Image Credit: Reef Check UAE

Abu Dhabi: A citizen science-led initiative is aiming to monitor and collect data on the UAE’s coral reefs, which are regarded as some of the most unique in the world.

The research aims to use its findings to help conserve and protect this region’s coral reefs, which are facing several threats, key among them being climate change.

The research is being led by Reef Check UAE and is part of a wider global effort that sees citizen scientists from around the world collecting data on the oceans’ coral reefs, with all the data and information being shared within the group’s global database, which is then used to compare the status of coral reefs in different parts of the world.

“Reef Check was originally established in the US in 1996, and it is basically a voluntary conservation organisation that is dedicated to saving coral reefs globally. The organisation has several branches around the world, including Reef Check UAE, which is responsible for monitoring the coral reefs in this area. Over the next months, Reef Check UAE is looking to become very active in our monitoring and protection efforts in the UAE,” said Rebekka Pentti, a marine environment specialist and Reef Check UAE’s coordinator.

Pentti explained that volunteers who join the group don’t have to be marine specialists — they only need to be experienced divers who want to help the environment.

“The volunteers who join us do not have to have a professional background in marine science or marine biology in order to take action. This is purely a citizen science organisation, it’s just normal people who have day jobs and want to make a real difference,” she said.

“The only requirement we have is they have to be an advanced open water diver with at least 25 logged dives. If they meet this minimum requirement, we sign them up and give them around three days of training, which consists of both theoretical tests as well as sessions in the water,” she added.

“The training we give them ensures that once they do go out with us, they will know how to monitor and collect the type of data we are looking for with the coral reefs,” she said.

Pentti said the group plans on going out to sea at least once a week to collect as much data as possible about the UAE’s coral reefs.

“All of the information we collect will go into the global Reef Check database. The great thing about the research we do is that there is a standardised methodology all Reef Check groups follow around the world, so once everything is stored, we can accurately check the data we have with others.

“The data allows us to analyse and see how the UAE’s coral reefs are doing compared to others around the world,” she added.

Pentti also spoke on the power of citizen science, commenting on the impact that normal people can have when it comes to protecting the environment.

“Citizen science is very important, especially when there is such a high demand for quality data, there just isn’t enough scientists who can go out and collect all of that information, and so this is where everyday people with everyday jobs can come and play their role,” she said.

“This is a great way of empowering people, a lot of people want to take action and do something meaningful, and through this platform they can do that in a very simple and easy way. A lot of our volunteers are already divers, so they’re still able to do something they enjoy a lot while at the same time doing some very important environmental work,” she added.

Pentti also talked about the importance of protecting coral reefs, which she said contained 25 per cent of all marine life.

“Coral reefs cover a very small part of our oceans but contain such a large percentage of all marine life, and so if we lose our coral reefs, we really lose a big part of the marine ecosystem.

“As well as sustaining marine life, coral reefs also play an important role in carbon sequestration and climate change. It would be devastating to lose them,” she added.

Volunteers who wish to sign up can do so by contacting Reef Check UAE on their official Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/reefcheckuae/?ref=br_rs