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Ocean Frontiers: 20 Years of Conservation on Grand Cayman’s Pristine East End

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A Proud History focused on ocean conservation, highlighted by the establishment of Grand Cayman’s first and largest coral nursery

Ocean Frontiers located at the Compass Point Dive Resort in Grand Cayman’s East End is celebrating its 20th Anniversary as dive operator this year. Co-owner Steve Broadbelt says there is no better way to mark the occasion than to announce the establishment of their long-anticipated coral nursery, a valuable tool for replenishing reefs at East End. Ocean Frontiers has a long history of conservation and environmental projects and when the Cayman Islands Department of Environment called for proposals, Broadbelt submitted an ambitious plan. The timing was perfect because the coral trees were planted as the world celebrated Earth Day.

Sea to Sky

“We were thrilled to announce the installation of Grand Cayman’s biggest coral nursery, during Earth Day celebrations because our project has been in the planning process for more than a year. To announce it at a time when we focus on the environment made the occasion even more memorable,” said Mr. Broadbelt. “The goal of our coral nursery is to grow coral fragments of the endangered Staghorn and Elkhorn corals and then out-plant the corals to designated reefs that have shown signs of coral loss or damage.”

Ocean Frontiers has two young Caymanian students involved in its coral nursery project and one of them is Dimitri Myles shown here working on a coral tree.

Ocean Frontiers has two young Caymanian students involved in its coral nursery project and one of them is Dimitri Myles shown here working on a coral tree.

With a coral restoration program in mind, Broadbelt brought Lois Hatcher on board a few years ago. With considerable experience and training in coral restoration, plus the passion to see it through, Hatcher was the perfect choice to manage it.

“I’m elated that it has finally happened!” says Ms. Hatcher. “The site is five minutes from the dock and I personally will go out whenever I can. I’m training most of the Ocean Frontiers staff on how to maintain the nursery. It is very much my baby, and I’m anxious about it working, like a mother hen fussing over her chicks.”

Broadbelt, Hatcher, and others, including two Caymanian students, spent the spring months doing prep work to set up its nursery. The work involved selecting strong donor coral colonies and monitoring them for potential problems – the goal is to install strong corals in the nursery to increase chances of survival. Materials needed to build the trees had to be collected, and structures assembled. Broadbelt himself installed all the anchors for the trees.

Coral fragments hanging on the trees in Ocean Frontiers' nursery appear to be thriving in their early days and already attracting sea life. Photo courtesy Lois Hatcher

Coral fragments hanging on the trees in Ocean Frontiers’ nursery appear to be thriving in their early days and already attracting sea life. Photo courtesy Lois Hatcher

“The hope is that by out-planting the strong fingerlings grown in our coral nursery they’ll have a better chance of becoming established on the reef,” said Ms. Hatcher. “So far so good. We will be doing weekly maintenance on the site and reporting to the Department of Environment. The fragments will be monitored for disease, photographed and measured. They already show visible growth after only two weeks.

And the coral fragments are already attracting marine life. Ocean Frontiers is starting with 10 coral trees but expanding to 60 in time. Managing the largest coral nursery in Grand Cayman, reflects Ocean Frontiers’ commitment to being a good steward of Cayman’s marine environment, from the first day it opened for business in February 1996. Broadbelt and co-owner Maurice “Mo” Fitzgerald always observe and promote ocean conservation, garnering recognition through the years.

Eco Milestones for Ocean Frontiers and Compass Point Resort

  • Green Globe Certification for Compass Point in 2010
  • Project AWARE’s Environmental Achievement Award in 2004 and 2010
  • Governor’s Environmental Award for Tourism in 2014 for Compass Point
  • PADI Green Star Dive Center Award for Ocean Frontiers
  • Green Leader Recognition by TripAdvisor travel dive site

Current Ocean Frontiers Conservation Projects

  • Invasive Lionfish Culling
  • Coral Bleaching Monitoring & Temperature Data Collection Project
  • Turtle Release Program Sponsor
  • Teens4Oceans & Ocean Classrooms Sponsor
  • Cayman Sea Sense – Shark Conservation and Tagging Project
  • Green Shorts Challenge – program aimed at distributing diver load evenly at East End
  • Coral Spawning – Ongoing documentation and data collection on annual event

“Before we began operating the great dive sites of East End were largely unavailable to divers staying in the Seven Mile Beach area, so we saw an opportunity to attract people by offering a free shuttle to our dive site. Demand skyrocketed and Ocean Frontiers launched into its successful first year.”

