Once home to a vibrant sea life abundant in stunning coral reefs, after a series of natural and man-made disasters in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Jamaica lost 85 percent of its once-bountiful corals. This resulted in a steep decline in seafood populations upon which many families’ living hoods depended.
But today, the corals and tropical fish are slowly reappearing, thanks in part to more than a dozen grassroots-run initiatives focusing on “coral gardening” and restoring fish populations.
Resident Everton Simpson is one of the forefront heroes dedicating a good part of his time occupying himself with the delicate labor of a coral gardener. Once he reaches the designated spot with his motorboat, he swims down 25 feet carrying a pair of metal shears, fishing line, and a plastic crate.
On the ocean floor, small coral fragments dangle from suspended ropes, like socks hung on a laundry line. Simpson and other divers tend to this underwater nursery as gardeners mind a flower bed – slowly and painstakingly plucking off snails and fireworms that feast on immature coral. The goal is to jumpstart the natural growth of a coral reef. And so far, it’s working.
But the coral gardening is only one part of restoring a reef. Convincing lifelong fishermen to curtail when and where they fish, and controlling the surging waste dumped into the ocean are trickier endeavors. Still, slowly the comeback effort is gaining momentum, with hope rising ever higher over the horizon that the island will once again become a haven for dazzling sea life.