coral Resilience

Coral reefs are the largest mass of construction workers on the face of the earth. They are natural architects in the shallow sea but only remain productive when juvenile corals are able to survive after recruitment onto the reef. At every dive location on the reef around Little Cayman, we see evidence of recruitment. This is a good sign for the future.

Using the AGRRA, Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment protocol and collecting additional recruitment data, this project investigates the potential for juvenile corals to survive and replenish the local reefs. Results from this work will help generate an understanding of the mechanisms that are driving reef resilience.

AGRRA data on the benthic habitat and fish populations surrounding Little Cayman has been collected regularly since 1999. As CCMI researchers continue to collect this data annually, notes, reports, and peer reviewed journal articles are available online to scientists, policy-makers, and the general public. 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.


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)

Annual Reef Report Card for Little Cayman’s Reefs

CCMI launched the Reef Report Card following the 2019 AGRRA surveys to share the status of Little Cayman’s coral reefs, important observations, and long-terms trends from the aggregation of data of our annual surveys in an easy to use, concise tool.

Key Results from the latest Little Cayman Reef Report Card (released 2023):

  • Of the reefs surveyed, 11% were in “very good” health in 2022, 78% were “good”, and 11% were “fair”.
  • At the bottom end of the health spectrum, we had no surveyed reefs listed as in “poor” health.
  • Composition of the coral community on the reef has shifted over time, from reefs dominated by massive boulder corals, such as Orbicella spp., to smaller, weedy corals such as Agaricia spp. and Porites spp.
  • The size of corals surveyed has decreased by 86% overall, which may indicate that the reefs are less structurally robust and capable of providing some of the important services we depend upon them for, such as storm protection and complex habitats for a variety of marine life.
  • New coral recruits, or baby corals, have declined. Within that, researchers also see that of the species of recruits recorded, there are almost no Orbicella spp recruits and no Montastrea spp recruits after 2017, both of which are important boulder corals.
  • Fish abundance (density), biomass and species richness have all increased overall, particularly following the enhanced protection of Nassau groupers in 2016, indicating a rebounding fish population and positive ripple effects on overall reef health as a result of the protection of this key species.
  • Fish biomass has been higher inside of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) compared to outside throughout the 24 years of surveys.
  • Grouper density has rebounded following protections enacted in 2016.
  • Shifts in species contributions, colony size and recruitment indicate that while coral cover remains high, coral populations are vulnerable.
  • Local protections and low human impact have undoubtedly shielded Little Cayman from the extremity of global pressures that are heavily impacting reefs around the globe; however, changes are still occurring that put the reefs increasingly at risk.

View the reports by release year below.

2023- Little Cayman Reef Report Card

2022- Little Cayman Reef Report Card

2021- Little Cayman 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.

2020- Coral Reef Resilience Over Two Decades at Little Cayman Island | 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.

2019- 20 Year Report on the Status and Trends of the Coral Reefs in the Cayman Islands 1999 – 2018


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!

Watch this space for information about our 2024 Reef Lecture Series.

Grand Cayman Reef Lecture Series – 2023

Reef Lecture: Impacts of isolation and protection: exploring long-term trends in coral community structure on Little Cayman Island 

Dr. Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, Director of Research, CCMI

Date: Monday, 5th June 2023
Time: 6:00pm- 7:00pm Cayman time
Location: Ambassadors of the Environment, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

About the Reef Lecture:

Coral reefs are under continued pressure from the impacts of natural and anthropogenic stressors, leading to large-scale global shifts in coral reef ecosystems. The Caribbean has undergone extensive loss of both corals and fishes over the last 50 years, primarily from recurrent outbreaks of disease, the loss of key herbivores, overfishing, and climate induced coral bleaching. CCMI researchers have been monitoring reef community structure on an annual basis since 1999 on Little Cayman Island, tracking coral cover, diversity, colony size, and species composition as well as the density, biomass, and diversity of fish assemblages. Join us to learn what our long-running monitoring efforts tell us about the health and resiliency of these coral reefs.

World Ocean Day Reefs Go Live:

25 Years of Coral Reef Research at CCMI 

Date: Thursday, 8th June
Time: 10:00 am – 10:45 am Cayman time (UTC -5h)
Location: Camana Bay Cinema (Virtual registration available!)

Join CCMI for this virtual dive with our Little Cayman team as we look at CCMI’s 25 years of research on Cayman’s coral reefs! CCMI has been conducting innovative research and education in the Cayman Islands for 25 years!  We’ll share everyday examples and insights from our scientific findings and conservation work over the last 25 years with our Grand Cayman ‘dive buddies’ at the Cinema. CCMI’s educators and researchers will help everyone leave the event with specific actions we can all take to ensure future generations will be able to enjoy these magnificent corals reefs, too.

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.


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