More about Reef Check 97

gregorh at gregorh at
Wed Oct 16 10:02:50 EDT 1996

The Reef Check 97 organizers would like to thank the 60 or so mainly  
experienced coral reef scientists from around the world who have so far  
offered to lead a group of divers to carry out Reef Check protocols. Based on  
this response, my guess is that we will be able to survey up to 200 individual  
sites around the world. I also thank those who have offered to Beta test the  
core protocols. 

Bill Alevizon is an experienced coral reef field man who has raised some  
concerns about Reef Check. For those of you who were not party to some of the  
IYOR planning sessions during the past years or in Panama, you may have  
similar concerns. 

The good news is that after we explained to Bill in more detail the history  
and goals of Reef Check 97, he has thrown his considerable expertise in to  
support us, and has offered to lead a Reef Check in the Bahamas next summer!  
Thanks Bill. 

For those of you who are still in the dark, a brief background and goals of  
IYOR Reef Check 97 is given below. 


As Sue Wells has drummed into us, IYOR is an awareness building campaign, not  
a scientific expedition. The idea behind Reef Check, is to promote public  
awareness of coral reefs and potential threats by using a few very basic  
parameters that we are comfortable that HS students could do. The results  
should be scientifically sound, and should provide clear, although partial,  
answers to the question of "What shape is the reef in?" Each Reef Check group  
is required to have a designated scientific leader who is someone with field  
experience and a member of the coral reef scientific community who can vouch  
for the scientific quality of the work. 

A number of us have quietly been doing testing for a Reef Check type operation  
for many years now. Earthwatch projects are one successful example that this  
process works, and there are many others around the world. There is no  
question that the type of survey we have in mind can be done by amateurs given  
appropriate guidance.  

What kind of survey do we have in mind? The actual protocols that we are  
working with as our "core" are very simple -- e.g. counting the number of  
Diadema in a 20 sq meter patch, presence/absence of trash, fish nets or  
dynamite blast craters. Any high school student could do these with after  
training. To be doubly sure, we are Beta testing each protocol here in HK, in  
the Solomons (Daphne Fautin) and other locations with amateur groups to ensure  
that none of the 10 protocols are inappropriate, before we include them as a  
"core" procedure. If we have problems with any of the protocols, we will  
simply toss them. 

As Bill correctly noted: 
"The scientific community is still a long way from agreeing on the 
most appropriate ecological indicators of the health or integrity of 
reef systems in any part of the world." 

This is an intractable problem, and if we wait for a consensus there wont be  
many decent reefs left to argue about. The whole purpose of IYOR is an  
"awareness campaign" -- it is not to decide what the best technique is for  
determining reef health (although that would be nice). Based on the  
overwhelming response we have gotten so far, dozens of extremely experienced  
field-based coral reef scientists feel that Reef Check is not only feasible,  
but is also an excellent method of promoting coral reefs and threats to them. 

What will require some careful thought is how to rank the results with respect  
to what we think we should expect to find at each site e.g. for edible  
animals. How many Trochus "should" be found on "pristine" reef in Palau? In  
some cases, the answers will be clear cut, and these are the ones that the  
media will no doubt focus on -- eg. 45 sites that should have Tridacna have  
almost none, or 180 out of 200 sites have ghost fish nets and evidence of  
dynamite blasts. These results will be the most valuable for the PR angle. It  
is the borderline cases that will be more difficult to interpret, and although  
the data will be quantitative, we will need to rely on historical knowledge  
ala Jeremy Jackson to report this from a qualitative perspective. In any case,  
the data will be available for all to play with. 

We have no doubt that we will not get Reef Check 100% right the first time  
round. With everyone's help, we will generate significant new public and media  
awareness that could translate into action to devote more resources in more  
places to study and conserve coral reefs. 


Gregor Hodgson 
Institute for Environmental Studies 
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology 
Clearwater Bay, Kowloon, Hong Kong 
Fax: (852) 2358-1582 

More information about the Coral-list-old mailing list