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Reef Watch was fun and useful… …and volunteers are wanted all year round

Bermuda Sun

Sarah Lagan, Sub-editor/Writer
Slagan@bermudasun.bm
Friday, September 06, 2013 8:55 AM

Who knew that armed with just mask, snorkel, clipboard and a hula-hoop you can become a citizen scientist?

Being part of Saturday’s inaugural Reef Watch fundraiser was fun, rewarding, and above all, educational.

My team, and some 20 other teams, were able to help with research being conducted by the Bermuda Zoological Society into the the health of, and threats towards, our economically critical reef systems. Each team was allocated two reefs around Bermuda. All we had to do was throw a hoop over 10 random sections of each reef, quantify the different species of reef within the hoop as well as any damage or disease, then conduct a fish survey.

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UNDERWATER SURVEY: Reef Watch teammates Caroline Stockdale, left, and
Bermuda Sun reporter Sarah Lagan, survey a reef located at a reef system
about
 eight miles North East of Spanish Point. *Photo supplied

When I was raising sponsorship some were a touch skeptical – one joked that he was sponsoring me to go on a “paddling trip”. But once we discusses the importance of the reefs, along with a dearth of funds currently allocated to this research, they were quick to agree. It has been estimated that Bermuda’s reefs are worth some $1.1billion to Bermuda in terms of the tourism it attracts, the protection it provides against hurricanes and storms, the benefits to fisheries and the scientific attraction. It helps to put their importance into perspective. Bermuda’s reefs are among the healthiest in the Western hemisphere but the threats to them are extremely high. A simple policy change to fisheries or cruise ship channels could pose a significant threat, not to mention climate change, ocean acidification and the prospect of a coral disease.

That’s why I decided to help out and BZS is looking for volunteers to help with this work throughout the year. Me and ‘Team Undertow’, with the help of specific GPS points and a map, located our reef by about 12:30pm. We were excited to see a turtle swimming on the surface and were keen to get in the water. Armed with an underwater clipboard and weighted sparkly hula hoop, we were ready for some serious science. Myself and teammate Caroline Stockdale jumped overboard, put our masks underwater and saw what looked like beautiful, untainted reef. It wasn’t until we began honing in on the contents of the hoop that we started noticing things like damaging algae coverage, bare rock patches and coral bleaching.

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TEAMMATES Chris Burville and Caroline Stockdale check the map
provided by BZS to help us locate our reefs.
*Photo by Sarah Lagan

Reef facts:

  • Bermuda’s coral reefs are vital to the persistence of our economy and wellbeing
  • Living coral reefs act as a self-healing protective sea wall, blocking storm waves
  • Our tourism industry relies on the beauty and charisma of our island
  • An economic evaluation of the lagoonal reef, found that $750,000,000 to $1,250,000,000 are contributed to Bermuda’s economy annually by the reefs of Bermuda.

Source: bermudabream.blogspot.com

I have snorkelled countless times on Bermuda’s reef and never really noticed the abundance of damsel fish. These are pretty little fish but looks can be deceiving. They claim reef ‘farms’ as their own territory, damage the reef tissue and scare off other fish that would normally help to keep the corals healthy. We found them everywhere.

It was a simple survey that was fun and educational to do and BZS is urging volunteers to help throughout the year.

Hiscox Bermuda was the chief sponsor for Reef Watch and aims to contribute in the future. CEO Jeremy Pinchin said: “I applaud the work of the Zoological Society and urge the Bermudian people to support future Reef Watch days to help protect these fragile and vital assets.

“Hiscox looks forward to continuing its involvement in this outstanding initiative.”

TO FIND OUT how to help visit www.bzs.bm. Training is provided.