April 29, 2009

Coral Cay Hosts First EcoDiver Training in the UK


by Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director Jonathan Shrives

Over the last eight years I’ve had the pleasure of teaching Reef Check in plenty of sunny and exotic locations; from the atolls of Indonesia to the fringing reefs of Honduras and Oman. But now as a newly fledged UK EcoDiver Course Director, I found myself in an altogether colder location! Standing on the steps of Waterloo station, I had an appointment with a first for Reef Check – an EcoDiver Trainer course in London! Some of you may be thinking I’m a bit far from the nearest tropical coral reef, but it is with good reason I braced the chilly March air. An exciting new partnership between Reef Check and Coral Cay Conservation had me visiting their headquarters in London. Coral Cay Conservation is one of the largest expedition companies in the UK, and over the last two decades have had thousands of divers volunteering on projects around the world. So it’s extremely exciting that they are looking to run Reef Check projects in the Philippines and later on in Tobago and Papua New Guinea.

I had recently returned from leading a month of Reef Check surveys in Honduras for Biosphere Expeditions. Although Biosphere has been conducting Reef Check surveys for several years, this was the first year we had conducted the new EcoDiver program. I must say, things have certainly changed since I first started as a Reef Check team member nine years ago. Back then, all we had was a dog-eared photocopied manual! The new EcoDiver program is light years ahead, and makes teaching Reef Check both far simpler and much more enjoyable. The students really enjoyed having the EcoDiver kit, and the new resources teach the techniques from a multitude of angles. Everybody learns differently; some respond better to a DVD than a lecture, while others prefer reading materials. The kits provide all of these different materials. Also by owning a kit, people have access to the slides, ID slate and DVD anytime they need. We found that the new exam was also a useful tool. Although some might find it daunting at first, it is a great way for people to find their strengths and weaknesses, and discover what they really need to review for the transects!

So it was armed with this experience of teaching EcoDivers for Biosphere Expeditions, that I met Jan-Willem van Bochove, Chief Technical Advisor for Coral Cay Conservation. Jan introduced me to the team at their London Headquarters, and with an early start and a mug of coffee, we all sat down to start the EcoDiver trainer course. Initially we started with a review of Reef Check survey methods, particularly highlighting any changes in the methods since 2006. Many of the staff present had conducted Reef Check surveys before, so this was a relatively straight forward session. We then continued on to review the EcoDiver program itself. We looked at some of the new benchmarks for certification of EcoDivers, reviewed example lesson plans and teaching schedules, and then compared Caribbean and Indo-Pacific identification presentations. Somewhere we managed to squeeze in a quick break for lunch and finished off the course with a review of teaching methods, diving logistics, and of course, the three identification exams; all passed with flying colors! We finished the course on a high, and hopefully the enthusiasm of expedition companies such as Coral Cay and Biosphere Expeditions will encourage a whole new generation of EcoDivers to get certified! Despite the current economic climate, the UK has a growing number of expedition and science ecotourism companies operating around the world, with a diverse collection of international volunteers. For me, as the first UK EcoDiver Course Director, the future looks both exciting and encouraging! I can’t wait till my next course! If you’re in the UK and looking to become an EcoDiver Trainer and certify some EcoDivers for Reef Check surveys, then please feel free to contact me through the main Reef Check office; ecodiver@reefcheck.org.