REEF LOG: an underwater citizen science programme for monitoring India’s marine ecosystems
Tanmay Wagh, Kartik Shanker, Naveen Namboothri
Professional researcher-based ecological monitoring is often highly expensive, logistically demanding and patchy in space and time. Underwater monitoring programmes should cover as many if not all components of the system, including the important coral, herbivore, carnivore and invertebrate guilds, primary producers, physical disturbances and anthropogenic impacts. Unfortunately, single researcher and single institution monitoring schemes fail to regularly assess the various components of ecosystem health and stability.
Keeping these factors in mind we have recently launched an underwater citizen science project called REEF LOG where recreational divers can help document ongoing changes in marine systems.
REEF LOG Invertebrate Slate personalized for each participating dive shop.Piloting it in the Andaman Islands with support from ANET (Andaman Nicobar Environmental Team), REEF LOG is currently operating out of dive shops in Havelock (Dive India, Barefoot Scuba, Andaman Bubbles, Scuba Lov, Ocean Tribe and Blue Corals), Long Island (Blue Planet) and Chidiatapu (Lacadives). In the near future REEF LOG also hopes to launch websites and mobile applications for easier engagement, information dissemination and data sharing. Eventually, we hope to expand to other sites within the Indian Ocean and bringing onboard national and international partners.
REEF LOG monitoring slates (below) come equipped with visuals aids& thus require no prior training! Divers can help monitor important fish and invertebrate species and provide records of rare sightings and phenomena. Participation in the programme can also help improve marine organism identification skills. So if you’re heading to the Andamans for a dive vacation, be sure to check in with our partner dive shops to see how you can contribute! Participate and provide feedback to help improve REEF LOG – making it a primer for underwater research and education in India!
Data generated through this programme will be made open access and useable by any stakeholder. This community-based monitoring programme involving recreational divers and dive operators is viewed a strategy complementary to environmental education, and is aimed to build awareness about India’s marine ecosystems, increase information flow between resource-users, scientists and managers, help fill data gaps and impact decision making.
REEF LOG was originally proposed in 2015 as a reef survey and was partially funded by the PADI Foundation. The monitoring approach was designed by learning from citizen science programmes elsewhere (CoralWatch, Eye on the Reef, Reef Check and REEF.org). Survey materials were produced and underwater trials were carried out by trained researchers, dive professionals and tourists. The project rigorously tested and refined the survey protocols before it was implemented in the Andaman Islands. Supplementary reading materials were also produced to minimize the need for facilitated training of participants. Additionally, Dakshin forged partnerships and elicited commitments from the largest dive shops in the Andaman region. These businesses became project partners, and continue to be the key stakeholders for this initiative.
Currently REEF LOG is one of six key components of a proposed multi-pronged collaborative reef monitoring strategy. In this format REEF LOG will complement researcher-led top-down and bottom-up research initiatives with citizen science based reef ecosystem monitoring. Dakshin plans to grow REEF LOG across the Andaman Islands and expand its scope.
For more information, to join or donate to REEF LOG, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustrations: Prabha Mallya (http://fishkitty.tumblr.com/)