Our Tres Palmas Citizen Science Program is off to a great start! This winter, all four of our teams were able to contribute to coral reef restoration monitoring and bird population assessment in the reserve.
Our 17 volunteers are composed of a diverse background of careers - from lawyers, business owners, education professionals, students, municipality employees and retirees. This team was trained in October 2022 in the skills needed to assess coral reef health and to identify and record birds. Now with their help, we have more eyes and ears at the reserve to help us monitor these delicate ecosystems.
This winter, begining in December 2022, these citizen scientists performed bird surveys along the community trails adajcent to the marine reserve. On these walks, they identify bird species and record how many they observe using the iBird census application. Birds are a very important part of the marine system, as they are responsible for transporting seeds (which turn into trees along the coastline, helping to prevent erosion of the top soil) and transporting nutrients to the ocean (which our oligotrophic waters need to provide the right minerals to growing corals and marine plants).
(scroll to the right for more photos)
Then in January and February, all four teams jumped into the water between swells to conduct their first set of measurements on their assigned coral reef restoration sites. This involved locating the tagged corals (not an easy task when they are covered with algae!), cleaning the tags, and then taking three measurements: longest length, longest perpendicular length, and height. After that, the team notes any mortality or disease. In most cases, the corals were still present and doing well, but some tagged corals were missing altogether or were dead. This is a natural process and one reason why it's important that we continue to monitor the health of these colonies after we restore them. Now the teams will take a break until April when they will conduct their next bird and coral monitoring outings.
We are excited to see this program gain momentum and we look forward to seeing how the first year unfolds! We have received interest from folks looking to join the program, and we will keep everyone updated should spaces become available next year. We are still discussing and planning how the program will grow and flourish, so stay tuned for announcements!
Thanks again to Concalma and Medalla Light for their sponsorship of the training workshop that initiated this program. And a special thanks to Puerto Rico Sea Grant for their support in training and future program initiatives.