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Recording Reefs

Recording our Reefs

Why is it important to monitor the BVI’s coral reefs? Because monitoring is the crucial first step we can take toward preserving them. Coral reefs cover less than 1 percent of the earth’s surface but are home to over 25 percent of marine fish species. They generate in excess of $375 billion dollars annually in goods and services and provide jobs for over 500 million people worldwide.

But coral reefs are in crisis. At current rates, 70 percent of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed by 2050. Over-fishing, illegal fishing, pollution and climate change threaten these fragile ecosystems.

This is not a foregone conclusion. There are things you and I can do such as supporting and even participating in coral reef monitoring programs. Reef Check International is one such program that uses community volunteers to regularly monitor and report on reef health.


Reef Check is the only volunteer coral reef monitoring program operating in the BVI. A dedicated and experienced group of BVI Reef Check volunteers, led by charter boat operator Trish Baily, have been gathering data on the territory’s coral reefs since 1998. The 2012 Reef Check team comprised members of the BVI Charter Yacht Society, dive operators, a student from Cedar School, a staff member from HLSCC and members of the BVI’s business community.

After months of planning, the team left the dock bright and early aboard Braveheart, a charter boat owned and operated by Jerry Blair, and headed for Pelican Island where the team collected fish, invertebrate and substrate data.

They looked for specific fish and inverts like snapper, parrotfish, grunts, butterflyfish, grouper, pencil urchins, flamingo tongue snails, sea whips and other gorgonians. These indicator species are important because they can be used to aid marine managers in determining the health of the reef. The team assessed the substrate to determine how much was covered in hard or soft coral, sponge, rock, rubble or recently killed coral.


“The way Reef Check worked this year is a very good example of citizen science working,” Baily said. “I was thrilled to see the dive operators, and staff from the dive operators and members of the Charter Yacht Society and the BVI business community participating in the vital effort to get data on the status of our reefs.”

In addition to the Pelican Island site, the process was repeated at Spyglass Reef, Diamond Reef and Bronco Billy (Dogs) using dive boats and equipment donated by SailCaribbean and Dive BVI, and the charter vessel Braveheart. These are the same four sites Baily and her team of volunteers have been monitoring since 1998. The data was then reviewed for accuracy before being sent to Reef Check International where it was added to their database to be later made available to marine managers and the public.

Based on data collected by thousands of Reef Check volunteers in over 80 countries and territories, Reef Check released a report in 2002 that was one of the first to document the dramatic global decline in coral reef health over a five-year period. The report concluded that there was virtually no reef in the world that remained untouched by human impacts, such as over-fishing, pollution and climate change.

Reef Check’s continued success depends entirely upon the caring volunteers within the BVI community who generously donate their resources and time to this important work. Numerous success stories have shown that when proper monitoring is combined with management and protection, coral reefs can recover and thrive once again. It is up to us.

Lain Leoniak grew up on Tortola and is the Conservation Coordinator for The Nature Conservancy in the BVI.

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