By: Nicole Helgason
In 2006, I moved to the Dominican Republic and learnt to scuba dive. In front of our resort was a coral restoration project that continues to inspire me today. I knew nothing about corals, but from that moment forward, I knew I had to devote my life to the ocean and protecting coral reefs.
Corals are the foundation of the marine environment, providing critical habitat for fish, protecting coastlines from erosion, and feeding millions of people worldwide. But often I have found that diversity of coral species do not get the recognition they deserve amongst scuba divers.
Corals often get lumped together under one generic term, ‘coral reef’. But this single term is far too general to describe a vibrant, diverse community with hundreds of individual species. Once you start recognising what separates each species and learn how to identify a few, your perception of the underwater landscape will expand exponentially.
A Blog for Scuba Divers
In March 2016, I started my own blog (ReefDivers.io) dedicated to sharing my underwater experience while bringing attention to scuba diving and coral reefs. The vision was to build a community of divers who deeply appreciate corals. One of the projects I am proudest of is my recently published Caribbean Coral identification Guide. At the beginning of 2017, I set out to photograph and identify all the species of Caribbean coral and besides a few cryptic coral, I managed to photograph some exceptional colonies and discovered some incredible reefs while diving in Honduras.
When most people think of diving in Honduras, the sites that come to mind are the Bay Islands of Roatán and Útila. While I enjoyed the diving in Roatán, it wasn’t until I headed over to the mainland that I found a one-of-a-kind Caribbean reef in Tela.
Tela breaks all the rules when it comes to Caribbean corals, but in the best way possible. While the average coral coverage in the Caribbean is around 17 percent, Tela clocks in at over 70 percent. The corals here are unreal, some colonies are estimated to be more than 500 years old, and Tela is easily one of the Caribbean’s healthiest reefs. Furthermore, it was only discovered eight years ago, and there is very little tourism or diving within the bay.
What’s exciting about Tela is the unusually high number of black long-spined sea urchins, Diadema antillarum. These spiny echinoderms are the perfect reef cleanup crew, with a voracious appetite for algae.
In 2018, I will start my journey documenting Pacific corals, hopefully the corals are around long enough for me to complete this goal! I want to make referencing corals and searching for them online and searching for them underwater an enjoyable experience. My work focuses on highlighting coral diversity through my photography. Corals are arguably the most important animal in the ocean and they deserve our attention.