By Katharine Yates, DEMA’s Environmental Officer
As is the case for many Caribbean islands, the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) rely heavily on coral reefs, which contribute large amounts of income annually to the country’s economy through tourism, fisheries, and coastal protection. Grand Turk and Providenciales attract large numbers of visitors who travel to the TCI to scuba dive and snorkel on the extensive coral reefs. Assessing the environmental sustainability of tourism in the TCI is no easy task, and the direct impacts of the rapidly growing tourism industry on the coral reefs have not yet been monitored.
The Department of the Environment and Maritime Affairs (DEMA) of the Turks and Caicos Islands Government decided to partner with the Reef Check Foundation to establish a nationwide coral reef monitoring program. In September 2014, DEMA hosted workshops on the islands of Grand Turk and Providenciales to train professional and recreational SCUBA divers in coral reef monitoring methods. The Turks and Caicos Islands Governor’s Office generously funded these workshops instructed by Dr. Ruben Torres from Reef Check Dominican Republic. Through collaboration with dive operators and dive enthusiasts, surveys will be carried out at different sites on TCI coral reefs every 3-4 months. This will allow DEMA to assess the health of the reefs in different areas, and monitor changes over time, while also increasing community involvement.
Collection of this information on the reefs throughout the TCI will allow DEMA to identify any changes as they begin to take place, and inform management of the environment as a result. As much of the tourism in the TCI is driven by the maintenance of a healthy coral reef ecosystem, this information will prove critical to ensuring the future of a successful and thriving tourism industry.
As a result of these workshops, 23 residents are now certified Reef Check EcoDivers, and are able to collect important information regarding the health of the coral reefs in the region. We would like to thank Blue Water Divers, Oasis Divers and Grand Turk Diving Co. for their support and participation on Grand Turk, and Provo Turtle Divers, Beaches, SURFside Ocean Academy, Big Blue Unlimited and Crystal Seas Adventures for their support and participation in Providenciales. Without the participation of the dive community this coral reef monitoring project would not function, and we are excited to get out on the coral reefs and start collecting information.
If you are interested in getting involved with this program please contact DEMA’s Environmental Officer Katharine Hart at KatharineAHart@gmail.com or 1(649)342-7729 for more information.