[Coral-List] Education, Community, DATA, CoralWatch

Justin Marshall justin.marshall at uq.edu.au
Wed Mar 15 01:28:19 EST 2006

Great to have a mostly positive debate and outlook on the potentially 
gloomy future of reefs. I have arranged my input here, a bit like Steve's 
last, as a set of random but related points.

The take home message up front is PLEASE PROVIDE DATA TO THE CORALWATCH 
WEBSITE (Ooops - sounding a bit like a princess from Africa there) and - 
education and community involvement are, in our opinion, key to the future 
of reefs.

Random points / comments on debate from CoralWatch as follows, largely 
reinforcing points already raised:

a) It is surprising how many folks still do not know what bad shape many 
reefs are in and as a science community I think we need to keep saying it, 
no matter how squeaky-wheel and gloom laden it may seem to us.

b) Educate the future reef watchers, kids from age 6 up and before can make 
a huge difference. Even politicians and corporate giants have children and 
when they hear that their future world is getting messed up they are unhappy.

c) Community involvement - that is non-expert, non-scientists is a vital 
ingredient. Examples are: Fijian fishermen looking after their patch of 
reef, tour operators in Australia and the Caribbean preserving their dive 
sites, local coastal community groups. How do we get more of these people 
providing input?

d) Getting data back and reported on and sent to the right places seems to 
me to be the missing component at the moment. There is a lot of talk (as 
above) about who, where and when but less about now what? As far as I can 
see sections in NOAA, GBRMPA, GCRMN, Reef Check, Reef Base and others (?) 
are having a good go but it is not clear to me how well this is going? 
Comment from them?

These 4 points are the things that bobble about in my mind at the moment 
and are based on running CoralWatch over the last 3 years or so 
(www.coralwatch.org). I have talked about this before on coral-list so 
won't repeat here other than to say that we are happy to send coral colour 
charts out to anyone who can use them. We also have a good teachers package 
put together.

Without wanting to sound like a salesman, the CoralWatch system seems to us 
to be a good way to address these 4 points. It is just one way of keeping 
an eye on the reefs but one that is immediately accessible to anyone 
without any training. It provides real data that, once entered on the 
website, is available to all (we have done all the controls of expert v 
non-expert). It can be integrated into existing systems (eco-groups, 
scientists doing transects, schools visiting reefs). The short blurb that 
goes with the system (both on the web and in handout form) raises awareness 
as best we can (more input to improve this side of our system always 
welcome) and also encourages people to live better/cleaner as best they can 
(we need to up this side of the system).

We are not after pats on the back here - more like give us your help on 
refining this system and if you like it, spread it.

Another reason for banging the CoralWatch drum is that for those interested 
in learning more, we are running a (now annual) workshop on Heron Island on 
the Great Barrier Reef - see www.coralwatch.org for details or email k..

Our BIG PROBLEM - and I am hoping that those listers who have been doing 
this longer than us can help - is the lack of data return and then of 
course what to do with this data.

There has been a tremendously enthusiastic response to the system, with 450 
groups in over 50 countries worldwide receiving thousands of charts, the 
groups breaking down as: education and media 125, monitoring and research 
250, tourism and diving 75. We know that the system is being used to guide 
policy in China and this is very encouraging.

 From all these we have had only just over 100 data entries back. Some of 
these put in a magnificent effort with many thousand data points or good 
re-sampling over time. However it seems that, although we may be raising 
awareness, we need to work harder to raise feedback? Phase 2 seems to be 
lacking and without real numbers both over time and spatially, we have no 
teeth to bite the right asses. Any ideas?

As an example, during the recent Caribbean bleaching, we sent out 
CoralWatch to around 40 groups but got no data back.

Of course we are happy just to get CoralWatch out of the door and if data 
is being generated locally and not entered into the central site, that is 
still wonderful. We are getting a lot of great support from a number of 
organisations in this distribution effort, however we would love to get 
more data back.

Mark Eakin (NOAA) recently requested data from the Caribbean and we have 
talked with him about integrating CoralWatch data into his system. I wonder 
how he went with data return of any sort - Mark are you happy to report 
back in public chat mode yet? Did you and I missed it?

So - the point of this slight plea/whinge from us comes back to points 
raised in the current debate. While there is much that needs to be done 
with step one - informing, educating, gathering support etc, let's also 
work on step 2 which is get that data and stick it where it needs to be so 
at least our grand children will have hard evidence that we really did try 
and not that we just thought about trying.

And now some more philosophical points re the current debate - all my 
opinion from my own limited view of this:

a) Here in Australia we are 'just' realising that we have done to large 
sections of our coastal reefs what was done in Florida (the spark for this 
debate and a reef system I first saw 30 years ago - boo hoo now!). The head 
in the sand attitude to this here, from large sections of the community, is 
astonishing and I hope will change.

b) I think it important to use the beauty of the reef (as well as the sexy 
people that work on it of course) as a lever. This is where we can engage, 
artists, film makers, photographers, poets, authors etc. The central 
message - look how beautiful it is and look, we are killing it, as sure as 
holding a blow-torch to a flower! As reef people I think we would be 
surprised, despite the efforts of J. Cousteau etc, at how many folks do not 
know about reefs and how splendid they are.

c) I have a sweet tooth and like sugar and I like to eat fish - very 
important in my mind is not blaming or attaching responsibility where it is 
not warranted. Where it is warranted, probably the only way forward is 
through community pressure on both government and corporate bodies. Sadly, 
pressure from a few scientists, no matter how vocal and strident rarely 
achieves anything. I am not saying that we should stop being vocal as 
empirical evidence is vital - just that we need to explore other strategies 
as well, as suggested by several in this debate.

  d) It is never too late to start reducing carbon emissions, river 
sedimentation, other outflow problems and other insults to the reef. Even 
though there may be a huge lag-effect with some of these problems we need 
to start doing the right thing NOW. It is here in my mind that the 
resilience debate resides. Some reefs / species MAY be more resilient than 
others, however this should not give us any relief from the effort of 
trying to preserve what is left and in particular preserve the biodiversity 
of what is left (now I sound like I'm writing a grant!).

e) Consolidation of opinion. Following on from (d). Of course if we say 
things like - "reefs can recover" this will be the only take home of most 
politicians in order to get re-elected. They recognise the problems and are 
desperate for good news. I think that in order to get things moving, that a 
more united and clear voice is needed from reef biologists. Although there 
are glimmers of hope with resilience and reef shading and transplanting 
etc. These are WAY left of center when it comes to the overriding evidence 
that we are rapidly destroying our reefs. Perspective here is vital.

More than enough from Coral Watch and Justin - if there is a rolling ball 
here, let's keep it going!

Prof Justin Marshall
Vision Touch and Hearing Research Centre
School of Biomedical Sciences
University of Queensland
St Lucia
Queensland 4072

ph      -  +61 (0)7 33651397
fax     - +61 (0)7 33654522
mob     - 0423 024162 (Prawns in Space)


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