January 30, 2009

EcoAction Update: Caribbean Initiatives


RC Volunteer Duncan Kirkby checks on the fire coral


Saba rises straight from the sea


Tobago’s Buccoo Reef Trust has helped to manage a marine protected area since 1994

by Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

In 2009, the Reef Check EcoDiver Program will see some upgrades, with additional training and pre-requisites added to strengthen the Training of Trainers level. After over ten years of trying, many small island countries are realizing that despite their best intentions, they simply do not have the local capacity or funding to carry out all the detailed ecological monitoring they would like in order to effectively manage their marine resources. In many cases, scientists have made efforts to monitor reefs in great detail, but at high cost with little attention to management needs. When funding runs out, the result is often a complete lack of monitoring for several years. This leaves park managers and government staff struggling to make management decisions with an incomplete picture of the condition of their marine resources.

In order to address this need, Reef Check is now offering standardized training packages available for groups of ten or more people for a fraction of the cost of a team of highly trained scientists. At the end of the Reef Check training workshops, there will be one or more teams of certified Reef Check divers, a monitoring plan and a commitment from the teams to monitor selected coral reefs at least once per year. Many Caribbean island nations are following the lead of Jamaica and the Dominican Republic and using Reef Check as one of the major tools to ensure that they are able to track their coral reef resources every year in sufficient detail to be useful to government managers.

When most people think of the Netherlands Antilles, it is the southern group of Curacao, Aruba and Bonaire that come to mind. With the leadership of Paul Hoetjes of Reef Care, Reef Check has been active in those islands for many years. In a new initiative, Reef Check is planning to hold a training workshop in Saba this coming April. Saba is a tiny island located in the northeast corner of the Caribbean. It is important because the nearby Saba Bank is a major resource for fisheries and for the oil industry. The Island Council of Saba is very supportive of Reef Check, and in fact would like to see more marine science being carried out in Saba. The Director of Saba Marine Park, Jan Den Delk and his staff have their hands full with the daily work of maintaining the park, and would like Reef Check’s help in facilitating a regular monitoring program in the Park. Local dive shops such as Sea Saba are willing to pitch in and help. Ideally, Saba can help to promote Reef Check teams on all the islands in the area such as St. Eustatius and St. Maarten.

Trinidad and Tobago
At the other end of the Caribbean lies the twin island country of Trinidad and Tobago – perhaps most famous for their February Carnaval Festival and steel drums. Among divers, Tobago has long been a favorite destination. The Government of Trinidad and Tobago set up a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 1973, however, as with many MPAs around the world, monitoring and management are challenging. In January, the Buccoo Reef Trust invited Reef Check to help establish a regular monitoring program in Tobago so that managers will have a reliable annual report on changes on the reefs of this important island. A Reef Check training workshop will be offered in Tobago in April/May.

Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is a good example of a territory that is part of one of the richest countries in the world, but which has relatively little standardized coral reef monitoring (the RC California program began in 2005 as a result of similar circumstances). The reality is that governments have many priorities when choosing areas to provide funding, and unfortunately, monitoring to support marine conservation often loses out despite how critical the need is. Therefore, even in relatively prosperous economies, Reef Check has a major role to play. A Reef Check EcoDiver training will be held in collaboration with OPAS, a local NGO, early this year.

If you would like to sign up for a training in any of the above locations or would like to set up a training anywhere in the tropics this year, please contact: ecoaction@reefcheck.org.