Coral Reef CSI in San Pedro

The Island Newspaper, Ambergris Caye, Belize            Vol. 19, No. 37            October 1, 2009

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It will be underwater CSI!


Crime Scene Investigation has been made famous by the popular TV show known as CSI. Just what the program showcases on land will be exactly what experts will be conduction underwater. Enter Coral Reef CSI – a training program for Coral Reef and Marine Protected Areas Managers, enforcement officers and investigators.

    When a coral reef gets damaged, whether from agricultural runoff, pollution, sediment deposits, ship groundings, garbage dumping, fish poachers or oil spills, marine biologists know what to look for, but not how to document and preserve their findings so they will hold up in court. This will soon change in Belize as experts have gathered at Ramon’s Village for a five day program geared at training them in CSI-type standards which will govern such things as how to take notes under the sea, how to mark off the crime scene, how to photograph it, and how to preserve the “chain of custody” so that defense attorneys cannot argue that evidence was tampered with.

    Under the guidance of the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) Committee on Coral Reef Enforcement and Natural Resources Investigation this project makes use of both investigative and rapid ecological assessment techniques, marine evidence collection methods and handling, along with education. This program has also devised a number of investigative techniques to help preserve evidence. Instead of crime scene tape, they use buoys to mark the perimeter, and numbered buoys to mark pieces of evidence, such as paint scraped off a boat. Timing and speed is imperative in gathering evidence since not only are investigators limited by the air in their tanks, but currents constantly change the scene, and fish swim in and out, sometimes eating the evidence.

    For the following five days, divers in Belize will be trained in this program focusing on the toolkit components, to train coral reef resource managers and enforcement personnel in enhanced resource protection and management capabilities to respond to resource impact events.

    Under initial start up funds from the US Department of State and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Belizeans are being trained in the use of a toolkit and the training program which has been developed for standardized coral reef enforcement and natural resource investigations, which can be adapted for use in any major coral reef region and applied to a wide variety of events.

    The program ends with a mock court session on Sunday. On next week’s edition of The San Pedro Sun you will read interviews of participants of the Coral Reef CSI Program.



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