Reef Check Foundation
Jennifer Loder, General Manager, Reef Check Australia
REEFSearch is a reef identification and observation program that can be used by anyone snorkelling, SCUBA diving, or reef walking, with no need for prior training. It builds on a successful program that trains volunteer SCUBA divers to monitor reef health by dramatically expanding opportunities for participation.
The aim of this specific project was to develop an online public portal where people can share their findings and photos for our new REEFSearch program. The REEFSearch Hub interface is a user-friendly and interactive system for the general public to enter and share their reef information and photographs. The simple and engaging graphic displays of REEFSearch results will introduce people to science concepts while also helping them appreciate the importance of these unique resources. The database also provides Reef Check with a much broader spatial and temporal range of information that can help target the efforts of Reef Check surveys with trained volunteers.
The online REEFSearch Hub is an essential component of the overall program. In order to distribute this program widely, help people understand the importance of their contribution, inspire connections between program participants and streamline data analysis, it is essential to have the online portal component as a repository for information and a tool to share and investigate data.
The REEFSearch program was officially launched with final underwater slate and 50page educational field guide in February 2013. The basic data entry area on the REEFSearch Hub was also made available online for data entry and photo upload.
What worked well?
The program has been well received and the online REEFSearch Hub, where participants can upload photos and findings is a critical component. The program has been implemented in multiple schools, all of whom provided positive feedback and continue to apply the materials and activities with student groups. Schools liked the option of being able to register as a group on the Hub, allowing them to build a record of student contributions that they can continue to augment and access with new student cohorts; this allows schools to build a legacy of participation and adopt sites of interest for long-term observations.
How were obstacles overcome?
The biggest challenge has been ongoing program promotion, as marketing activities for this project is not funded. As at May 2015, 200 surveys are entered in the database from Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia. Many of the participants have been by word of mouth and links through the Reef Check network.
Reef Check believes if they had additional resources to share the program more broadly that there would be interest and uptake. Reef Check has been undertaking more outreach through environmental education conferences and community events, and their new CEO is working on some packaged programs for key audiences, so they feel confident the program will continue to grow.