Are Cruise Ships Destroying Coral Reefs in the Cayman Islands?

Divers caught video of a cruise ship anchor dragging across a coral reef in the Cayman Islands. (Image: Scott Prodahl/YouTube)

Cruise ships don’t have the best image when it comes to being environmentally friendly. And a new video doesn’t help: It shows the anchor of the MV Zenith cruise ship dragging across a section of coral reef off Grand Cayman island.

The underwater video was shot by Scott Prodahl, a dive instructor with Dan Foster’s Dive Cayman. When Prodahl saw the ship (operated by Spanish company Pullmantur Cruises) encroaching on the reef near the George Town port, he grabbed his camera and started filming. The video shows the anchor and chain lying across and damaging a section of the reef.

As reported by local news outlet Cayman 27, this area was a legitimate designated anchorage zone and the ship did have permission to drop anchor there.

“This was something that was done pretty much by the book,” Department of Environment Deputy Director Scott Slaybaugh told Cayman 27. “We would have a hard time saying that’s an offense, even though the law does state that any damage to coral reef is a violation of the law.”

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Nevertheless, the video suggests damage, and the Cayman Department of Environment is investigating to determine how much of the reef was injured and what can be done about it.

Ironically, this incident comes after a controversial decision this past October to build a new cruise port in George Town Harbor — one that would allow direct access to the shore (currently, ships dock offshore and passengers are ferried in). Opponents of the project estimate that it would require the dredging of 15 acres of coral reef, while others argue that the new berthing facility would actually be better for the environment.

Related: Cayman Islands to Build Cruise Port That Could Destroy the Environment

In August of 2014, the Carnival Magic’s anchor was also said to have caused reef damage; although the responsibility for that incident remains unclear (cruise lines? The local Port Authority?) and Carnival admitted no liability, the cruise line agreed to pay $100,000 to the Cayman Islands National Trust toward the Magic Reef Restoration Project.

The outcome of this latest anchor accident is yet to be decided.

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