By Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director Nikole Ordway-Heath
In January 2015, Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director Nikole Ordway-Heath from Florida was asked to come down to Tobago to help get a Reef Check team started. The scientists, Aljoscha Wothke and Lanya Fanovich, from Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville (ERIC) arranged for Nikole to teach the Reef Check EcoDiver course to local divers. She had nine students; some of them work with the North East Sea Turtle (NEST) organization to help protect sea turtles in Tobago.
The land around Charlotteville is protected down to sea level; however, the underwater environment is not protected in this area, so ERIC would like to start changing this to help protect their coral reefs. For ERIC, Reef Check monitoring surveys are a stepping-stone to help them gather data to show what the reef system is like in their areas and how certain effects can be very damaging.
The training went very well, and all students passed the above and below water tests to become EcoDivers. We even conducted live surveys after the training to get the team started with collecting their data. The coral reefs in the Charlotteville area all differ from site to site. One of the dives called Pirates Bay is a great site to survey because it is close to shore and has different human impacts such as fishing, scuba diving, anchoring, and town pollution. In Pirates Bay, there are a lot of Gorgonians lining the substrate. At other sites around the island they have huge boulder corals, and a field of elkhorn coral was present at another site. There was also an abundance of fish on the reefs and, at one site, massive spiny lobsters!
After we finished the EcoDiver training, three of the scientists who work at ERIC moved on in training to become Reef Check Trainers. They are now able to train more EcoDivers in Tobago to get even more teams out there to survey. We hope to start seeing more from Reef Check Tobago soon and wish them luck with their surveys! If you are planning a trip to Tobago and want to help out this Reef Check team, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.