Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort Activates the Internationally Renown Reef Ball Coral Team To Aid in Shallow and Near Shore Ecosystem Recovery Efforts


This press release is web based because the story here is an enormous and exciting accomplishment that is actually composed of many newsworthy component projects.  There are blue hyperlinks to other web resources throughout the release and red hyperlinks to more in-depth discussion on components of the project.  

Last Updated on Sunday, October 02, 2005, Georgetown, Grand Cayman Island.  Not For Immediate Release draft version only.

The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort called on the Reef Ball Foundation, Inc.  for rapid "Coral Team" activation to rescue imperiled corals and to train the Cayman Government on the latest and most successful techniques in coral reef and mangrove rehabilitation. The Foundationís world renowned Coral Team is essentially a volunteer network of hundreds of specially trained experts in the field of coral propagation, coral rescue and coral planting.  The Coral Team  was able to send 20 experts plus a filming crew from the BBC that will feature the project in an upcoming series entitled "Jewels of the Caribbean."  Because the team wanted to practice for rapid activations as a result of training for recent natural disasters and since imperiled corals were identified it was decided to conduction the activation as quickly as possible.  From activation to finish, the team assembled and completed all assigned tasks in just 3 weeks with only one week on site.

Such a rapid activation required enormous local support and interest.  Being the overall sponsor of the project, the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort offered the team accommodations and food.  Red Sail Sports jumped in quickly offering scuba gear and boating support.  Although the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort had already deployed numerous modules with plugs designed to accept propogated corals, the Coral Team wanted to deploy a few Reef Balls to mark locations for continued restoration and for monitoring purposes,  so John MacKenzie of West Indian Marine jumped in and donated 6 Reef Balls and top notch deployment and anchoring services from their ultra modern boat fleet.  Without time for additional fund raising efforts, the Reef Ball Foundation dipped into their emergency activation reserve budget and paid for whatever items that could not be organized in two short weeks such as rental cars, coral propagation tools/supplies, educational signs, and provided assistance for team members.    With activation financially possible, there was only one question...could the required permits be issued in just two weeks?  You bet,  the highest levels of the Cayman Island government also mobilized quickly and recognized the importance of protecting the reefs that are close to every Caymanian's heart.  In fact, the government....rather than issue permits to the group decided to take an even more active role and converted the project to a governmental level complete with boats, fuel  and four extremely dedicated employees to serve as local expert.  Each of these employees were certified as members of the Reef Ball Coral Team and are eligible for activation in future projects if required in the Cayman Islands or elsewhere in the world..  

Prior to the hurricane, the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort  had created a Reef Ball submerged breakwater reef system to protect its beach from seasonal erosion using 236 designed reef modules.  The project has been monitored by Dr. Lee Harris, P.E. from the Florida Institute of Technology and the Reef Balls have performed nicely for beach protection.  However, Dr. Harris was aware that even more could be done, biologically, as he was also an engineer on the world's largest coral rehabilitation project in Antigua. during which the concept of having a worldwide, rapidly deployable, Coral Team was spawned.  During a visit to monitor the breakwater after the category 5 hurricane Ivan,  Dr. Harris suggested to the Marriott that his diving experiance suggested that deeper and mid-water reef ecosystems were spared by Ivan but there had been quite a few changes to the near shore ecosystems.  Dr. Harris was amazed, but proud, that his anchoring designs and engineering had allowed the Reef Balls to survived the storm without movement or damage, but some of the natural reefs and many of the mangrove ecosystems were not so lucky.  Chris Saiego, Managing Director of the Marriott, agreed. They jointly decided to survey and determine if corals needed rescue or stabilization.  They contacted Todd Barber, Chairman of the Reef Ball Foundation, to get instructions on what to look for so the Reef Ball's Coral Team could assess the situation. Dr. Harris's intuition was confirmed.  John Walch, President of the Reef Ball Coral Team reviewed the photos and recognized a perfect time to activate the Coral Team.  It was also a great time to test the team limits since it was already in activation mode for Phase II Tsunami relief  in Phuket Thailand in October. (Thailand's coral rehabilitation project).  Moments later, emails went out to Coral Team members in 50 countries.  Within 3 days, the team was chosen and plane tickets where booked.

Simultaneously, The Reef Ball Foundation contacted the BBC who requested to be invited at the next Coral Team activation in the Caribbean, and a crew was dispatched.   

