Surprise rescue of Jamaica coral reefs shows nature can heal - GulfToday

Surprise rescue of Jamaica coral reefs shows nature can heal

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Everton Simpson untangles lines of staghorn coral at a coral nursery in the White River Fish Sanctuary.

Everton Simpson squints at the Caribbean from his motorboat, scanning the dazzling bands of color for hints of what lies beneath. Emerald green indicates sandy bottoms. Sapphire blue lies above seagrass meadows. And deep indigo marks coral reefs. That's where he's headed.

He steers the boat to an unmarked spot that he knows as the "coral nursery."

Even fast-growing coral species add just a few inches a year. And it's not possible to simply scatter seeds.

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Simpson uses bits of fishing line to tie clusters of staghorn coral onto rocky outcroppings.

Almost everyone in Jamaica depends on the sea, including Simpson, who lives in a modest house he built himself near the island's northern coast.

The energetic 68-year-old has reinvented himself several times, but always made a living from the ocean.

Coral reefs are often called "rainforests of the sea" for the astonishing diversity of life they shelter.

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White River Fish Sanctuary wardens patrol the reef of the sanctuary's no-take zone in Ocho Rios.

Many scientists thought that most of Jamaica's coral reef had been permanently replaced by seaweed, like jungle overtaking a ruined cathedral.

But today, the corals and tropical fish are slowly reappearing, thanks in part to a series of careful interventions.

"When you give nature a chance, she can repair herself," he adds. "It's not too late."

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Belinda Morrow uses a box with a glass bottom to look underwater.

In Jamaica, more than a dozen grassroots-run coral nurseries and fish sanctuaries have sprung up in the past decade, supported by small grants from foundations, local businesses such as hotels and scuba clinics, and the Jamaican government.

Belinda Morrow, a lifelong water-sports enthusiast often seen paddle-boarding with her dog Shadow, runs the White River Marine Association.

She attends fishers' meetings and raises small grants from the Jamaican government and other foundations to support equipment purchases and coral replanting campaigns.

"We all depend on the ocean," Morrow says, sitting in a small office decorated with nautical maps in the iconic 70-year-old Jamaica Inn.

Associated Press