The intrepid crew of Sea Dragon began Monday with a hearty breakfast of burritos that would fell lesser men and women. Following a rousing round of sea shanties (plugging in the Abba and country music-filled Ipod), the crew joined together to learn about the fabulous fauna, flora, and fun facts of the Cayman Islands.
A neotropical eco-region, the Cayman Islands are home to endemic species like blue iguanas, Cayman parrots, and ghost orchids, and are ringed by fringing reefs full of diverse corals, fish, sharks and turtles. Invasive species, hurricanes, coastal development, and heavy boat traffic (looking at you, cruise ships) have wreaked havoc on these fragile island ecosystems.
On our first dive today, we encountered these problems first-hand. Several lionfish, beautiful but highly successful invaders, punctuated mound after mound of brown, broken corals that had seen better days. Though the water was sparkling and clear, one fin tip too close to the bottom created a sandstorm covering every bit of life, reminding us how turbulent the water must become with hundreds of cruise ships arriving.
Even while diving in the shadow of one of these big ships, there was abundant cause for hope for a renewed coral reef. Indicator species, like butterflyfish and snappers, were spotted alongside patches of healthy coral. Looking closely at the reef, hundreds of tiny juvenile fish zipped by, while far off in the distance garden eels waved from their burrows, disappearing on approach. One dive team even encountered a small green sea turtle, while the snorkeling team was approached by a large, rather friendly loggerhead turtle.
Lots of cause for hope, and many more opportunities to explore more of this island ecosystem ahead. Luckily, the fearless crew of the Sea Dragon successfully set sail for the first time today, tacking and jibing (‘gybing’ if you’re Captain Eric) the afternoon away, close hauling and broad beaming. So stay tuned for more missives from the mainsail!
-Skipper Squishnak (aka Samantha Wishnak)