Reef Check News

Montserrat Reef Check Survey to Kick Off Summer Dive Festival


RC team outside Green Monkey

Soufriere Hills Volcano

Deploying transect

Beach training

By Reef Check Montserrat Coordinator James Hewlett
James Hewlett, Reef Check Coordinator for Montserrat, West Indies and a resident of New York, was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project’s primary focus is to develop a model for integrating project-based learning into community college science curricula. The project involves a collaboration of four environmental research organizations (Reef Check, Braddock Bay Raptor Research, The Nevis Biodiversity Project, and The Terramar Foundation), five community colleges (Finger Lakes CC, Monroe CC, Genesee CC, Tompkins-Cortland CC, and Delaware Technical and CC), two four-year schools (Rochester Institute of Technology, Harvard University), three currently funded NSF programs (Research Integrating Molecular and Environmental Science, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, Taking Delaware's Biotechnology Education to the Next Level), and a state government agency (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation).
The model being tested includes a variety of teaching components, and features regular Reef Check survey work in Montserrat and Nevis, W.I. over the next three years. Included in the model is the idea that incorporating undergraduates in Reef Check surveys not only immerses them in a learning activity that is impossible to replicate in a classroom, but engages them on a scientific level where questions lead to hypothesis testing. In a recent example, two students participating in an invertebrate survey observed a patch of reef that appeared to contain an unusually high level of sponge diversity. This patch was located very near a sunken barge. The students questioned if the disturbance from the barge was related to their observation. This curiosity turned into an undergraduate research project that continues under the grant program.  
The project also highlights how Reef Check Coordinators can work together with local governments to create synergy. Montserrat faces many challenges with respect to tourism and economic sustainability. In July 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano woke up after a long slumber. Over the next few years, pyroclastic flows buried the capital city of Plymouth and the international airport. Following mass evacuations, the population relocated to the north end of the island. More than half of the island still remains in an exclusion zone due to regular volcanic activity that continues to pound the southern end of the island. Tourism has all but disappeared on the island, and the economy is extremely fragile as the proud Montserratians work to rebuild a sustainable community. 
As a British territory, Montserrat receives economic support to maintain a basic infrastructure, but recent work has focused on developing a strategic plan for restoring tourism to the island. Recently, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) created the Tourism Challenge Fund (TCF). This fund makes available approximately $3 million over a three year period to facilitate the development of a range of innovative tourism-related projects and events. The fund is competitive, and proposals were evaluated using criteria related to the ability of the programs to help rebuild the tourism industry. The Green Monkey Dive Shop on Montserrat has been the base of operation for Reef Check activities on the island since 2005. The owners, Troy and Melody Depperman, were awarded a TCF project titled “Green Monkey Diving and Eco-Tour Promotion Project.” The project involves collaboration with James Hewlett and Reef Check activities being supported by the NSF grant funds. Included in the Eco-Tour Promotion Project is an island Dive Festival that will be held June 27 – July 4, 2009. The Festival will kick off with a Reef Check survey at two different sites. Participants will take part in a Reef Check program that will combine both classroom and field training prior to the official surveys. 
Using resources from both the NSF and the TCF program, the collaborators have developed a powerful synergy that has the potential to boost ecotourism on the island. In addition, Reef Check activity on the island will reach a level of visibility it has never experienced before. Beginning in March, the Green Monkey Dive shop will begin a direct marketing campaign throughout the United States and Canada to promote the event. The promotion will begin at Beneath The Sea, America’s Largest Consumer Scuba and Dive Travel Show in America at the Meadowlands Exposition Center, Secaucus, NJ. If you are interested in learning more about the festival, you are encouraged to contact the Green Monkey directly at or James Hewlett, Montserrat Reef Check Coordinator at
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