Non-profit to train recreational divers to monitor S'pore reefs & maintain coral nursery at St John's Island

Participants will be trained to document the reef's biodiversity.

Zi Shan Kow | April 15, 2022, 09:10 AM

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Marine conservation non-profit Marine Stewards is launching Singapore’s first curated citizen science programme for coral reefs.

The programme, named ReefX, is looking for experienced divers to help monitor coral reef health in Singapore.

Participants will be trained to survey corals

ReefX is a paid programme where recreational divers will be trained to collect data for local reef research and conservation efforts.

Participants will learn basic reef survey techniques such as taking photos and videos to measure coral cover and how to spot threats like coral bleaching.

“Documenting the reefs’ biodiversity through images and videos will offer a glimpse of the biodiversity that occurs on our reefs. Over time, the data collected will give an indication of decline or recovery of the reef,” said Jeffrey Low, a senior manager at the National Parks Board (NParks).

Aside from the variety of corals, reef biodiversity includes nudibranches, clams, anemones, as well as fishes such as carpet-eel blennies, butterfly fishes, clownfishes and gobies.

Trainings will take place at the Bendera Bay in St John's Island and Pulau Hantu.

From July to December, the pilot programme will train around 60 divers over three intakes.

Besides being able to dive, here are other requirements to join this programme:

  1. Advanced Open Water certification or equivalent and above
  2. 20 logged dives and one local logged dive within the past two years
  3. Able to maintain good buoyancy in conditions of limited visibility and unpredictable currents
  4. An underwater camera
  5. Scuba diving equipment (Owned or rented)

Monitoring efforts disrupted by Covid-19

ReefX aims to kickstart the citizen science effort by providing scuba divers with an opportunity to participate in local marine conservation.

Limits to group sizes and gatherings in the past two years put on hold conservation programmes that involved local divers, said Marine Stewards programme director Andrea Leong.

"At the same time, a lot of scuba divers started diving locally and are now a lot more appreciative of our local marine biodiversity," she added.

There has been a two-fold increase in local dive bookings since the start of the pandemic, according to local dive operation Cuddlefish Divers.

Over 600 interested participants have enrolled for ReefX within the first day of its launch, but signups are still open.

Corals in Singapore

Singapore's waters are home to over 250 species of hard corals, which accounts for a third of the world’s species, despite only covering less than one per cent of the world’s surface.

Marine Stewards has committed to the maintenance and upkeep of the coral nursery on St John’s Island for a period of six months, which ReefX participants will help out with.

Coral nursery at St. John's Island National Marine Laboratory. Image by Kow Zi Shan.

The organisation has also raised S$120,000 of donations through a private fundraiser to contribute six Reef Enhancement Units (REU) to NParks' Plant-A-Coral Seed-A-Reef (PACSAR) programme.

These REUs are manmade structures that will lay the foundation for patch reefs to develop in the future and will supplement the existing 10 units in Singapore's shores.

More information about ReefX can be found on the Marine Stewards website.

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Top image by NParks and @sg.marineguide/Instagram.