A whitetip reef shark glides towards me warily, not quite sure what to make of this guest breathing bubbles in its territory.
A whitetip reef shark glides towards me warily, not quite sure what to make of this guest breathing bubbles in its territory. I’m scuba diving near Ovalau Island in Fiji. Colourful hard corals blanket the reef as it slopes into the unknown. These reefs help protect the people of Ovalau from intense storms and provide livelihoods, food, and culture associated with traditional fishing practices.
Rising temperatures, overfishing, and pollution from land are weakening reefs globally. How are Fiji’s reefs being affected? Alongside other conservation scientists from WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society), we’re here to better understand these changes and work with local communities and governments to ensure these reefs continue to provide for future generations.
Each dive, we record the health of fish and corals and assess for coral bleaching — a deathly sign of rising ocean temperatures from climate change. Breathing compressed air from our SCUBA tanks, we spend hours underwater recording coral and fish observations along transect lines draped across the reefs. Our pencils are attached by rubber bands to a rusting clipboard. While low tech, these practical methods are some of the best ways that scientists can know what’s going on below the surface.
Typically, we’d next spend days or weeks painstakingly entering and reviewing our data before it can be analyzed. This involves meticulously typing in complex Latin names into Excel spreadsheets, matching these species names to other metadata and coefficients that calculate important metrics of reef health, and then analyzing trends and patterns.
Read more at: Wildlife Conservation Society
Scientists collecting data underwater is one of the only ways to record the condition and diversity of corals and reef fish. (Credit: Emily Darling/WCS)