Foundation Coordinator Aaron Hunt to offer the PADI Reef Renewal Specialty Course and other coral conservation courses and dives at dive resort
Sunset House and Sunset Divers welcome Aaron Hunt, coordinator of the Eco Divers Reef Foundation, to the dive resort’s scuba training program as a contract instructor specializing in coral conservation and reef renewal. Hunt manages 14 coral nurseries in Grand Cayman, including the one at Sunset House, under the Cayman Islands Coral Nursery Program which was started in 2016 to seed local reefs.
At Sunset House, Hunt will also certify divers through the CoralWatch Distinctive Specialty Course which teaches people how to properly collect real-time data to be submitted to CoralWatch, a global network of volunteers building a database that can be used to combat coral reef loss across the world.
His extensive work with Cayman’s coral nurseries gives Aaron Hunt hope for the future of Cayman’s reefs, recently witnessing transplanted corals in the Sunset House nursery spawning and sending baby corals out in the water to settle somewhere else to grow.
“After two years of the coral nursery program, we have an 85% survival rate of our transplanted corals. In 2017 we recorded the coral spawning, and now we can see the new corals growing. It’s very exciting and satisfying to see that it works,” he said.
“We’re excited to be working with Aaron on coral conservation education because we are all concerned about our reefs and environment,” said Dive Manager Mike Pinnington. “Not only will he be teaching our guest divers, and guiding them through our coral nursery, but he will also train our instructors to teach coral restoration work.”
Hunt has certified approximately 300 local divers through the PADI Reef Renewal Distinctive Specialty Course, and most are now dedicated volunteers who help with the foundation’s work. Local businesses are also getting involved.
“There’s something about Cayman, that people who live here want to help. We’ve had tremendous support from the local community, people give up their weekends to help on the reefs,” he said.
Sunset House Marketing Manager Emma-Jane Fisher says the resort, always environmentally conscious, has stepped up its green policies and expanded its reef renewal courses. This collaboration with Aaron Hunt is a win-win for everyone who cares about the ocean environment.
“We as a community need to respond to the problems faced by our seas and do what we can to help educate the public directly,” she said. “Sunset House runs various programs for local kids throughout the year to teach them to be environmentally conscious through scuba dive, swim & snorkel classes. Our restaurant and bar are now using cardboard take-out boxes and paper straws, both better for the environment. Sunset Divers has added skimming nets to dive boats so staff can pick up trash or plastics floating on the water. It all matters.”
PADI Reef Renewal courses now available at Sunset House include:
• Guided Coral Nursery Dive
Guided shore dive to the nursery to help clean coral.
• PADI Reef Renewal Distinctive Specialty Course
Classroom session and 2 open water dives to learn correct reef renewal techniques.Nursery maintenance by conducting a survey, cleaning, removing algae and predators that can damage the corals and affect their growth
• Coral Spawn Lecture & Reef Survey
Classroom session about coral spawning in Sunset House nursery. Dive the survey area to see new corals found on the reef after spawning events
• Reef Renewal Dives
Two guided shore dives to assist staff (at the coral nursery). Tasks will be assigned and can include maintenance, cleaning, removing predators, conducting surveys, collecting data and restoring reefs.
Aaron Hunt is excited about the collaboration with Sunset House, the growing number of volunteers and the future of the coral nursery program. He reports great success with transplanting Staghorn and Elkhorn corals, and says they are now working with pillar coral too more challenging, but they are seeing success there too.
“This is about community. The Cayman Islands can be an amazing example of a successful coral restoration and transplantation program.”