Cayman Islands Reefs
South of Cuba, where the Caribbean and North American tectonic plates meet, lies Grand Cayman a divers paradise surrounded by deep walls, crystal clear water, and miles of coral reef. Grand Cayman is the largest of the three Cayman Islands, which also includes Little Cayman and Cayman Brac approximately 90 miles (150km) away.
Grand Cayman is bordered by a deep trench which results in shallow coral reefs leading to deep walls down to the abyss. All conveniently located a quick 5-15 minutes boat ride from shore.
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Searching For Coral
Aquarists have a unique perspective when scuba diving which allows us a greater appreciating for corals which other divers often overlook. Over the course of a week, I did nine dives with a hit list of corals I wanted to find.
It should come as no surprise that my focus was looking for corals, and what I found was that SPS and Gorgonian corals dominated the reefs around Grand Cayman. I did find some LPS corals, and on my last dive, I found a single Scolymia cubensis a species I had been looking for the entire trip.
Finding this coral was like finding a needle in a haystack and I couldn’t have been more excited. I quickly showed my dive partner who after two seconds looked away and pointed at a passing barracuda.
While a toothy barracuda is impressive, I am sure we saw dozens of these fish on each of our dives. In my mind, the lone Scolymia was WAY cooler than a barracuda!
For me searching for corals in an exciting treasure hunt. And after hundreds of dives in the Caribbean searching for rare coral brings excitement back to an otherwise dull reef.
The Caribbean lacks most of the vibrant colors found in the Indo-Pacific but that doesn’t mean the corals are boring. Individual corals can grow into unusual colonies or have mesmerizing color patterns, and if you look closely you will find no two corals are alike.
Stand out Corals
Some of the stand out corals we found in Grand Cayman was a beautiful colony of pink Montastrea, a handful of Dichocoenia corals, a single colony of Zoanthids, a Mycetophyllia coral at 100 feet infected with green fluorescent protein, a few large colonies of pink and gray Mycetophyllia ferox and a beautiful colony of Isophyllia.
While these corals aren’t necessarily rare, we found less than five, or in some cases a single colony of each coral in nine dives.
Encrusting story coral species like Orbicella, Porites, Colpophyllia, Diploria and Siderastrea were common in Grand Cayman and dominated the reef. We also found plenty of sea fans, and gorgonian corals rhythmically swaying in the current and photogenic clusters of yellow tube sponges.
The shallow coral reefs surrounding Grand Cayman are full of interesting species, hidden cryptic corals, and unique colonies. With a little bit of time researching coral species before your dive, we promise your diving experience will be more enjoyable.
Learning to focus your eyes on the reef adds a whole new dimension to diving. Take a minute to learn some of these coral species and keep an eye out for the exceptional corals along the way.
Have you been diving in the Cayman Islands or planning a trip? Found a coral and don’t know what it is? Leave us a comment below.