November 24, 2008

Second OceansWatch Reef Check Training in Tonga

By Jane Pares


The cruising season in the South Pacific is coming to a close, and some cruisers have already made their way to New Zealand where they’ll stay over the hurricane season.

Among the OceansWatch members heading back for the second time are Beth and Ken Cone on Eagle Wings and David and Gail Funk on Fifth Season.  But before making the passage, they’ve participated in the OceansWatch Reef Check course in the Kingdom of Tonga.  This is the second course run in Tonga for OceansWatch members- the first was in April this year and had ten participants.

OceansWatch member, Glenn Edney owns and runs OceanBlue Adventures on the island of Foa, and is accredited by Reef Check to run their EcoDiver Course for OceansWatch members.  He has considerable knowledge and experience of the underwater world– Glenn has been diving in Tongan waters since 1992 and has written a book on New Zealand’s Poor Knights Marine Reserve.  Janey Pares (OW Media and Membership) and Glenn run the OceansWatch Reef Check course from their dive and whale watching base in the Ha’apai Islands.  Rachel Agnew, an OW member who runs – a diver forum – also joined them for the course.


The training location is beautiful; Ha’apai, a sheltered, turquoise lagoon, is Tonga’s best kept secret and the perfect place to learn about coral reefs. Its horizon is dominated by the dormant volcanic cone of Kao and Tofua, an active volcano that is infamous for hosting the mutinous crew from the British Navy’s HMS Bounty!  It is particularly ideal for cruisers, as they can anchor off the beach, safely tucked in behind the reef, and come ashore each day for instruction.  OceanBlue Adventures is also the only dive operator based here. 

The theory section of the OceansWatch Reef Check course, which involves identification of substrate, bleaching, predation, damage, disease, and of fish and invertebrate reef health indicator species, is taught at OceanBlue Adventure’s base behind the beach.  The underwater practical work is undertaken from both the beach and the dive boat, making use of the Home reef and other reefs further offshore in the lagoon.

The course ran for five days. Each day included intensive learning in both theory and practical sessions.  Several theory tests and a full underwater survey completed the course and need to be passed in order to gain the certification.  All the participants happily passed and said the following about their experiences:

 “What a wonderful opportunity to learn and be useful at the same time.”
“Every day brought new insights and surprising facts!”
“The last 12 years of diving I have focused on fish identification and photography.  Reef Check has really opened my eyes to the variety of coral and invertebrates.”

OceansWatch links sailors and divers together with marine conservation projects, and forms partnerships with local island communities to work with them to find practical solutions to some of their most basic of problems.

For more photos, click here.