Within two weeks the team landed and started working even before bags were unpacked. Starting each day at dawn and working in the field until dusk and aided by enormous local support  they stayed focused on the tasks at hand..  This is was nothing new to the seasoned Coral Team...just another day fulfilling their passions to aid our world's aquatic ecosystems.

Okay...before you go you know enough to understand the basics of Reef Balls?  Click below for basic information....then proceed down the press release to find thousands of photos on the project and summaries of project activities.. 

What is a Reef Ball? Why Build Reefs? Hurricane Rapid Coral Recovery Team, Mangrove Loss Recovery Team, Reef Ecosystem Damage Assessment Team, Coral Restoration, Coral Propagation, Coral Rescue, Volunteer Programs

What Was Actually Accomplished?

-Creation of new coral colonies via Propagation, and attaching over 400 newly created coral colonies to Reef Balls. The team used their most efficient and inexpensive attachment adapter system to create "plugs" for a diverse selection of  hard and soft coral species.  Although it requires the most skill, they placed special attention on the newly classified  as  endangered Acropora species  commonly known as Staghorn, Elkhorn and Fused Staghorn corals.

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Click to see underwater propagation photos

Plugs for attachment adapter system method for fragments

-Stabilization and rescue of over 100 adult coral colonies using a) An inexpensive technique were fragments are placed underneath the edge of Reef Balls as they are deployed thus anchored pinning under the weight of the Reef Ball. b) Our second most efficient but more expensive "direct putty" method attaching with underwater two part epoxy and c) The least efficient but necessary for the largest fragments "Underwater pH neutralized hydraulic cement method."  All three techniques were demonstrated for training purposes for the Cayman Government.  Each approach can be used successfully for specific field conditions but the attachment adapter system is strongly favored due to low cost and high efficiency. 






Direct Putty Method with sea fan.

Movie showing the Underwater pH neutralized hydraulic cement method (not a preferred method but necessary in some cases)

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Click to see rescue photos

-Building the first 4 of a planned 200 Reef Balls on Cemetery reef.

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Click photo above to see Cemetery Reef being planted

-Deploying by barge and crane two new snorkeling depth Reefs (10-12 feet) and documenting immediate fish spawning on these reefs within 24 hours!

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Click to see deployment photos

-Surveying of 3 sites for Red Mangrove Replanting

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Click to see Mangrove Survey Photos

-Teaching the Cayman Island government on all phases of the Coral Team's processes, techniques and quality control.  In working with over 500 fragments, this team lost only 3 fragments at the important benchmark of 24 hours after initial planting.  More importantly, none of the original colonies were lost so all imperiled coral genetics were preserved.  This is an astonishing record reflecting  the advanced techniques and care utilized by the Coral Team.

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Click to see training photos.

-Documented the whole process with over 1000 photos (all available online here) and this project summary to help educate how the process of reef rehabilitation is undertaken.


Click below to Enlarge Photo showing some examples of hard coral species the team has worked with in the Caribbean. Soft corals include a wide range of gorgonian corals including sea fans, sea whips, and corky sea fingers.  A complete species list is being compiled by the team and will be posted when the results are finalized. 


Fish Are Breeding On The New Reefs


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Click on the above photo to see high resolution photos of Sergeant Major Damselfish (Abudefduf saxatillis)  spawning on Cayman Island Reef Balls less than a day deployment.  The Coral Team estimated the total egg production of the nests to exceed 5,000 fish eggs.  Damselfish eggs hatch 6 days after they are laid.  The above photo is 2 days after the eggs were laid.


In Antigua, Fish of 73 different species made  new Reef Balls their home within weeks of deployment.  The Coral Team did not conduct extensive fish surveys on the Cayman Reef Balls due to time limitations but expects  diversity to be even higher than Antigua.  Surveys will be conducted on future visits.  The Marriott Beach Resort breakwater that has been established for almost 2 years supports an amazing variety of fish life just like one sees on the beautiful natural reefs in the Caymans.

