Ready for Reef Check surveys

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A week ago we organized a practice reef survey and a re-test for all the participants of the Reef Check course in December. In order to do a Reef Check survey you need to be able to recognize a number of fish families, invertebrates and the difference between different substrates like hard coral, soft coral, nutrient indicator algae and some other things. That might sound easy, but some hard corals just look like soft corals and not all algae are nutrient indicator algae.
We agreed with the tutor from the USA that MCP should be responsible for re-testing and selecting pictures from organisms you see in this specific area. It was good practice for ourselves as well since we had to select a lot of pictures for the test of fish and substrate.

The different snappers still turned out to be tricky during the practice session, but at least everybody know now which species occur here and how to recognize them. It is hard to determine from a picture whether a coral is hard or soft since you cannot touch them. We had a practice survey in the water and the participating scuba divers could focus on the topic which they found most difficult, together with somebody who had more experience in that area. Fortunately everybody who participated passed, which means we are totally ready for our first official Reef Check survey at the end of February with 18 qualified Ecodivers. The Reef Check group consist of a team of students from Silliman university and one of their teachers, different divemasters and dive instructors from local dive schools, other volunteers and of course Marine Conservation Philippines. Together with this group, We are planning to survey the MPA Poblacion 1 dive site in Dauin twice a year and pick two other spots nearby reefs for two further surveys.

At the moment our science officers are exploring the different dive sites in Zamboanguita, which are quite adventurous at times! So far we have made some interesting dives and seen a lot of patchy coral. The number of large fish, such as full grown groupers or parrotfish are small; an indication that a lot of fishing is going on.
A lot of the hard corals at some of the sites have been destroyed by typhoons, but it is definitely growing back. We also see a lot of soft coral and sponges. The conditions and also the coral and size and number of fish are pretty different compared to Dauin, which lies only 20 km north. The variety of hard coral appear much higher, but the number of large fish is lower and there is almost no continuous reef.

We are now in the windy season which means that some of the entries in the water can be a little challenging with waves and surge. Many local dive sites have a very gradually sloping bottom and a rich population of echinoderms, so we have to take the tides into account and dive around high tide, where entry is the easiest.

We are planning to do a manta tow, which basically means hanging on to a small board behind a boat while getting pulled very slowly by the boat. In this way, it is very easy to get a rough idea of the coral reef lay-out of a big stretch of coast.

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