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Citizen scientists contribute to monitoring efforts in Tres Palmas

The first year of our Tres Palmas Citizen Science Program has reached the halfway point. The teams are finishing their second round of surveys and contributing much-needed data to the coral reef restoration efforts and bird population monitoring at one of Puerto Rico's most treasured sites.

For the second round of in-water surveys, the teams have embarked on their own in search of their coral ID tags. This is not an easy process and involves a "good eye" for detecting small, square-shaped, algae-covered plastic cattle ear tags that have been placed next to the restored coral. After locating the tag, one member of the team must clean it using a hard bristle brush that will remove the algae. Even after just a couple of weeks, a clean tag will already have a layer of algae growing on it. So, these teams are searching for tags that they cleaned over four months ago.

After the tag is cleaned, another member will measure the dimensions of the coral fragment and relay the sizes to the team member at the surface who is recording on the datasheet. They must also estimate the percent mortality of the fragment (how much is dead vs. alive) and make notes of any disease or bleaching that they notice.

Each team has approximately 10 corals that they are responsible for, scattered among the various restoration sites that we have in Tres Palmas. These sites vary in initial outplanting age, ranging from 2017 to 2022. So, some teams have very new coral fragments that are easy to spot because of their uniform shape and placement in the restoration site, while other teams have well-developed and branching corals that are now a bit harder to differentiate from natural (unrestored) corals.

Each of the four teams also completed their second bird population survey along the community trail and coastline of the reserve. The teams will either survey from Steps to Dogman's, or from Steps to the jetty near the marina so that the entire reserve area is assessed. Scroll through the photos below to see Ana's team enjoying their outing!

The bird surveys will help us understand how various species of coastal birds may use the reserve throughout the year. For example, if a certain species is noticed only in the winter months then perhaps this species is using the area for a migratory escape from the colder weather up north.

We were also blessed to receive a very special visit from the TASIS Dorado Surfrider Chapter, who delivered a donation of $1500 to Isla Mar for this program! These students reached out to us several months ago after learning about our recycled glass sand coral restoration efforts. They were excited about our projects and wanted to help out so they have been raising money through a Go Fund Me and through creative outlets in order to support one of our projects. We couldn't be more grateful for this support and community appreciation! We will use the funds to purchase GPS units and temperature data loggers for the program to expand the scientific data collection potential!

As we round out the first year of the program, the teams will have one last monitoring session in September/October. After this, we will host a workshop where all of the participants are welcomed back to learn about how we use their data to assess the health of the restored coral reef sites, and what we and other scientists can do with the bird population data.

If you, or someone you know, have an interest in joining this citizen scientist program, please send us a message. We may have spots available for next year! You must be at least 18 yrs old, be comfortable and efficient with swimming and snorkeling, live on the island year round, and must be a resident of Rincon, (or neighboring towns like Aguada and Anasco).


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