Another coral fragment that is attracting small fish. Photo courtesy Lois Hatcher

Another coral fragment that is attracting small fish. Photo courtesy Lois Hatcher

The founders focused on customer service and the industry’s leading edge. Ocean Frontiers was among the first Cayman operators to use nitrox. Because of a busy dive schedule, nitrox was introduced as a safety measure for dive staff. With time, Nitrox was accepted industry-wide, and customer demand went up. Ocean Frontiers became one of the few dive operations on Grand Cayman that offered Nitrox to customers. Customer satisfaction led to Ocean Frontiers being voted ‘World’s Best Dive Operator’ by the readers of Rodale’s Scuba Diving Magazine in their 1998 Readers’ Choice Awards.

“This was significant and it boosted our reputation and attracted more business to Ocean Frontiers,” said Steve Broadbelt.

Other milestones in the company’s growth:

  • Grand Opening: A new state of the art dive facility with boat dock, retail shop, dive school and training pool, opened in 2000 not far from the original site where Ocean Frontiers began doing business in 1996. This introduced a new standard in luxury for divers and was a strong departure from dive shacks around East End that divers had been accustomed to.
  • Shark Diving Program: In 2001 Ocean Frontiers introduced Cayman’s first and only Shark diving program with a classroom session on shark biology and conservation and a dive where divers experience as many as 8 to 16 Reef sharks up close. At the same time research was conducted with science partners such as the Guy Harvey Research Institute and Mote Marine Laboratory, but despite an immaculate safety record and a well-run program, the local government decided to ban shark diving in Cayman.
  • Coral Spawning Dive: In 2002, Dr. Alex Mustard and Steve Broadbelt successfully observed and documented the annual coral spawning for the first time on record in the Cayman Islands. For the last 13 years Ocean Frontiers has been sharing this discovery and formula for calculating the spawning events every September and bringing this rare event in to the eyes of anyone that can dive and is not afraid of the dark.
  • Public Moorings: Ocean Frontiers has helped the Cayman Islands Department of Environment increase public moorings from 10 to 40+ to open pristine dive sites in the East End.
  • Eagle Rays Bar & Grill: Much anticipated by customers and staff, the dockside bar & grill opened for business in 2013 offering lunch, dinner and bar service. Eagle Rays features themed nights during the week, such as a ‘Divers Night’ every Tuesday with an island buffet and dive movies and photos of the week.

“Looking back over the last 20 years, there has been a common theme to our success – what is good for the environment is good for our business,” says Steve Broadbelt. “We started out as a very small dive shop with one boat, very few staff and big dreams. Even though we have grown little by little, we will always be a ‘first name basis’ place that retains a personal touch with outstanding service. 20 years later the picture is complete as a dedicated dive resort offering ‘roll out of bed and on to the dive boat’ convenience.”

About Ocean Frontiers and Compass Point Dive Resort

Ocean Frontiers Dive Shop is located at Compass Point Dive Resort on the remote East End of Grand Cayman. Founded in 1996 with one dive boat and a dream to introduce divers to the wonders of East End diving, the company has grown into one of Cayman’s premier dive operations with a reputation for catering to small groups and having the island’s friendliest staff. Ocean Frontiers is also recognized as one of the most conservation-minded dive operators in the Cayman Islands with a long history of promoting ocean protection through its company programs, and an unwavering support for outside environmental projects. The winner of Project AWARE’s Environmental Achievement Award in 2004 and 2010, Ocean Frontiers has again been recognized in 2012. The company also received the PADI Green Star Dive Center accreditation in 2012 for demonstrating a dedication to conservation, the first dive operator in the Cayman Islands to receive this distinction.

The Compass Point Dive Resort, which received the Green Globe Certification award in 2010 for sustainable tourism, is the epitome of laidback luxury. It features 28 luxurious one, two and three-bedroom oceanfront, ocean view and poolside condominiums, each with its own private patio or balcony and all beautifully decorated with stylish island décor, and fully equipped with all of the comforts of home. Eagle Ray’s Dive Bar and Grill is now open for business at the resort.

For more information:
Website: www.oceanfrontiers.com.


La Galigo

About Author

The Cayman Bottom Times is news collaboration by five leading dive operators to promote the superb diving of the Cayman Islands, and keep the diving public informed of important developments and events. Divetech, Ocean Frontiers, Red Sail Sports and Sunset house in Grand Cayman, and the Southern Cross Club in Little Cayman, all members of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, represent more than 100 years of solid experience in a destination that is recognized as the birthplace of recreational diving. With a unique combination of deep wall and shallow reef diving, several wrecks, and world-famous Stingray City, the Cayman Islands has cemented its place as the top diving destination in the Caribbean. Offering diverse and wide-ranging dive programs on both Grand Cayman and Little Cayman, the members of this dive group represent the best Cayman has to offer; Divetech (www.divetech.com), Ocean Frontiers (www.oceanfrontiers.com), Red Sail Sports Grand Cayman (www.redsailcayman.com), Sunset House (www.sunsethouse.com) and the Southern Cross Club (www.southerncrossclub.com). For more information on The Cayman Bottom Times contact Adela Gonzales White at Adela.G.White@comcast.net or call (941) 350-8735.

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