WAILUKU - Coral reef-loving advocacy groups and government agencies are collaborating to simplify ocean monitoring programs in an effort to increase the participation of Maui's "citizen scientists."
The nonprofit Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) has developed an online tool, called the "Coral Reef Data Monitoring Portal," so residents and visitors can increasingly conduct reef surveys, water-quality measurements and other methods of assisting experts who track the health of Maui's near-shore waters and sea life.
The public is also invited to an educational workshop on the program from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, 726 S. Kihei Road.
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
A snorkeler swims near a reef at Honolua Bay on Sunday morning. CORAL is seeking the assistance of citizen scientists to help professionals monitor the reefs and the life among them.
Meanwhile, the Web site, monitoring.coral.org, is up and running. The idea is to support, enhance and widen the scope of existing monitoring efforts throughout the state, especially during a time when staff cuts in the nonprofit and public sectors are so common, according a news release by CORAL, which also manages the data portal.
The Web site will be a data entry and reporting system, intended to greatly expand the scope and impact of these monitoring efforts, said CORAL's Hawaii field manager, Liz Foote. The alliance is trying to empower and equip community members in order to increase involvement, she said.
"We wanted to develop a 'one-stop shop' for community-based coral reef monitoring in Hawaii," Foote said.
The Web site will also help track volunteer hours and mileage, which can be useful at tax time, she said.
As for Thursday's workshop, both citizen scientists and newbies will learn exactly how to get involved in local reef-monitoring efforts. There will also be a tutorial on the new Web site and an explanation of why it's an important and, hopefully, effective scientific tool.
Program coordinators and guest speakers also will be on hand to discuss environmental protection programs.
Hawaii's reefs cover more area than paid managers can realistically assess, Foote said. That's one of the main reasons why CORAL is seeking the public's help, along with getting residents more invested in Maui's environment.
One goal will be to measure the effectiveness of the new Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area rule. They also want to monitor the activities of invasive species, large parrotfish and schools of grazing fish.
The new Web site supports a number of similar efforts already under way, such as the University of Hawaii Botany Department and DLNR's herbivore grazing protocols and the whale sanctuary's own water quality-monitoring program.
The State Department of Land and Natural Resources' Division of Aquatic Resources special projects coordinator Darla White helped create the Web site's data-collection system. She also manages a team of volunteers who measure the impact of plant-eating fish on reefs.
"Maui's citizen scientists' volunteer contributions are invaluable to managers in the efforts to better understand our coral reef ecosystems," White said.
She said that the data they provide fills in knowledge gaps and helps paint a clearer picture "of the complexities of which science still knows remarkably little."
Water quality expert and University of Hawaii research associate Robin Knox also helped put together the Web site. She said that volunteers want to know if their work is making a difference.
"We can see the serious purpose in the many hours of observing and recording natural events," said volunteer Rick Long. "Today's citizen scientists are eager to learn the protocols of scientific experiments and data collection and are computer literate."
The Web site and database also will give the public a chance to participate in the state Department of Health's water quality assessment program, Knox said.
And this comes at an opportune time, when the Department of Health is struggling with staff shortages due to the state's budget woes, she said.
The Web site was created in partnership with the Division of Aquatic Resources, the whale sanctuary, Aquanimity Now, the Digital Bus and Project S.E.A.-Link as well as other local organizations and government agencies.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are funding the program.
For more information about the workshop and Web site, e-mail Foote at Lfoote@coral. org or call 669-9062.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at email@example.com.