Reef Survey Shows Decrease in Fishes & Corals

(Credit: Reef Check BVI)

Virgin Island Daily News, May 28, 2010
By Melissa French

For the seventh year, a group of eight volunteer tourists from the UK, Japan, Turkey and US, gathered in the VI for Reef Check BVI´s 13th annual reef survey and training programme which surveyed four sites each between April and May.

Researchers looked at Diamond Reef, Great Camanoe Island, Bronco Billy, George Doge Island, Spyglass Wall, Norman Island and Pelican Island.

According to initial results, the group recorded decreases in fish numbers and amount of coral again this year. They have seen boats anchored in coraland and illegal spearfishing happening every week.

Volunteers are concerned about the loss to the BVI and hope for more mooring buoys and rangers, or concerned boaters to help prevent the BVI’s reef loss.

The group also noticed more algae growing over the coral reef. The main grazers of algae are sea urchins and parrotfish. There are suggestions for the parrotfish to be protected. The parrotfish is described as one of the hardest working BVI reef protectors, gazing algae which keeps the algae from overgrowing the coral.

“Other countries give warnings and fines to repeat offenders. Some countries make up to half a million dollars in fines on repeat offenders,” the volunteers suggested.

The volunteers love the reefs in the BVI, the protected waters for sailing, relatively low density development and the lack of big hotels and crowds. However, they feel concerned that this may change as they see a lot of building, and hear stories of crowded beaches or untrained snorkel trips and boat anchoring.

Reef Check BVI scuba teams went underwater with 100 meter measuring tapes, underwater pencils, tablets and cameras in hand. A core group of off island guests gave lots of prep time, as do local charter boat crew, owners and dive companies. For every hour counting fish, invertebrates and surveying coral, there were countless hours of preparation, training and pre-survey work. The researchers chartered two BVI sailboats – Serendipity captained by Trish Baily, and this year joined by Sandcastle captained by Rik Allen and mate Ann Gracie, both BVI Charter Yacht Society members.

There are plans to expand the number of sites to six, as long as researchers can keep high standards on existing sites. Each site has two survey strips, one at three meters deep and another at 10 meters deep. They are 100 meters long, four meters wide and each centimeter is surveyed.

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