“There’s people who say… “Well, why bother? It’s all going to be gone in fifty years.” but why not bother? If we don’t do anything, then yeah it will all be gone in fifty years...” ~ Lois Hatcher
A unique set of skills put Lois Hatcher in the right place at a bad time. In August 2014 a cruise ship dragged its anchor across an important dive site off Grand Cayman Island where she works at a sustainable dive business. The Carnival Magic cruise ship did quite a bit of damage to the reef. Lois and her team of local dive volunteers and dive operators have been gradually rebuilding Magic Reef ever since.
Lois Hatcher has been fascinated by the Ocean since she was a little girl growing up in Victoria, B.C. Lois worked her way up to Instructor by 1988, then found herself traveling to work. In 1990 Lois took a job in Grand Cayman. She spent the next ten years there working as a scuba diver Instructor-Videographer before leaving in 2000. During her time in Cayman Lois worked on a coral restoration project where the Maasdam cruise ship had run aground in 1998.
Lois was immersed in coral restoration studies
On subsequent trips to Cayman she was disturbed to see how the reefs were degrading. In 2012 she was introduced to Dr. Alex Brylske, who was soon to be teaching the first accredited Coral Restoration class at Florida Keys Community College. Lois spent the next 8 months immersed in Coral Restoration studies, including an internship with Ken Nedimyer at the Coral Restoration Foundation. “with the coral methods that Ken uses, it’s very inexpensive. Anybody can do it … once you’ve had training, you can do it. It’s very, very successful.”
Ocean Frontiers on Grand Cayman’s East End was already involved in some marine conservation studies and hired her with the intent of starting a coral nursery. On August 27th, 2014 the Carnival Magic cruise ship dropped an anchor in an undesignated area damaging 11,500 square feet of living, coral reef. “Imagine a snow plow going through underwater …it pushes everything to the side, and in the middle it’s just mush… That’s what it looked like when the anchor pulled up.” The Cayman government didn’t have the funding or manpower or knowhow to do anything so they asked if Lois and Keith Sahm could organize a volunteer effort. Many of the volunteers were not professionals working in the Cayman dive community but local Citizen Scientists that wanted to help, so far these volunteer teams have removed about five tons of rubble. Healthy pieces of live coral that are found can be glued or cemented back onto the reef, it is a very laborious process and takes thousands of hours of diving.
Lois says “We’ve been taking this attitude, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.”
“there’s an unending need for voluntourism to address ocean issues”
Lois has been heading up the Carnival Magic restoration project and has to date logged close to 10,000 dives. She hopes to do another 10,000 helping to restore coral reefs in Cayman and around the world. It seems there is an unending need for voluntourism to address ocean issues in the world’s marine environment.
Lois says that Grand Cayman has even bigger threats looming ahead, “in the 90’s Grand Cayman used to have one or two cruise ships a week. Now you can get six a day…it used to be that Stingray City was the famous dive to go on and you got to see stingrays there. If you saw Sandbar (in Stingray City) now, it’s turned into a cruise ship zoo.” “there’s forty stingrays swimming around between a thousand people and the guides … hold them …so that people can kiss the stingray …some people look at you like, where’s our stingray? … some people just have this mentality where they don’t think about the consequences of holding a stingray or dumping garbage at sea”.
Cruise ships present another and potentially worse threat to Grand Cayman: a proposed cruise ship dock that would destroy a prime coral reef and Georgetown’s picturesque, waterfront forever. At this time the proposed cruise ship dock has been approved by the government but delayed by protests and ocean petitions from international groups, the future remains uncertain.
To learn more about Lois Hatcher’s work in restoring the Cayman reefs follow her entire interview at Blue Ocean Summit 2015: Lois Hatcher. Visit Ocean Frontiers or find out more about the Coral Restoration Foundation.
Breaking News: Cruise Ship grounds on pristine reef in Raja Ampat National Marine Park causing severe damage, see post here.
Another of our experts talking on the theme of Citizen Scientists and Dive Tourism as Tools for Conservation is Dr. Richard Murphy. Dr. “Murph” was tasked with creating an eco-dive resort model back when there were few sustainable travel destinations. Murph’s understanding of coral reefs came in handy. The reef community itself became a metaphor for what he had to do on land: Make sure that the Fiji Island Resort was run in such a way that it could truthfully bear the Cousteau name. Read Murph’s article at Ocean Profiles: Dr. Richard Murphy