Reef Check Visits Belize
San Pedro Sun
November 20, 2003
Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson of the Institute of the Environment visited Ambergris Caye last week to briefly investigate the state of the Belizean reef. Reef Check evolved in 1997 as a result of the International Year of the Reef and is described as a Global Coral Reef Education, Monitoring and Management organization. Reef Check surveys are conducted in 60 countries worldwide and data gathered during surveys determines the impact of human activities on coral reefs.
Reef Check provides training workshops and materials to end-users, people who are either members of Reef Check teams, or stakeholders. A major goal is to establish regional training centers in the major coral reef regions. Last Thursday and Friday, November 13th and 14th, members of Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Green Reef Environmental Institute, and local dive operators participated in a two-day Reef Check "mini-training" session held at the Belize Yacht Club in San Pedro.
Hodgson, a marine ecologist, operates out of the University of California - Los Angeles (UCLA). He spoke with The San Pedro Sun about Reef Check and how he came to be in Belize. He said Reef Check was invited by Zak Jones of Protech Belize who met a Reef Check representative at the recent Diving Equipment Marketing Association (DEMA) trade show in October.
During the interview, Hodgson stated that Reef Check began as a scientific method of tracking global changes in coral reef health and assessing regional and global reef health. It quickly developed into an international environmental organization with goals of educating the public about the coral reef crisis and providing training on how to implement solutions. Coral reef monitoring is achieved through surveys performed by volunteers who consist of tourist divers, marine scientists, marine environmental organizations, and may include local fishermen. It is hoped that, in turn, these volunteers will establish and manage long-term reef monitoring programs in their areas. To facilitate this, Reef Check provides seed money and training, which includes fundraising lessons, to finance these efforts.
To conduct a Reef Check survey, approximately four volunteers are needed for a half-day, to swim the length of a measured area and count carefully selected organisms at different depths. The site's geographic coordinates and the coral reef survey data collected is then processed and thoroughly examined to determine whether or not the reef is healthy. The organisms counted include invertebrates, fish, nutrient indicator algae (NIA), and recently killed corals (defined as killed within the past one-year period as indicated by algal growth). Examples of organisms surveyed in Belize (and globally) are: Banded coral shrimp, Butterfly fish, Fleshy algae, Grouper, Hard coral, Lobster, Moray eel, Parrotfish, Pencil urchin and Snapper. In the Atlantic region only, the Gorgonia, Flamingo Tongue and Nassau Grouper are surveyed. A low number of certain organisms may indicate activities such as over fishing, blast fishing, poison fishing, aquarium fishing, nutrient pollution and curio (gift shop) collection.
Hodgson also made mention of a new Belize/Cuba project sponsored by the Oak Foundation, which provides funding to study approximately 30 Marine Protected Areas (MPA). Through this funding, Reef Check hopes to train 40 people and conduct 30 surveys in the country of Belize alone. The Director explained that Belize has already participated in three Reef Check surveys: two in 1997, and the most recent one in 2001 with assistance from Hol Chan Marine Reserve personnel.
Hodgson stated Reef Check's goals are met through scientific research and a public awareness/education program, training workshops, presentations at scientific and management meetings, attending annual events, dive expeditions, as well as television and film productions. They target the general public, end-users, politicians, managers and scientists.
Reef Check's success depends on partnerships, with government agencies, the private sector and non-profit groups. At the international level, Reef Check partners with the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), an umbrella organization for coral reef activities that provides a forum for groups and nations interested in coral reef issues. In Belize, Reef Check is working closely with Green Reef, Hol Chan, Coastal Zone and the Government of Belize, and hopes to develop long-term relationships with these organizations.
Private sector sponsorship is also needed to lend equipment, boats, gas and volunteers for surveys or to provide financial assistance for the program. Dive operators are also asked for their assistance in informing their resort clients and tourists about Reef Check's efforts.
Reef Check has already appointed Robin Woodman Jones as the Belize program coordinator. The next survey training is tentatively scheduled for February 2004. Anyone interested in participating or sponsoring the Reef Check program in Belize may call 226-3174 or visit www.ReefCheck.org
Through this medium, Reef Check thanks the Belize Yacht Club and Protech Belize for their generosity for this introductory training session.