Mermaids Reef Check Program – Pattaya, Thailand
In many parts of the world coral reefs represent a major economic resource that is often misunderstood by local stakeholders and the consequences can and often do result in mismanagement.
Indeed the scientific community as a whole had little or no idea as to the state of the worlds’ coral reefs as recently as 1990 – 1995.
Dr. Greg Hodgeson formalized a standard for monitoring coral-reefs in 1997 largely because a journalist had asked him to state his opinion on the state of the world’s marine reefs. Based on several standardized underwater transect methods, (ICLARM Aquanaut, ReefBase) Reef Check has developed a coral reef monitoring protocol and an international coral reef conservation program. Reef Check is community of volunteer professional divers and amateur divers participating in a global monitoring program mainly but not exclusively targeting coral reef ecosystems. The Reef Check coral reef monitoring system was founded in 1996 and is active in over 82 countries and territories throughout the world. Reef Check does have a Thai Chapter and has two active monitoring teams in Thailand as well as a national coordinator.
Reef Check is an international program that works with communities, governments and businesses to scientifically monitor restore and maintain coral reef health. Reef Check objectives are to: educate the public about the coral reef crisis; to create a global network of volunteer dive teams trained in Reef Check’s scientific methods who regularly monitor and report on reef health; to facilitate collaboration that produces ecologically sound and economically sustainable solutions; and to stimulate local community action to protect remaining pristine coral reefs and rehabilitate damaged reefs worldwide.
In 1997, Reef Check conducted the first-ever global marine survey of coral reef health that provided scientific confirmation that our reefs are in crisis due to over-fishing, illegal fishing, and pollution. Since then, Reef Check has played a major role in efforts to preserve and sustain coral reef ecosystems. After the 2004 Tsunami, ReefCheck published a report to assess the damage the Tsunami had done to the coral reefs in the affected region.
Coral Reef Check teams work with business sectors such as tourism, scuba diving, surfing and the marine aquarium trade, to develop mutually beneficial solutions including the creation of self-funding Marine Protected Areas. Reef Check has received international environmental awards for its work, and is the United Nations’ official community-based reef monitoring program.
During the program you will learn how to identify certain species of fish and invertebrates that have been specifically selected to help indicate any external pressures being exerted on a reef. These are not surprisingly known as indicator species. You will also learn how to identify and categorize the substrate (rock) again the importance of this cannot be over emphasized as the information that you collect will help determine what and how much humans are impacting on coral reefs. In addition you will also learn to recognize how human impact on the surrounding area affects the reef. Some of the program is land based but a great deal of your work will be conducted on the reefs.
Once your reef data has been collated and entered on to the purpose designed spread sheet you or your dive team leader will send it to your team scientist for analysis and assessment. The team scientist may ask you for clarification or additional information of your findings. Once he is satisfied the marine survey data is accurate it will be sent to Reefcheck headquarters for final verification and then entered on to the Reefcheck database.
An example of how this data might be used could follow along these lines. A hotel group maybe considering investing millions of dollars in a new resort and wishes to obtain a report on reefs that would be accessible to its future guests. They could access satellite imagery through the national fisheries department or reef-base for a general overview and then extrapolate data from Reef Check and with expert help make a determination on the reefs viability. Work for the local communities and the economic benefit to the area would change and improve the standard of living for generations to come. Please remember sustainability is a lot more than a “buzz” word – it is the only way to create a winning long term solution for all.
So called developed nations have now understood this, however even with their vast wealth they were slow to react. All concerned individuals who have the economic power to participate in Reef Check should do so as you can act as a catalyst and kick start this awareness in nations less able than your own. Getting involved in the reef check for this area is just the tip of a very big ice-berg that we are about to scale.