My colleague, Dr. Scott Strong, and I were very pleased to complete our first Reef Check survey on Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands on September 29, 2008. Our survey took place only 2 weeks after Hurricane Ike came through Provo as a Category 4 storm. While some gorgonian coral damage was apparent, I was happy to see that the reef at "Coral Gardens" had not changed much at all since my visit earlier in the year. Clearly, humans can have a greater impact than even some very severe natural storms. I have been teaching Tropical Marine Biology at Keene State College since 2001 and have been bringing my students to Providenciales for a week-long field trip as part of the course. While the course has been very successful, I really wanted to bring an environmental/conservation research experience to our students. Observing the marine environment is extremely valuable, but being part of an ongoing international conservation effort offers an exciting educational experience that is impossible to replace. I chose to work with Reef Check because of its emphasis on partnerships with local residents, students and scientists.
We plan to add sites and to complete our surveys at least once a year. Aside from the data that we collect, the most important value of this project comes from its emphasis on education and raising awareness. I am still shocked when I hear about tourists collecting animals, coral skeletons and shells from the water and beaches around the island, even in those areas that are designated as a National Marine Sanctuary. We look forward to building our Reef Check team and adding to the database in the future.