05 Feb Exploring Citizen Science for Coral Reefs
On February 5, the Coral Triangle Center (CTC) convened a daylong workshop to explore the design of a citizen science program focused on Bali’s coral reefs. In particular, the program would seek to characterize and monitor reefs with respect to their ecological resilience – the ability to resist a disturbance, or the rate of recovery following a disturbance (Nyström et al. 2008). Twenty-three participants attended, representing around 13 organizations including universities, provincial and national government agencies, marine tourism businesses and non-profits.
A keynote presentation was then delivered by Dr Rod Salm, senior adviser emeritus of The Nature Conservancy’s Pacific Division Marine Program. In his presentation, Value of Citizen Science to Coral Reef Conservation, Dr Salm described an expedition in Chuuk, Micronesia, where volunteer divers collected biological observations on reefs to supplement data collected by a trained monitoring team. Recreational divers and dive operators who spend time underwater every day, year-round, visiting locations that are often remote, Dr Salm explained, could be a tremendous resource for collecting information about reefs.
In Bali, coral reef ecological monitoring efforts are already conducted by various groups. During the workshop participants were invited to briefly introduce themselves by indicating on a map locations where they currently operate and/or collect reef-related observations, plus locations where other groups are known to have projects. A citizen science initiative should supplement – rather than duplicate – efforts already underway. This could be done by facilitating the process of sharing and compiling data that is already collected; identifying new types of data that would enhance our understanding of how Bali’s reefs are responding to climate change; and extending the data collection reach in space and time.
When asked whether a citizen science initiative would be useful for Bali Province, workshop participants responded positively: Combined with outreach, it could help local communities understand how some of the environmental changes they see – like coral bleaching – are related to climate change. Monitoring by volunteers could produce data that the government’s budget could not cover, but would benefit the management authority. A citizen science initiative could contribute to several core aspects that Bali promotes: nature, marine environment and stewardship. Finally, citizen science could serve as an early warning network – by establishing a system now, before an environmental crisis, we will be well prepared to respond in a coordinated and timely fashion.
Following the workshop, Dr. Salm spent time with the CTC team in our learning site, the Nusa Penida MPA, to impart his knowledge about studying coral reef conditions particularly focusing on coral resilience as well as analyzing threats such as climate change, tourists stepping and vandalizing corals, and identifying coral reef diseases. He also taught our team how to interpret coral reef conditions and explain it to a non-scientific audience. Overall, it was a great time to learn about coral reef ecosystems from one the world’s expert on this topic!