August 28, 2019

My Reef Check Experience: Diving Deeper into Coral Reef Wonders

Submitted by Reef Check EcoDiver Cecilia Varotti

As a marine biology student, I’ve spent the past two years studying organisms living in the sea and the many threats they are presently facing. Reef ecosystems rapidly became my favorite topic. I hope to spend many years learning as much as possible about them.

I was extremely excited at the idea of taking part in a Reef Check EcoExpedition in Nosy Be, a tiny island nestled between Madagascar and Mozambique: it was going to be my very first experience on a tropical reef and it was going to be amazing.

What I certainly didn’t expect was my dominant feeling during our first dive in the Indian Ocean: confusion! Too many colors. Too many animals. Hard corals, soft corals; small fishes, large fishes; bright purple sponges, stinging hydrozoans; giant clams. It was all beautiful! But despite all my exams and all the studying, I couldn’t get my head around all those things: I finally saw with my own eyes what a diversity hotspot looks like. For a brief moment, I had the temptation to shut out all the questions, to stop thinking and just enjoy the reef for its aesthetic value (which was high anyway); but luckily for me (and my future career, one might say) I wasn’t there alone.

Thanks to our Reef Check Guide, my professors and the staff of the Manta Diving Center of Nosy Be, dive by dive, my colleagues and I began to puzzle the reef out; we applied the Reef Check protocol, starting to recognize some key species and to interpret the meaning of the collected data. We also tried to identify some coral species using the Coral Finder, and eventually we were able to name some of them at first sight – which is not that easy! It might sound trivial, but it’s very satisfying and each new piece of information and knowledge makes you want to discover more; you become a better underwater observer and you appreciate all the interactions and peculiarities that a reef can offer.

Even for non-marine biologists, I think Reef Check can be a first step towards a wider and more exciting diving experience; why stop at the surface? There is always a new question to be answered, a new reef to be discovered and explored.

In addition to improving my knowledge on coral reefs, the experience also brought new people into my life, people that share my passion for marine life and care about its conservation and who made this journey fun; I’ve added several diving buddies to my contacts.

If you have doubts about the scientific merits of the data collected via the Reef Check protocol, I assure you that these records really have meaning and utility: they’re used in many research projects, for example I will use them to write my thesis. With the Reef Check protocol, you really get a chance to be involved in scientific research on coral reefs, often aiming at their conservation. Isn’t it exciting?