IGS Internships

The Reef Check Programme

Background

The ReefCheck program was founded in 1997 by Dr. Gregor Hodgson to answer the question: "What is the health of the world's reefs?" To do this on a global scale, a simple, rapid monitoring program was designed that relies on volunteers, trained and led by marine scientists. The goal was to train volunteers to collect scientifically valid data on reef health, but the result was more far reaching. By taking part in ReefCheck surveys, divers, businessmen and fishermen alike develop a strong desire to take better care of reefs.

The ReefCheck concept is to create an international network of regional, national and local volunteer coordinators who are responsible for ReefCheck activities in their area. The coordinators raise funds, organize media events and match teams of divers with marine scientists who provide training and lead the teams during the actual survey.

Today, ReefCheck surveys have been carried out at over 1000 reefs in 50 countries and territories. By using the same method all over the world, we have been able to track global trends such as the global extent of overfishing on reefs and the 1998 bleaching and mortality event that devastated reefs throughout the tropical oceans.

There are simple solutions to the coral reef crisis, but we all need to work together to be successfully save the reefs. Support ReefCheck by joining the ReefCheck Foundation or by participating in a ReefCheck activity. For more information, see http://www.reefcheck.org.

Rationale

Coral reefs are the second most diverse ecosystem in the world and have been the model for some of the most important work in ecology. They are economically valuable as a source of food and compounds that can be used as drugs; they also protect the coast from wave erosion during storms.

Coral islands and their white sand beaches attract millions of tourists while many of the world's twenty million scuba enthusiasts travel in search of colorful corals and large reef fish. Coral reefs are the largest biological structures on earth and may be viewed from space.

Yet, despite their importance, little has been done to understand how coral reef organisms respond to human activities.

ReefCheck's Aims

ReefCheck is a global volunteer effort by teams of recreational divers and marine scientists to address this lack of knowledge. Our main program goals are to:

  1. Raise public awareness about the value of coral reefs, the problems facing their health, and solutions to these problems
  2. Obtain high quality scientific data on the health of coral reefs on a global scale
  3. Provide local reef managers with the tools and resources necessary to manage their reefs at a community level

Origins

Scientists have been monitoring coral reefs since the time of Darwin. The 1993 Colloquium on Global Aspects of Coral Reefs, organized by Prof. Robert Ginsburg of the University of Miami, was a turning point for many reef scientists who met to discuss the status of the world's reefs. At the end of the meeting, it was clear that there was not enough information available to form a picture of the status of the world's reefs.

A group of coral reef scientists felt that part of the problem lay with some of the standard monitoring methods scientists have used. These detailed methods were designed to investigate community ecology and include measurements of many parameters that may not be affected when coral reef health is damaged. The scientists felt that more specific methods should be designed to investigate human impacts on coral reefs, because those are the impacts that are preventable.

It was recognized that another problem with the traditional scientific approach was that there are only a small number of reef scientists, most of who are very busy, and so can only carry out surveys periodically. Thus the database for checking on the health of coral reefs was very spotty and not easily comparable.

The solution would be to organize a global survey effort that would take place annually over a defined period - a synoptic survey of the health of the world's reefs, with volunteer help from non-scientists. The ReefCheck concept grew out of this initiative and was developed throughout early 1996 and the name "ReefCheck" was chosen in Hong Kong by Gregor Hodgson and Shaun Waddell on 22 July, 1996. To help focus attention on coral reefs, a group of coral reef scientists led by Prof. Ginsburg declared 1997 to be the International Year of the Reef.

ReefCheck's Reach

In 1997, ReefCheck teams completed the first global survey of coral reefs. Over 750 volunteer sport divers were trained and led by 100 volunteer scientists in surveys of more than 300 reefs in 31 countries. The results of ReefCheck 97 provided the first solid evidence that coral reefs have been damaged on a global scale.

In addition to producing valuable scientific results, ReefCheck 97 raised the awareness of scientists, governments, politicians and the general public about the value of coral reefs, threats to their health and solutions to coral reef problems. This message was spread worldwide by TV coverage including CNN and BBC, and by major newspapers and magazines in a dozen languages.

ReefCheck 98 covered 40 countries and documented an unprecedented global bleaching and mortality event. Due to popular demand, ReefCheck will be repeated every year. The more people and countries that participate, the bigger the media attention will be, and the faster solutions can be implemented.

ReefCheck has been selected to be the "community-based" survey program for the United Nations' Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network. ReefCheck helps local community members learn how to monitor their coral reefs, providing the information needed so that they can be managed in a sustainable manner. Participation in Reef Check is one of the best methods of changing people's behavior and slowing the damage so that reefs can recover. Reef Check is one solution to the coral reef crisis.

Organization

Reef Check is a volunteer program that has been enthusiastically supported by hundreds of scientists and divers around the world. Global Headquarters is located in the Institute of the Environment at the University of California Los Angeles. The responsibility for ReefCheck is divided among several National and Regional Coordination Centers. In Fiji this is coordinated jointly by Helen Sykes (Resort Support) and Ed Lovell (Biological Consultants).