Field research institutions provide a window into a deeper understanding of trends and changes across multiple spatial and temporal scales of an ecosystem. The Little Cayman facility has provided a resource for hundreds of visiting scientists and is a location where a long-term record of oceanographic and ecological data is available. Over the years, through an affiliation with NOAA, we have maintained a Coral Reef Early Warning System and we have continued to study the reef each year collecting ecological data to establish trends across the area.


The CREWS provides CCMI with the opportunity to be at the forefront of coral reef science because it offers near real time information on the ocean environment around the robust reefs of Little Cayman. The project is led by the United States National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). CREWS gets its name from its success in modelling and alerting impacts on coral reefs from climate-related events such as, coral bleaching, seasonal upwelling, or approaching storms. This system is considered part of a NOAA Integrated Coral Observing Network (ICON) and is thus named ICON/CREWS.

The CREWS buoy system uses local information about weather and marine conditions that is continually gathered by a series of monitoring stations and buoys located across the Caribbean Sea as well as worldwide. The data is transmitted in real-time to NOAA for integration and analysis, while also being made available online to researchers, policy-makers, and to the public. ICON uses the data collected by CREWS in conjunction with satellite data and radar technologies to analyse and forecast regional oceanographic and atmospheric trends. The CREWS system has been successfully used in modeling and alerts of coral bleaching conditions both locally in the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean Sea. Over time, it is NOAA’s intent to expand the CREWS system by installing stations in more geographic regions and to further refine the systems capability to better predict the impact of climate patterns on coral reefs.

Installed in 2009, this monitoring location gave CCMI, the Cayman Islands, and the general public access to real-time weather information and records of local climate patterns over time. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy unfortunately damaged CCMI’s monitoring system beyond repair. Almost one year later, a more rugged and robust monitoring buoy was installed in its place and remains on the sea in front of the Little Cayman Research Station to this day.

The CREWS buoy is equipped with the following sensors and instruments for quick and accurate data collection:

Meteorological (MET) Sensors
CCMI’s CREWS buoy is equipped with a Vaisala WXT520 Multi-Parameter Weather Sensor and multiple R.M Young meteorological sensors. Referred to together as the MET sensors, they simultaneously measure the same wind and air characteristics and create increased certainty in the data. The MET sensors record wind speed, wind direction, wind gust, relative humidity, barometric pressure, rainfall, rain intensity, and rainfall duration.

AirBIC and subBIC
Two of Biospherical Instruments’ BIC 4-channel radiometers work to measure solar irradiance (UV intensity) at wavelengths of 305nm, 330nm, and 380nm and as photosynthetically-available radiation (PAR, 400-700nm). The surface or AirBIC measures these properties in air, as well as air temperature, while the subsurface or SubBIC measures these at 1m below the surface and water temperature.

CCMI has added a high-accuracy and highly durable NXIC-CTD (Conductivity-Temperature-Depth) Meter from Falmouth Scientific. The CTD is attached to the subsurface structure of the CREWS buoy and measures the conductivity, temperature, pressure, and salinity of the water. This instrument allows CCMI to continually monitor oceanographic properties in addition to meteorological ones.

In October 2016, the buoy was removed from the reef for annual maintenance and to repair the communications system. The local communications company has not been able to offer a static IP address and therefore we cannot currently communicate directly to NOAA. The instruments will be redeployed and communications will be direct to the research institute and then redirected to NOAA. In 2018, CCMI hopes to install a new oceanographic observatory system.

CREWS Dashboard – Environmental Data from Little Cayman

The CREWS Dashboard system is a graphing tool which CCMI has developed for researchers, students, and citizen scientists to create their own “dashboards” using the environmental data collected by the CCMI CREWS buoy. More data will be available in the future. 

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.

2015 – Project Overview

2013 – A Positive Trajectory for Corals at Little Cayman Island

2007 – Coral community decline at a remote Caribbean island: Marine no-take reserves are not enough

2003 – Status of coral reefs of Little Cayman, Grand Cayman and Cayman Brac