December 16, 2020

Reef Check in Jamaica: A Long-Term Management Success Story

By the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA)

Participants certified as Reef Check EcoDivers in 2015

Reef Check monitoring began in Jamaica in 2001 with the establishment of four long-term monitoring sites within the boundaries of Negril Marine Park. Over the years the location of the sites have been expanded and surveys conducted at several sites island-wide in an effort to fill existing gaps in information and provide a more comprehensive view of the current status of Jamaican reefs.

Jamaica conducted its first Reef Check training in Negril, Westmoreland in 2003 with the training of 17 volunteers. The training was in response to a need for a simple and systematic method of data collection that can be done by persons with limited or no scientific background. Following the training, the Jamaica Coral Reef Monitoring Network (JCRMN) was formed. This consisted of a group of volunteer divers who through their efforts increased the knowledge of the island’s reefs, especially those on the south coast. Extensive assessments were conducted on the reefs of the Portland Bight Protected Area; this was a year-long assessment which resulted in the survey of 13 reef sites. The reefs of the Port Royal Cays; Navy Island, Portland; and Boscobel, St. Mary were also assessed. The data collected has been used to inform the development of sustainable management programs.

In 2007, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) institutionalized Reef Check and has since partnered with various organizations such as JCRMN to conduct coral reef monitoring at various sites across the island. NEPA primarily focused its monitoring activities in marine protected areas including special fishery conservation areas (more commonly known as fish sanctuaries). The monitoring protocol employed in the annual assessment of Jamaica’s coral reefs characterizes coral reef community structure and health. At this time, the JCRMN was comprised of members involved in coral reef monitoring activities across the island including NGOs, dive clubs, MPA managers and the University of the West Indies. The Network suffered from the attrition of its volunteers and monitoring responsibilities was then primarily driven by NEPA. 

In an aim to revitalize the monitoring network and increase the national reef monitoring capacity, NEPA staged a training to certify 12 volunteers as EcoDivers in 2015. The cadre of trainees consisted of sanctuary managers and game wardens/conservation officers from NGOs, marine protected areas and special fishery conservation areas. The training of persons involved in MPA management island-wide to become EcoDivers expanded the network of persons with a grasp of the status of reefs within their respective areas, as well as other sites and reporting to the Agency as the central repository. They have continued to assist in the collection of data annually within their respected protected areas.  The most recent training session in Jamaica was held in August 2020 where nine members of staff of NEPA were trained to enable the continuation of reef monitoring activities.

Jamaica has used the Reef Check methodology in conjunction with a modified version of the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) methodology (used to collect data on fish biomass) for the generation of a Coral Reef Health Index (CRHI) Report. The index measures the resilience of a reef by examining the ability of the reef community to maintain or restore structure and function and remain in an equivalent ‘phase’ as before events such as coral mortality.  The reef index is determined by the integration of four key indicators: coral cover, macro-algal cover, herbivorous fish abundance and commercially important fish abundance. The reef health index has become a method of effectively tracking reef status and the health status of reef systems within various marine protected areas that have been repeatedly monitored.  This data collected has been used to inform the implementation of adaptive management strategies for effective coral reef management.