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Florida Sea Grant Goes on Tour

Back in November, I experienced one of proudest moments since starting at UF/IFAS Extension in Miami-Dade County. Rene Estevez, a colleague from Puerto Rico Sea Grant (PRSG), reached out to me inquiring about the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) training that we developed to engage recreational divers here in Florida to become citizen scientist observers. Rene was concerned that the SCTLD outbreak might reach Puerto Rico, and wanted to hold a proactive training session to prepare the dive community for this possibility.

I responded to Rene with a resounding “yes.” We were fortunate that PRSG offered to fund myself and my Monroe County Sea Grant Extension Agent, Shelly Krueger to travel to Puerto Rico and offer this workshop. As we developed the agenda, Rene expressed interest in having two training sessions-one for the recreational divers, and another session for local resource managers, biologists, and contractors. Since this audience presumably would have a higher level of experience with coral identification and familiarity with coral disease signs, we needed to understand the groups’ objectives and create a new training session with their needs in mind. I worked with Maurizio Martinelli, the Florida Sea Grant Coral Disease Response Coordinator to create this content. This is exactly what we do in Extension; identify the audience, their needs, and fill that need using best available science.

Maurizio and I designed a training session for the Puerto Rico scientific cohort that consisted of five parts: overview and status of the disease event in Florida and greater Caribbean, the levels of susceptibility of the different coral species, how to distinguish between SCTLD and other stressors, monitoring protocols and objectives, and an overview of the Florida disease response structure. This session went beautifully and was quite well-received by the group, consisting of about 30 participants.

Divers enter the water offshore of La Parguera, Puerto Rico for field practice. Photo: Pinchón Duarte.

Shelly and I taught our original SCTLD observer training in the afternoon, working with recreational divers from different parts of the island. A major bonus was that Melissa Gonzalez, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Coral Management Fellow worked with the University of Puerto Rico to be able have us lead an in-water practice session! This was the cherry on top for me, as I will happily take any reason to get into the water, especially when this opportunity has historically resulted in the largest impact of the class. We are confident that Puerto Rico’s stakeholders are more prepared for the possibility of SCTLD, and we look forward to potential collaboration.

Divers practice their stony coral identification skills under the supervision of Florida Sea Grant Extension faculty. Photo: Pinchón Duarte.