There was a time when, if the world lost some coral reefs to human carelessness, it was greeted with a reaction akin to a shrug of the shoulders and dismissed with “too bad.”
As we have become more environmentally aware, and responsible, that has changed. So when a cruise ship (Carnival Magic) accidentally destroys a field of coral estimated to be almost 12,000 square feet in size, it’s a big deal.
This happened in late August. The Magic dropped anchor near Grand Cayman, where every cruise passenger is taken ashore in small boats (tenders) to protect what is a playground for deep-sea divers, not to mention the life forms that live among the coral. The problem occurred when the Magic’s anchor hit bottom inside a restricted area, guided there by a local pilot in one of the pilot boats that escort cruise ships to and from ports.
Near George Town, Grand Cayman, there are four areas where it’s safe to anchor…where the coral has already been destroyed. The Port Authority directed the pilot to the southernmost area. The pilot directed the captain of the Magic. Because of high winds, the pilot missed the designated area by about 600 feet.
So did the Magic.
The ensuing damage from the anchor’s crashing into coral, then being dragged through it until the ship stopped, then being dragged from it when the Magic left is enough that it will take five or six decades to restore coral that disappeared in three hours.
Under Marine Conservation Law, it is illegal to damage coral with an anchor.
So it was an accident, the damage is done and the blame game hasn’t peaked yet.
Officials at the Port Authority say it’s not their fault…the pilot was directed to the safe area. Carnival, which hires the pilots through an agency, can likely maintain at least some degree of innocence because it was the pilot who directed the Magic’s captain. However, the cruise line is only saying it’s “in discussions with the shipping agent.”
This isn’t like an environmental disaster, like oil spill that requires millions of dollars to clean up. This is damage done. No fine is going to restore the coral and the biggest concern of environmentalists is to make sure it can never happen again.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): “While it is difficult to put a dollar value on some of the benefits coral ecosystems provide, one recent estimate gave the total net benefit of the world’s coral reef ecosystems to be $29.8 billion/year.”
Benefits include food, protection from storms, and habitat, spawning and nursery grounds for species of the sea…not to mention the income and jobs that come with all of that.
One thing you can be certain of — this story is not over.
Today at portsandbows.com: Another ship going Far East