After a series of natural and manmade disasters in the 1980s and 1990s, Jamaica lost 85% of its coral reefs. Now the corals and tropical fish are slowly reappearing thanks to the work of local gardeners
Everton Simpson squints at the Caribbean from his motorboat, scanning the dazzling bands of colour for hints of what lies beneath. Emerald green indicates sandy bottoms. Sapphire blue lies above seagrass meadows. And deep indigo marks coral reefs. That is where he is heading. He steers the boat to an unmarked spot he knows as the coral nursery. Simpson started working as a coral gardener two years ago as part of grassroots efforts to bring Jamaicas coral reefs back from the brink.
On the ocean floor, small coral fragments dangle from suspended ropes. Simpson and other divers tend to this underwater nursery as gardeners look after a flower bed, painstakingly plucking off snails and fireworms that feast on immature coral. When each stub grows to about the size of a human hand, Simpson collects them in his crate to individually transplant on to a reef. Even fast-growing coral species add just a few inches a year.
A few hours later, at a site called Dickies Reef, Simpson dives again and uses bits of fishing line to tie clusters of staghorn coral on to rocky outcroppings, a temporary binding until the corals limestone skeleton grows and fixes itself on to the rock. The goal is to jumpstart the natural growth of a coral reef. And, so far, it is working.