By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson
The 2008 International Year of the Reef has been highly productive for Reef Check. In 1997, Reef Check began as a global science project to train citizen scientists to monitor the health of the world’s reefs. It was not until 2005 that we left the university environment to become an independent non-profit. From an organizational perspective – we are still in a start-up stage, working to build our programs and gain the support of a diverse base of members, donors and corporate sponsors. At times like this when the economy is in decline, I am grateful that our programs can continue because they rely primarily on the work of thousands of volunteers and a few dedicated staff.
With programs in over 90 countries, there are always a lot of Reef Check activities throughout the world. Some key accomplishments for 2008 include:
1) Over 20,000 people from 157 countries (including Moldova and Slovenia!) signed the Declaration of Reef Rights led by the President of Palau, Dr Sylvia Earle and environmentalist Daryl Hannah.
2) A 100 page report published on the first underwater survey of the entire coast of California by citizen scientists.
3) RC Dominican Republic was asked to co-manage La Caleta Marine Park by DR government
4) Government of Jamaica included 31 Reef Check sites in national monitoring program
5) RC Egypt teamed with PERSGA to resurvey 35 sites in six Red Sea countries
6) RC Indonesia launched Marine Management Area at Bondalem village in Buleleng, Bali.
7) RC Maldives documented amazing recovery of local reefs from 1997-98 bleaching event.
8) RC helps to list all reef-building corals on IUCN Red List published in the journal Science.
9) RC presents 10-year data analysis showing recovery of Indo-Pacific reefs at International Coral Reef Symposium.
10) Increased our membership from 6,000 to over 25,000 people.
In addition, Reef Check carried out a major survey of the Mussandam Peninsula, an impressive dive location in Oman, discovering extremely high coral cover and an abundance of endemic fish and corals. (see 2009 EcoExpedition)
As a novice diver in the 1970s, I had the good fortune to dive on reefs throughout the world before overfishing and other impacts damaged them. As we have reported since our first global coral reef survey in 1997, it is now very difficult to find locations such as Mussandam where human impacts are relatively low and the reefs are in excellent condition. As an example, the two species of coral most common in the Caribbean in the 1970s (staghorn and elkhorn) are now on the US Endangered Species List. And yet, the data collected by our volunteer citizen scientists around the world indicate that there is still hope, and that the decline of coral reefs has slowed. Marine Protected Areas are starting to provide benefits and recovery of damaged reefs is possible as evidenced by the Maldives where reefs severely damaged by bleaching in 1998 have now recovered.
If we all work together to raise awareness and protect reefs from human impacts including greenhouse gas buildup, there is still time to save these gorgeous and invaluable ecosystems for our children and grandchildren.