By Jos Hill, Founder of Reef Check Australia
My first adventure on a coral reef was on the Great Barrier Reef while I was on a gap year back in 1995. I was hooked after one dive. As a Biology undergrad student, I spent the next few years learning everything I could about coral reefs. I was surprised to learn how little we knew about the scale of the problem at that time. I wanted to do something so I searched online for a way I could help. I was thrilled to discover Reef Check in 1999 and I jumped on an opportunity to coordinate surveys in Thailand. Solutions to complex environmental problems necessitate collaboration across communities, business and government. Reef Check provides tools for people to come together around reef conservation—and it was the opportunity to engage with people from all walks of life that attracted me to this work. To this day I am committed to a collaborative approach to conservation.
In 2001, I moved to Australia to pursue a masters degree at James Cook University. At that time, a small group of marine biologists and dive tourism professionals were developing a plan to engage the general public in monitoring key dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef and they asked me if I would coordinate this effort. Thrilled about this opportunity, I organized the first Reef Check surveys from a borrowed cell phone and internet cafés in Port Douglas, Queensland. Today, I am inspired to see Reef Check Australia emerge as an award-winning environmental charity that has engaged hundreds of volunteers in monitoring reefs all around Australia, as well as contributing to a range of ocean conservation initiatives.
Reef Check Australia recently published its first long-term report that summarizes a suite of achievements it has made between 2001-2014. Since 2001, the organization has trained >300 volunteers, conducted more than 600 reef surveys, and educated tens of thousands of residents about the importance of Australia's reefs. A recent paper submitted to Coral Reefs describes how Reef Check Australia’s volunteers are able to report upon changes in hard coral cover with comparable precision as scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS).
Despite unsettling news from AIMS that Australia’s Great Barrier Reef (GBR) has lost half of its coral cover in the past 30 years, Reef Check volunteers have shown us that some reef areas have increased their coral cover over the past decade. RCA’s GBR Monitoring Program focuses on dive tourism areas and highlights a sample of some of the best reefs in Queensland—those reefs that recreational divers would expect to see when they visit. RCA data show us that we should not give up hope and continue to urge the Australian Government to implement policies that protect coral reefs for future generations.
Subtropical rocky reefs in Southeast Queensland are far less known than the GBR. These reefs live in a transition zone where tropical and temperate species co-exist and support a surprising diversity of species. Yet water quality pollution and fishing pressure put this unique environment under threat. Through reef monitoring, education and local engagement, RCA has helped to put these reefs on the map and has been praised for inspiring community momentum for marine conservation in this region. Today, RCA data inform government management planning in the region.
I want to take the opportunity to thank the staff at Reef Check HQ for the support and advice over the years and commend RCA’s volunteers, staff and board for carrying on this fabulous effort.
Click here to download the full report (4.2mb).
Jos Hill founded and led Reef Check Australia between 2001-2009. She is now Associate Program Director at the Coral Reef Alliance.