Leda A. Cunningham, (305) 852-0030 (office), (202) 494-1995 (cell)
KEY LARGO, Fla.–Six expert surveyors from REEF completed final fish biodiversity surveys as part of a 9-day mission by NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuaries Program (NMSP) to the world’s only undersea laboratory, the Aquarius Reef Base.
REEF, the Reef Environmental Education Foundation, is a non-profit organization that trains scuba divers and snorkelers to conduct marine life surveys that help scientists make informed resource management decisions. REEF volunteers have assisted with monitoring projects at National Marine Sanctuaries, National Parks, state research sites and international marine areas.
The Aquarius 2007 mission, “If Reefs Could Talk,” runs until September 25 and seeks to better understand coral reefs through collaborative research. Data collected by REEF volunteers contributes to research started in 2001 on fish biodiversity and abundance at sites near Aquarius.
“REEF volunteers have been invaluable to this mission,” said Dr. Steve Gittings, national science coordinator for the NMSP. “It would be impossible for us to put enough biologists in the water to generate an equivalent amount of data. REEF is the most effective group to do this that I know.”
The South Florida reef tract is the only coral reef in the continental U.S. and the third largest barrier reef in the world. Scientists hope that information from the Aquarius 2007 mission about reef species interaction, water quality and the effects of climate change will lead to a better understanding of coral reefs world wide and increased public awareness of coral reef issues.
“I enjoy doing fish surveys and helping out with projects like Aquarius,” said REEF volunteer Lillian Kenney. “It’s a way to have fun, do something important and give back to science.”