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Volunteers wanted for Island's first Reef Watch

Royal Gazette

By Jessie Moniz Hardy
Published Aug 19, 2013 at 8:00 am

The Bermuda Zoological Society (BZS) is calling all citizen scientists to help them carry out a health check on one of Bermuda’s most valuable resources ­­— its coral reef system.

The first Reef Watch event will be held at the end of this month to discover whether our reefs (the most northern in the world) are thriving or suffering.

“There are a couple of reasons we are doing this,” said Reef Watch organiser Richard Winchell. “The most important reason is to promote awareness of the value of our reef and its health. Volunteers will each be given two reefs to survey.

RG_130819_1a.jpeg
The reef system acts as a protective barrier that stops our limestone
rock from being eroded back into the ocean

“The second objective is to raise some funds to be able to support ongoing coral reef monitoring and research by scientists. That is not happening right now so this is kind of citizen science.”

To take part, volunteers with a boat can either put together a team of four, and make a donation of $500 or they can volunteer as an individual and make a donation of $125 and be placed on a boat with a team. Volunteers can raise the money through sponsorship.

BZS is hoping to get between 15 and 20 boats involved with the project.

“Hopefully, the number of people will cover a broad range of preselected sites and will return information that we can match against historical data,” said organiser Robbie Smith who has been studying the reefs for the last twenty years. “That way we get an idea of what has changed since the last time the reef was looked at.”

RG_130819_1b.jpeg
Dr. Thad Murdoch surveys the coral reef in 2008

Dr Thaddeus Murdoch carried out a scientific survey of the reefs five years ago and now BZS wants to know what has changed since that time. Volunteers will be required to count certain types of fish on the reef, look for signs of coral bleaching and even note the coral rugosity.

Rugosity refers to whether the reef is very flat or curvy. A flat reef is an indication that it is being planed down by passing boats and is less able to support a lot of life.

RG_130819_1c_0.jpeg
This month volunteers will take part in a Reef Watch
event to monitor the health of Bermuda's reef system.
The reef in this file picture is damaged.

Volunteers will be given sheets with pictures of various fish, and also two evenings of training before the day.

“We think that Bermuda’s reefs are quite healthy compared to other reefs in the world,” said Mr Winchell. “We are fortunate because of our location, but we have also done a good job at protecting it. Our reef system is pretty special.”

Mr Smith said an economic evaluation of the reef had been done in the past and it had been determined that the reef was directly or indirectly responsible for about $700 million a year in revenue.

This includes its value as a barrier that stops properties being washed into the ocean due to coastal erosion.

“It has huge commercial value,” said Mr Smith. “If it is that important you better be keeping an eye on it to make sure that you can mitigate any problems that crop up.

“Some things might be beyond our control but there are things you can do, such as regulating the fishing industry.”     

Dr Thaddeus Murdoch carried out a scientific survey of the reefs five years ago and now BZS wants to know what has changed since that time. Volunteers will be required to count certain types of fish on the reef, look for signs of coral bleaching and even note the coral rugosity.

Rugosity refers to whether the reef is very flat or curvy. A flat reef is an indication that it is being planed down by passing boats and is less able to support a lot of life.

Volunteers will be given sheets with pictures of various fish, and also two evenings of training before the day.

“We think that Bermuda’s reefs are quite healthy compared to other reefs in the world,” said Mr Winchell. “We are fortunate because of our location, but we have also done a good job at protecting it. Our reef system is pretty special.”

Mr Smith said an economic evaluation of the reef had been done in the past and it had been determined that the reef was directly or indirectly responsible for about $700 million a year in revenue.

This includes its value as a barrier that stops properties being washed into the ocean due to coastal erosion.

“It has huge commercial value,” said Mr Smith. “If it is that important you better be keeping an eye on it to make sure that you can mitigate any problems that crop up.

“Some things might be beyond our control but there are things you can do, such as regulating the fishing industry.”

Volunteers will end the day in Barr’s Park where they will hand over their data and also collect prizes for certain activities.

Reef Watch will be held on August 31. For more information, to download sponsor sheets or to enter go to the website www.bzs.bm and click on the Reef Watch logo.

Hiscox Insurance Company Ltd is the major sponsor of the event.