Mangroves Complete The New Reef

Shallow water restoration projects are not complete until one considers all of the nearshore habitats.  Red Mangrove tree roots are integrated components of a coral reef system as they extend into the sea with complex prop root systems fouled by an amazing variety of marine life.  They serve as nurseries for many animals that live their adult lives on the reef.   Sara Cirelli heads The Reef Ball Foundation's Red Mangrove Division and is teaming up with the Cayman Government to conduct a series of mangrove planting projects including the creation of a Red Mangrove nursery to make plants available  for residents and governmental projects.   Scientific layout and optimal location choices are being added by Lorna Slade, a consulting scientist and Reef Ball Board member.  Sara has previously set up a large nursery in Antigua that tackled tasks as difficult as shipping in Red Mangroves from Nova Southeastern University's nursery in Florida. Whereas Lorna brings a deep scientific understanding to guide the effort.  Dr. Lee Harris will add additional skills when Red Mangroves can double as erosion control structures.  The team approach yields results unobtainable by individual experts.

Due to Rita, many of the mangrove systems in the Caymans are disrupted, but fortunately, many are showing good signs of recovery...whereas others are not as fortunate.  The Reef Ball Foundation's Red Mangrove Division is preparing a recommendations report for the Cayman government on sites that are most critical to restore from a fishery habitat and re-seeding point of view.  This will consist of several long term projects, conducted as sites and funding sources are identified.

Pictured above, 'Mangrove Root Mimic Reef Balls'  have been used in other places near mangroves to provide an estuary type reef system. The delicate root mimics are re-enforced with fiberglass rebar and host to a variety of filter feeders, estuary hardy corals, sponges and algae. The beauty and esthetics of the Caymans, however, requires a much more natural approach.  Therefore, working with Tim Austin of the Department of Environment, the Red Mangrove Division and Tim jointly developed an entirely new "Reef Ball Pot Planter" to make installations of Red Mangroves very simple with high survival rates.  The system is unique because if a mangrove dies for any reason, it can be "repotted" to ensure a consistent beauty above water that is desired in areas where landscaping and exquisite views have become the expectation of many Caymanites. 

The system is essentially a larger Reef Ball deployed just below the water surface that is not visible above the water line except at low spring tides.  These larger unit are pre-lined with biodegradable burlap and filled with a mixture of mangrove muck, ground dead sea grass, and trace elements.  Then, a second smaller Reef Ball is turned upside down and lined with burlap filled with a similar soil plus slow release marine safe fertilizers.  This smaller Reef Ball contains a nursery planted mangrove is lowered in the hole on the top of the Reef Ball which is prefabricated for an exact fit and anchored with a fiberglass rebar pin. The nursery grown mangrove will be raise from propagules adapted to salt water to insuring high success rates.  Over time, they will grow into stable mangrove systems that will stabilize new seedlings just like established mangrove systems do.  The use of this system will allow for recovery in areas that have been completely striped of their mangroves and have too high of a wave climate to allow for survival of new recruits.

Creating New Corals and Saving Threatened Ones
Using Volunteers From Around The World... 

The Reef Ball Foundation activated its Coral Reef Propagation and Coral Reef Rescue teams which are composed of hundreds of experts from around the world willing to volunteer their time, when coral reefs are threatened.  For the Cayman project, over 180 volunteer man-days were used complete the coral propagation and rescue missions.  This effort included experts from England, Belgium, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos,  Florida, Georgia, New York, Arizona, North Carolina, Venezuela and more. Local volunteers from Caymans greatly assisted the efforts, making this the largest reef restoration effort ever in Cayman by volunteers.   The volunteer teams did more than just transplant and propagate corals...they also did a biological census, reef clean up, created a genetic coral bank, rescued imperiled sea life, and educated  local Caymanians on the importance of the coral reefs and mangroves and how to keep up the health of their existing natural reefs.  T


Baseline photos were taken of the coral plugs so the grow-rates and survival rates may be documented over time.

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Volunteer coral experts set up coral propagation tables where corals are divided
 and replanted into special plugs that are later attached to the Reef Balls. Click the above picture to see pictures on land of the table in action.

Learn about the Reef Ball Foundation Coral Propagation and Coral Rescue Teams

Snorkeling, Diving and Public Education

Human needs were not forgotten in the construction of the reef either.  The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort and  the Reef Ball Foundation created hundreds of yards of snorkeling and diving opportunity's with this project.  These will provide snorkeling visitors a tour of the reef  to see the wondrous and abundant reef life now present without having to put this pressure on natural reefs.  

The Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort plans to continue its educational programs by installing educational signage in front of the new reef that is being designed by the Reef Ball Foundation's graphic artist Doug Hollingsworth of the Guggenheim Museum in New York.  Those graphics will be posted here as soon as they are completed.

For a Complete Trail Guide to the Reef Click Here 


(You will need a browser with the ability to zoom in or else right click and download this jpeg to your hard drive and view with software that allows zooming). 

