Submitted by Reef Check Coordinator James Hewlett
Seven students from Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York arrived in Nevis on June 19th as part of a course called Global Ecosystems: Tropical Coral Reefs. The group was led by Professor James Hewlett, a Reef Check Course Director and Coordinator on the island of Montserrat, W.I. Accompanying Hewlett as a Teaching Assistant was University of Maryland biology student Conor O’Leary. The course included a variety of topics associated with coral reef ecology, but embedded in the curriculum was the Reef Check EcoDiver certification program. Scuba Safaris, led by Managing Director Ellis Chaderton, was the local dive shop partner which helped support activities related to the course, as well as the EcoDiver program. The week ended with 8 new certified EcoDivers! Variable weather on the last two days kept the group from conducting the very first survey in Nevis waters, but the new EcoDivers were able to complete a shallow survey on the leeward side of St. Kitts at Green Point.
On June 26th, Hewlett, O’Leary, and two students traveled to Montserrat, W.I. to participate in the second annual Montserrat Dive Festival. Hosted by the Green Monkey Dive Shop, the week-long festival included a diverse array of activities in the waters of Montserrat. Participants were given the option of becoming certified EcoDivers. Troy Depperman, owner of the Green Monkey and Reef Check Course Director, directed the EcoDiver program for 5 volunteers. Joining the festival mid-week were three more Course Directors from Florida Keys Community College. The new arrivals had sailed from Key West to Montserrat on The Freedom Boat, an organization committed to sustainable solutions for preserving the world’s oceans. With support from a grant from the National Science Foundation, the boat and its crew will remain in Montserrat for a month to conduct Reef Check surveys in multiple locations. Montserrat’s reefs face an unusual threat due to its active volcano in the Soufriere Hills. Volcanic activity began in 1995 and continues to this day. A February 2010 collapse of the volcanic dome dropped more than 50 million cubic meters of ash and rock into the landscape and out into the ocean on the windward side of the island. Direct deposition of ash, increased erosion, and increased redevelopment activity has contributed to a substantial sedimentation load on Montserrat’s reefs.
On all accounts, the trips were a huge success, with 12 new certified EcoDivers, three completed Reef Check surveys, a credit-bearing college course, and a week-long dive festival. A program of this scope would not be possible without support from the partner dive shops, Scuba Safaris and the Green Monkey Dive Shop, and financial support through the National Science Foundation grant. Future plans include an expansion of Reef Check activity in the waters around Nevis, and some detailed mapping of the reefs being surveyed by the crew of The Freedom Boat.