Submitted by Corales de Paz
The ocean is our true ultimate frontier and beneath the waves lies a fantastic, colorful, alien, and sometimes dangerous paradise.
Colombia sits in quite a privileged position, having access to both the Caribbean in the north and the Pacific to the west. Warm and teeming with life waters.
Some 700 kilometers north-west of the Colombian mainland, these waters make way for an island to rise, the island of San Andrés, probably one of the best examples of Caribbean Paradise ever sought after by tourists, marine enthusiasts, divers, as well as scientists.
San Andrés, also referred to as “The Sea of Seven Colors”, is certainly Colombia’s crown jewel on the Caribbean: white sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, tropical climate, and coral reefs that paint the waves in an unbelievable variety of shades of blue.
There is no better place than San Andrés to exemplify our core belief at Corales de Paz: Coral reefs are more than just an ecosystem, they are a source of unity, a way to bring human beings together; our purpose is to conserve and improve the condition of this habitat, so this source of unity remains ever strong.
Bringing people together is both our purpose as well as our method: joining scientists with their innovative ideas and state-of-the-art research projects; locals with their vast knowledge of the waters surrounding them; altogether with tourists, divers and marine enthusiasts who enjoy visiting these gardens of Eden but also enjoy giving back to the seas.
And what better way to give structure to our endeavor than the Reef Check protocol? The first-ever volunteer effort to survey coral reefs worldwide.
The first Reef Check survey in San Andrés was carried out in 1998, in which scientists and experts were the main participants; the project did not quite lift off at the time, however the idea of citizen science remained dormant waiting to be picked up again some 20 years later.
The Sea of Seven Colours is of utter importance to Colombia, housing more than 70% of all coral reefs in the country, plus sustaining a population of more than 50 thousand inhabitants and more than a million tourists a year. However, tourism overload and overfishing, combined with coral bleaching, has led to a decline in live coral cover on the surrounding reefs.
Information regarding the status and health of coral reefs is sometimes difficult to access for people, because most of the surveys are carried out by private organizations, universities or scientific groups.
Based on his experience around the world as a Reef Check EcoDiver and EcoDiver Trainer, Corales de Paz founder and director Phanor Montoya PhD, noticed that it is not only scientists or universities with interest in coral reefs, but almost anyone. Tourists, recreational divers, marine enthusiasts, local communities, even children, common citizens who probably can’t tell the scientific differences between one coral species and the next, and nevertheless, are willing to take their time to learn, to travel, to dive, to endure hardship, with the sole reward of preserving and surveying these ecosystems. People with a ton of varied interests from different backgrounds and yet all of them gathered around an ecosystem.
Coral reefs bring people together. The involvement of non-scientific citizens in coral reef survey and monitoring projects around the world was a complete success. So why not apply this concept in Colombia? Hence, Corales de Paz.
We began our first Reef Check surveys in 2017, across multiple destinations in Colombia, providing our participants with a new way to make science but at the same time dive tourism and conservation, the ultimate combination for any marine enthusiast.
Reef Check San Andrés was one of the first surveys we carried out; since then we’ve been monitoring the reef’s health and status on a yearly basis. But not only that, Reef Check San Andrés has been embraced by local inhabitants, so much so that many local fishermen and recreational divers have been certified as Reef Check EcoDivers, giving them the possibility to support and participate in any Reef Check monitoring program on the island. That way, we make sure that the most valuable resource remains evermore in the hands of those who depend on it.
Reef Check San Andrés is our avant-garde project; science and tourism combined in a paradise destination. Take a chance and enjoy citizen science, or better, enjoy meaningful diving; get to know new people, who just as you, are driven to monitor and conserve these underwater gardens. Moreover, the money participants invest in their expedition goes entirely to the project, supporting our monitoring and conservation efforts, making Reef Check San Andrés quite a sustainable model of citizen science.
For centuries, people have only dreamt of visiting a Caribbean paradise as the one described here. This is your chance to make that dream come true, plus the add-on of being able to express your inner scientist or explorer, while at the same time helping a conservation effort for a very important ecosystem, of which we, humans, rely so much upon.
For more information on this project and how to get involved, please visit: https://www.coralesdepaz.org/program/san-andres-reef-check/