Major coral reef badly damaged

Proselyte Reef, one of St. Maarten’s most important reefs located off Philipsburg, was badly damaged more than a week ago when a towing cable scythed across it, destroying three swathes of coral thirty feet wide. Local divers reported to both Gary Brown of Ocean Media and the St. Maarten Nature Foundation on January 29 that they suspected a tugboat towing a barge was responsible for the damage.
It is believed that when the tugboat slowed down on approaching Great Bay its steel towing cable brushed the reef. The tugboat captain did not report the incident. The reef urgently needs to be restored before it deteriorates beyond repair.
In a radio interview with dive master Lucian de Lima on Island 92, De Lima said Proselyte Reef was St. Maarten’s most important reef system, as it was the healthiest and offered the most diversity. She said the island’s reefs were important for protecting the island from hurricane damage. She also said this reef was of historical value, being surrounded with artefacts from a British frigate that sank in the vicinity in 1801. Moreover, the reef already was damaged in the past when a US warship clipped it and lost a propeller and then again when a cruise ship brushed into it. This time it has been damaged in three different spots.
According to St. Maarten Nature Foundation Chief Marine Park Ranger Etienne Lake, particularly the fan corals and gorgonian corals were damaged. The foundation surveyed the damaged reef last week Friday.
He said the foundation had compiled a report on the incident that would be submitted to the relevant authorities. He said contact had been made with various local dive shops to assess how to go about restoring the reef efficiently.
He said the Nature Foundation was appealing to Government to speed up the process of implementing the marine park ordinance, so persons responsible for this type of destruction would be held liable in the future

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