By Matthew Schumm & Beth Beyer – Reef Check DR volunteers
This April, a team of families from Chicago, Illinois trained as EcoDiver volunteers and conducted research with Reef Check Dominican Republic. In preparation for the trip, the students studied extensively the cultural, political, and economic history of the Dominican Republic. Students also explored the biology of coral reef organisms, with older students taking the lead in developing study materials and teaching younger participants about the coral reef ecosystem. Students were able to learn more about marine science through participation in labs at the John G. Shedd Aquarium and opportunities to meet with postdoctoral researchers working at the Aquarium as part of their overall participation with the Coral Reef Regeneration project.
In addition to collecting Reef Check data on the health of the reefs at Parque Nacional Submarino La Caleta, the EcoDiver volunteers had an opportunity to work with Reef Check Dominican Republic’s Dr. Ruben Torres to establish a “nursery” for staghorn Acropora coral. Coral fragments from the Silver Banks were carefully transported to La Caleta and transplanted into our nursery in hopes of saving and regenerating this coral for growth efforts in La Caleta and other regions around the Dominican Republic.
Populations of lionfish, a species invasive to the Caribbean, have grown unchecked in Dominican waters due to a lack of natural predation. Lionfish prey on a variety of ecologically and economically important reef fish, including the juveniles of parrotfish, damselfish and other herbivores that control reef algae. Our team of Reef Check EcoDivers had a chance to take part in a Lionfish tournament sponsored by Sea Savers Dominican Republic, a program facilitated by students from the Carol Morgan School of Santo Domingo. By capturing and eating lionfish, we made a small difference in protecting the health of the coral reefs in the Dominican Republic.