Construction & Deployment of the Reef Balls

The Reef Balls themselves were built in the Cayman Islands by the West Indian Marine and assisted by trainers from Reef Innovations (Reef Innovations is a Reef Ball authorized contractor based in Orlando, Florida).  Captain John MacKenzie skillfully operated the barge and tug, deployed the Reef Balls with precision and anchored each ball in 4 places using fiberglass rebar anchors that survived Ivan's Cat.5 hammering.   The Reef Ball Foundation teaches about how to use special additives to make the concrete's pH match that of natural seawater so that corals and other marine life can grow on the Reef Balls easily.  The outside surfaces of the Reef Balls are textured so that coral larvae can easily attach and grow into adult colonies.  Even the holes in the sides of the Reef Balls are designed to create whirlpools so that the corals can grow faster since they rely on currents to bring food.  Reef Balls have been used in over 5,000 projects worldwide with over 0.5 million Reef Balls deployed in 50 countries.  Reef Balls are the most advanced designed reef modular system in the world and have been reef builders' material of choice for over 12 years.  


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Click the above photo to see casting photos. [Note: More casting photos will be added as one of the cameras was analog]  Also see original Cayman Island Construction Photos HERE

Casting in over complex mold systems using a large variety of specialized techniques such as creating special anchor holes or adaptations for uses with Red Mangroves.

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To see deployment pictures, click on the above photograph.

Engineering to Protect a Beach

(Below is a roof top view of the Reef Ball submerged breakwater and the beach it protects on Oct 22, 2005 click here for more roof top photos)

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Skeptical?  Here is how the beach looked before we added Reef Balls (looking back angle while standing in water).

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Full Set of prior photos here

The breakwater reef was specifically engineered to lower the wave energy in the beach area so that the natural seasonal sand loss occurs much more slowly leaving the Marriott Beach Resort with a beach for their guests year-round.  Stable sand means clearer water, which is also healthier for the coral.   Dr. Lee Harris was the consulting breakwater engineer and is also a professor at the Florida Institute of Technology. The U.S. Army, Corps of Engineers, Engineer Research and Development Center conducted extensive wave tank tests for a similar planned Reef Ball submerged breakwater demonstration project for Miami which had direct relevance to Cayman's breakwater design.


(Wave tank tests at the Army Corps Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Mississippi)

No engineering details were overlooked, for example, Dr. Harris used accurate surveying methods so the the exact location of each Reef Ball was planned to within centimeters.  This methodology allowed accurate  placement so that existing natural corals would not be damaged by the placement of the Reef Balls.  A special mark had to be established called the 'biological tide line', which is the water level at which marine growth stops.  The Reef Balls were made of different sizes so that the top of each Reef Ball would be exactly at the 'biological tide line.'  This makes for the most effective submerged breakwater, and also maximizes the biological growing surfaces for the new reef.


Like What You See? Impressed?

The Reef Ball Foundation is a 501(c) 3 non-profit PUBLIC charity.  We rely on donations to support our work.  Activations of the Coral Team are usually too quick for us to have time to raise enough funds to support this so we need to rebuild our savings for such events.  You may earmark any donations for a specific project, but donations for our general Coral Team fund are greatly appreciated to build reserves for future disasters.  Reef Ball also responded within 6 weeks to the Tsunami with coral rehabilitation in Thailand and has additional projects in the works for Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Maldives.  Still unsure about giving?  We understand, it has been a difficult year for many people...but take the time to visit what the press has said about us here and perhaps you see a project that touches your heart.  If you are from a certain area in the world other than the Caymans or have another favorite reef and want to see what we are doing for it...check out our world mapping system  and click on the country, state or county of your choice.  If it has water, there is a very good chance we have been there or will be there soon.  Donations should be directed to Kathy Kirbo, our Executive Director and are fully tax deductible in the US.  You can also visit for online donations.  Even small donations help, to keep our public status it is helpful to be as broadly supported as possible.  Contact information is available for all of our divisions by starting at and clicking on the division of your choice.

All photos on this page are available in High Resolution Digital Format (3-5 mega-pixel resolution) and can be obtained by contacting  There are many other photos to choose from, by going to you can see more pictures from this project.  You may freely copy and use this press release.  If you wish to write your own version, we would be happy to set up interviews, provide digital photos or even arrange a site visit.  Use of photos requires acknowledgement that the source is


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