Reef Check Fish Count

On Monday we began collecting data for ReefCheck at a site called Buena Vista. I was assigned to the fish count, and the night before I spent anxiously reviewing fish i.d. and worrying about how I was going to count large schools of snappers or grunts. I have some experience estimating flock size when birding, but the flocks I count usually don’t fly in tight circles, whereas schools of fish often seem to swim in a circular pattern. As it turned out, my anxiety was unnecessary. Between Alyssa and I, we tallied two grunts and three snappers. A couple of butterfly fish rounded out the count. If I came to San Pedro as a tourist instead of a student, I think it would be easy to appreciate the splendor of the barrier reef and not notice the declining health of this underwater habitat. Oftentimes, I found myself marveling at the beauty of a particular site when I climbed back onto the boat after a dive, and it was only after reviewing the video tapes that I began to recognize the extent of the damage to the reef, including the amount of algal cover and the numerous patches of diseased coral. The fish count seemed depressingly low to me, but I am curious to compare the data we collected from Buena Vista to the data collected on previous fellowships. One very enjoyable part of the dive was a beautiful French Angel spotted off the transect line and recorded as a rare animal. I think part of the reason that creating awareness of the crisis facing coral reefs around the world is that even an unhealthy reef is gorgeous and fascinating to the untrained eye. Reef Check selects certain species to serve as indicators of the overall impact to the reef, but non-indicator fish often appear abundant. I have seen more Blue Chromis, Creole Wrasse, and Atlantic Blue Tang than I could count. On Tuesday we surveyed a shallow water site called Coral Gardens, and the difference was startling. Grunts were seen in the dozens, and multiple species of snapper, including the silver and yellow Schoolmasters were tallied. After a surface interval on the boat, I went “freediving” with a nurse shark, stingray and two barracuda . Coral Gardens was an  encouraging conclusion to our study.

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2 thoughts on “Reef Check Fish Count

  1. I have some experience in fish ID, but it was at UMASS and the fish were in formaldehyde. Your experience sounds much better!

  2. That sounds like a great idea to compare the data you collected this summer to data from previous fellowships. It’s scary to think of how quickly reefs are disappearing (I recently saw a stunning Imax 3D documentary about this called “The Last Reef,” although I’m sure it’s much more breathtaking in person!) Thanks for sharing!

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