By Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer Nina Milton
From March to April 2014, the Red Sea Environmental Centre in Dahab carried out the 12th Reef Check survey series since 2006. A total of ten sites were surveyed at two depths, 5 and 10 meters (2 sites only at 10m).
The first week was spent on Reef Check presentations, underwater identification, and buoyancy control. The newly acquired knowledge was then tested on land and underwater.
Even before we could begin with the first survey dives, heavy rainfall hit the region, which occurs only every 2 to 3 years in the area. Due to the heavy rainfall and following floods, some sites had a high percentage of silt. Fortunately, most dive sites were not affected because they are not adjacent to the desert valleys (wadis) where the floods entered the sea.
Our team, all now newly certified Reef Check EcoDivers, was made up of four German students in biology, environmental science and aquatic tropical ecology, two experienced dive instructors from Egypt and Austria, and a freshly educated doctor of science (this year's winner of the Reef Check Germany Award). Joining our team was also a veteran Reef Checker from France who has participated in several Reef Check surveys worldwide.
Currently, the team is working on analysis of all the data recorded since 2006. At first glance, there appear to be no major changes. Hard Coral cover is relatively stable over the years at most sites with up to 45% cover at some sites. Nutrient Indicator Algae has increased slightly at some locations over the last couple of years. The fish surveys show that Grouper have declined in abundance since 2006 with small individuals (30 - 40 cm) as the most common size class. Most grouper are immature and cannot reproduce until they reach about 50cm in length. Other fish species targeted for food, such as snappers and sweetlips, showed low abundance throughout all years. Butterflyfish were the most common indicator fish, despite a decrease since 2006. The second most abundant fish group were Parrotfish. Over the last couple of years, there has been an increase in Giant Clams of the smallest size classes. The local Bedouin free dive to collect large clams for food. Lobsters have not been recorded once since 2006. Some sites appear to be affected by the increase in tourism with damaged corals, mostly at sites used by novice divers and very popular dive sites, however, most reefs surveyed were characterized by relatively stable substrate cover. Given the general decline in coral reefs in places such as the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, this is really good news.
Thank you to the team for lots of fun, enthusiasm, and the good work you all put in. Thanks to Sinai Divers for the great support over the years.
For more information on how you can get involved, contact Nina Milton at nina.milton(at)redsea-ec.org.