Submitted by Terry Umphenour
“Maximum depth will be eighteen meters and dive time will be fifty minutes. Gear up.” The dive briefing command sent 25 enthusiastic young divers from Concordia International Schools in Shanghai and Hanoi down to the dive platform on Manta Queen III’s dive deck. The students and their seven adult leaders had prepared all year to collect data for Reef Check to monitor the health of the oceans’ reefs.
This year was quite special to the program. It began Concordia’s third, five-year Marine Research Project data collection program in the Andaman Sea. The project goals are to provide Reef Check with longitudinal data from reefs off Thailand’s coast, develop students into active global citizens, and guide them to become ecologically responsible adults. This year’s study was conducted near Koh Lipe. The previous two studies were conducted near Racha Yai Island (2008–2012) and Phi Phi Island (2013–2017) in the Andaman Sea.
Concordia students sign onto the program in the fall of each school year. They come for many reasons: to help the reefs, to learn to scuba dive, to have fun, and to gain new experiences. They range in age from 12–19, and many students participate for more than one year.
Collecting data requires participants to be PADI certified Open Water and Advanced Open Water divers, so new students begin in the classroom. In June of each year, students travel to Thailand and board ship to finish PADI certification and complete the necessary twenty-five dives needed to collect data. During these dives, students learn to identify and record fish, invertebrates, and substrate data to send to Reef Check. Students must successfully pass three tests: one on indicator fish species, a second on invertebrates, and a third on substrate.
The Marine Research Project concludes each year with two days dedicated to collecting Reef Check data. Students work in teams of six to collect data during the last two days at sea. As students step back onto dry land, each has grown in knowledge about the health of the ocean’s reefs and shares some small satisfaction at being part of an effort to ensure that reefs are available for future generations. Many will return next year. All hope that other schools and organizations join their efforts to support Reef Check. If you know of a school or organization interested in setting up a similar program, please contact Terry Umphenour for more information.