Everton Simpson squints at the Caribbean Sea from his motorboat. He’s headed for the deep indigo of the coral reefs—and an unmarked spot that he knows as the "coral nursery." Simpson and other divers carefully tend to this underwater garden in an effort to save Jamaica’s coral reefs.
After a series of natural and man-made disasters in the 1980s and 1990s, Jamaica lost 85% of its once-bountiful coral reefs. Many scientists thought that most of Jamaica's reef had been permanently overtaken by seaweed.
But today, the corals and tropical fish are slowly reappearing, thanks partly to a series of interventions.
''It's like a forest under the sea," Simpson says. 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 cautiously plucks off snails and fireworms that feast on immature coral.
When a fragment grows to about the size of a human hand, Simpson collects them in his crate to "transplant" onto a reef. It’s a little like planting each blade of grass in a lawn separately. The goal is to jumpstart a reef’s natural growth. So far, it's working.
The delicate labor of the coral gardener is only one part of restoring a reef. Convincing lifelong fishermen to limit when and where they fish and controlling waste dumped into the ocean are trickier.
"The coral are coming back; the fish are coming back," says Stuart Sandin, a marine biologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. "It's probably some of the most vibrant coral reefs we've seen in Jamaica since the 1970s."
God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm. — Genesis 1:21
(Diver Lenford DaCosta cleans up lines of staghorn coral at an underwater coral nursery inside the Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary in Jamaica. AP Photo/David J. Phillip)