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Divers As First Responders to Reefs in Crisis

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Divers are often First Responders for the environment.

By Samantha Whitcraft,
Director of Conservation & Outreach, Sea of Change Foundation

Early last year, I had the opportunity to dive in Raja Ampat, Indonesia for the first time. As a biologist, it was a bucket list destination for me as much as the Galapagos had been. Raja Ampat, as part of the Coral Triangle, is at the center of global marine biodiversity. When I finally jumped in for my first dive there, I was overwhelmed by the number of different corals and fish species, and the health of the reef overall. I saw little evidence of bleaching or disease, though sadly plenty of plastic garbage floating in the water column. My favorite dive site was Cape Kri, world-famous with divers for its mix of large, schooling fish and record- breaking numbers of fish species.

Only a week after I returned from diving that nearly pristine ecosystem, on March 4, 2017, the 4,290-tonne Caledonian Sky cruise ship grounded near Cape Kri and damaged or destroyed approximately 1,600 square meters of some of the most biodiverse and healthy coral reef habitat in the world. As awful as the news was, I knew that some of the corals could still be saved by local divers who know the area best. After a catastrophic reef damaging event like that, there are pro-active steps divers can take. For example, larger corals that have been flipped can be righted so that the surviving polyps (and their symbiotic algae) can still photosynthesize and thus have a better chance to recover. Divers can also collect living fragments – with the appropriate permits or permissions – for growing and later out-planting. Additionally, and as importantly, divers can assess the damage early by measuring the area of damaged coral and taking photographs. This information can help with getting fair recompense from the company guilty of causing the damage, which in turn, can be used for more coral restoration and recovery.

A month after diving in Raja Ampat, I visited the Sea of Change Foundation’s Cayman Islands Coral Nurseries project where feedback from dive operators and our partners confirmed that they have, in the past, had opportunities for such response to coral-damaging anchor drops but lacked the funding to do so. These events solidified my resolve, as part of the Sea of Change Foundation team to help create a fund dedicated to helping enable divers to serve as first responders to such incidents; the Reef Rescue and Rapid Response Grants.

The new fund provides for mini- grants that range from $500 to a maximum of $5000 to respond to anchor drops, vessel groundings, oil spills, hurricane damage, and other localized, acute impacts to coral reefs. The grants will support divers, and their communities to cover immediate costs such as boat fuel, staff time, video cameras, lift- bags, transect tapes, and handheld GPS units. To promote expediency, the required application is only 1-page that describes the date and cause of the incident and the planned response. And to begin the short application process, divers need only send an initial email inquiry to info@seaofchange.com to request the funds.

It is the hope of the Board of Directors of the Sea of Change Foundation as leaders in the dive industry, that this new fund and the grants it provides will help enable the global dive community to act as first-responders to reef damaging incidents. The reefs are where we dive, and often they are why we dive; it is our duty to do all that we can to help protect them, and we hope divers everywhere will support and make use of this new fund. Importantly, “through the Foundation, 100% of donations go directly to such conservation initiatives around the world to ensure future generations of divers can also experience healthy coral reefs,” said Wayne Brown, CEO of Aggressor Fleet® and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Foundation.

About Sea of Change

The Sea of Change Foundation funds marine conservation and research initiatives that directly impact the oceans we all love to dive and explore. Their mission is to create positive change for the oceans. Learn more about the Sea of Change Foundation and how you can help make a positive change for our oceans, www.seaofchange.com /, or email thankyou@seaofchange.com .