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 will be quickly swallowed up as travel and consumerism ramp back up to pre-Covid-19 levels.

We need action now to protect coral reefs for the future.

We believe NOW is the time to focus on change, as we have all shown that we can make huge changes to our lives when required to do so.

CCMI’s 2021 ‘Healthy Reefs NOW’ campaign helps support our advocacy for coral reefs within the local and international community as well as supports the long-term monitoring of our reefs, which provides the scientific evidence on which we base our advocacy.

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. This year, we will continue efforts to analyze and report on the trends and status of our reefs within the Cayman Islands. Our emphasis will be on protecting reefs NOW in 2021. We have many exciting plans in place for the Healthy Reefs campaign including:

  • continuing survey and monitoring of coral reefs to add to our 21-years of knowledge of the status of Little Cayman’s reefs
  • producing a second 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 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. Please contact us at if you would like to support our Healthy Reefs NOW campaign as a sponsor.


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.)
  • 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: World Ocean Day

CCMI Research Update

Date: Tuesday, 8th June 2021
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.

Come and join Dr Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley, CCMI’s Director of Research, to celebrate World Ocean Day and to get an update on CCMI’s work on coral reef ecology and restoration.

CCMI has been monitoring the reefs in the Cayman Islands for over 20 years and began our long-term coral restoration programme in 2012. We have just launched a new Reef Ecology and Evolution Lab (REEL), which utilises cutting edge science to help understand climate change and how coral reefs can adapt for the future.


About the speaker:

Dr Gretchen Goodbody-Gringley is CCMI’s Director of Research and has been with CCMI since January 2020. Prior to that, Dr Goodbody-Gringley was an Assistant Scientist at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS) where she led the Reef Ecology and Evolution Laboratory.

She completed her BSc at the University of Georgia and her Ph.D. at Harvard University in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology. She then held postdoctoral positions at Mote Marine Laboratory and University of Bologna, Italy. Dr Goodbody-Gringley has a broad background in benthic marine ecology and is particularly interested in the evolution of life history strategies and how that in turn serves to structure population dynamics and maintain genetic diversity.

Her research focuses on population structure, reproductive ecology, and genetic connectivity of a variety of organisms that inhabit tropical coral reef ecosystems ranging from inshore shallow reefs down to the mesophotic zone, with the goal of understanding how ecosystems function in order to maintain biodiversity.

Healthy Reefs Virtual Art Gallery

As a project in the fall of 2020, students in Ms. McDougall’s art class at the Cayman Islands Further Education Centre (CIFEC), were tasked with creating a two-dimensional piece of art to support CCMI’s Healthy Reefs campaign.

Students explored different art techniques while also learning about coral reefs, marine life, CCMI’s work and the important of healthy coral reefs to the Cayman Islands to create meaningful pieces that conveyed the campaign’s important messages.

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 Reef campaign: