Department of Environment (DoE) staff commenced emergency salvage work yesterday (Wednesday, 17 February) on coral allegedly damaged by the M/V Tatoosh, after receiving an independent coral restoration expert's report of a comprehensive assessment of the injury site.

'We now are in the position to begin emergency caching of dislodged corals, whose survival is at immediate risk the longer they remain unattached', said DoE Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie.

'This temporary stabilisation and removal of coral to a safe location (caching) is typically carried out following completion of an injury assessment, to minimise further impact to the living tissue of corals that are candidates for reattachment'.

Mrs Ebanks-Petrie said the final report from Mr William Precht of Dial Cordy and Associates was received on Tuesday, 16 February. The DoE began emergency salvage work the following day.

'Given that Vulcan Inc., the owner of the M/V Tatoosh, disputes the DoE's initial assessment of the scale of the damage, and furthermore questions whether the M/V Tatoosh is the source of the damage, the DoE contracted with Dial Cordy to conduct a comprehensive assessment of the injured site', she said.

'We took this action in order to have independent documentation and verification of the extent and degree of damage, and also of the timing of the injuries to the coral. Mr Precht's findings support the DoE's initial assessment as to the damaged area, and the cause of the damage'.

Mrs Ebanks-Petrie added that by commencing the salvage work in a timely manner, remaining living coral tissue could be saved. Furthermore, time to full recovery of the site may be reduced, and collateral injury from future storms may be minimised.

At approximately 10pm on Wednesday, 3 February, Vulcan Inc. sent its initial proposed remediation plan to the DoE; the department responded on 5 February. Subsequent drafts of the remediation plan have been exchanged and reviewed by both parties, Mrs Ebanks-Petrie said.

The DoE is now waiting for Vulcan to respond to the DoE's requests for changes to the proposal relating to the scope and source of damage; the estimated length of the restoration period; and Vulcan's funding of an independent agent to oversee and monitor the restoration work.

'Because Vulcan continues to disagree with the scale and source of damage, as well as the length of time required for the restoration effort, details of the remediation plan have not been finalised', she said.

She noted that Polaris Applied Sciences Inc., a coral reef restoration firm, was contracted by Vulcan to assess the damaged coral immediately after the alleged incident. Polaris representatives returned to Cayman on Sunday, 14 February, and notified the DoE of their interest in assisting with the emergency salvage work on the evening of Tuesday, 16 February.

The DoE allowed Polaris to observe and assist, in order to ensure that the emergency salvage works initiated by Government are compatible with the methodology Polaris intends to employ, such that Polaris can take over restoration work once remaining issues with the restoration plan are resolved with Vulcan, Mrs Ebanks- Petrie said.

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