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New coral reef citizen scientists to monitor coral reef health in Colombia


Corales de Paz

For a second consecutive year, and to celebrate the International Year of the Reef 2018, Corales de Paz organised a participatory monitoring of Colombia’s coral reefs.

The Santa Marta Reef Check 2018 expedition brought together 30 recreational divers from all over the country to make an ecological evaluation of the reefs in the Santa Marta Bay and the National Natural Tayrona Park. Held again at the El Rodadero Hotel, the event shared the Reef Check EcoDiver program to 20 recreational divers, including an official from the National Natural Tayrona Park (NNTP). In so doing, Corales de Paz continues to build capacity to complement local and national programs that track coral reef health in Santa Marta.

Team Taganga and National Parks

The event was made possible thanks to the collaboration and participation of national research biologists from the NNTP, the SeaFlower Foundation, the environmental bureau of San Andrés Island -Coralina, the Rodadero Aquarium, the Calipso Foundation, and the Corales de Paz as Scientific Leaders of the Reef Check teams. Their commitment to transfer surveying skills and reef ecology expertise made possible to collect information on coral health from five diving sites, three of which had already been monitored in the 2017 expedition. The immediate result is updated information on the reef dynamics that occur in this region.

In addition to the training of recreational divers in the Reef Check protocol, the atypical presence of Sargasso (Sargassum spp) forests could also be assessed. This is a temporary condition that has been reported elsewhere in the western Atlantic, normal in Santa Marta in the first months of the year, but that in the present year 2018 has had a prolonged presence atypical for the southern Caribbean.

Another preliminary result of this citizen science exercise is the recording of a low prevalence (<10% of the population surveyed) of white plague in the evaluated sites. This coral disease is causing a great coral mortality in the reefs of Florida and the most recent records suggest that it is spreading south, rising alarms in Caribbean countries. The data collected on coral diseases as part of this Reef Check hopes to serve as an updated reference point for reef managers and scientists following the progress of white plague in the Caribbean and Colombia.

20 plus divers conducted Reef Check surveys

The objective of Corales de Paz with its participatory coral reef monitoring program is to serve as an early warning system for the health condition of Colombia’s Caribbean coral reefs. We hope that recreational divers, who frequent the coral reefs, help in providing information to the environmental authorities. So that when needed, they can implement actions to control possible threats to our coral reefs. The confirmation of the presence of Sargassum and the estimation of a low prevalence of white plague are two examples that demonstrate the contribution that the Reef Check program and its EcoDivers can make to the study of coral reef dynamics.

The event held in Santa Marta was very well received and the participants expressed their great interest in continuing in the near future supporting coral reef monitoring, which encourages us to continue with this work in favor of the conservation and rehabilitation of coral reefs in Colombia. We are convinced the awareness we are raising through this event and the many more that are coming as we celebrate the IYOR 2018, will ignite a more conscious behavior towards coral reef conservation in Colombia and worldwide.