Training Divers to Monitor Reefs A Reef Resilience Network Success Story

Meet the Manager

Jennifer Olbers (Left)

The iSimangaliso Wetland Park is South Africa's first World Heritage Site, encompassing lakes, estuaries, swamp forests, coastal dunes and pristine coral reef communities. Jennifer Olbers, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Marine Ecologist, monitors and manages marine ecosystems located in iSimangaliso Wetland Park with a focus on Sodwana Bay. After years of monitoring the marine communities of Sodwana Bay, Jennifer observed a shift in coral reef health and fish communities, sparking the need for long term data to document these changes and inform management decisions into the future.

Natural impacts are more extreme than they used to be. The reefs are being beaten more often with big swells, the average water temperatures are higher and minimum temperatures are lower. The corals are showing increased indications of stress. - Jennifer Olbers

Reef Resilience Network Support

In 2013, Jennifer attended a Reef Resilience Training held in Zanzibar to connect with other coral reef managers working in the Western Indian Ocean and learn about their regional challenges and management practices. She also attended the training to enhance her communication and facilitation skills to build stronger working relationships with local dive operators.

Group photo of participants at Reef Resilience Training of Trainers 2013

As part of the training, Jennifer participated and completed a four-month long online course on reef resilience concepts. During the online course, Jennifer worked with coral reef experts and Reef Resilience mentors to develop a coral bleaching response plan for South Africa. However, while drafting the bleaching response plan, she found there was an insufficient amount of data on the Park's coral reef ecosystems and redirected her efforts towards developing a reef resilience monitoring methodology. This lead to the creation of the iSimangaliso Reef Resilience Program, which aims to document long-term trends of how reefs within the Park are changing spatially and temporally and to determine the most resilient sites within the SCUBA-dived areas. With the continued support and feedback from coral reef experts and mentors, Jennifer developed a monitoring methodology for the Park that is relatively easy to implement and focuses on specific criteria to ensure data collection is consistent with little time commitment.

Successes and Next Steps

After the training, Jennifer received a seed funding grant from the Reef Resilience Network to coordinate and facilitate two workshops for local dive operators. Jennifer’s Reef Resilience Program is a citizen science project involving nine dive operators who operate within Sodwana Bay and volunteer to collect data using the reef resilience monitoring methodology she developed with experts during the training. Jennifer used these fund to host two workshops to launch the iSimangaliso Reef Resilience Program, introduce reef resilience concepts to local dive operators, and train operators on the new monitoring methodology. In addition, dive operators were supplied with a written manual of the monitoring methodology and received necessary materials and equipment for data collection.

iSimangaliso Reef Resilience workshops.

Prior to these workshops, conservation and Park staff found it challenging to gain the trust and support of local dive operators. By inviting the dive operators to participate in these workshops and involving them in Park management, relationships began to improve and trust started to build.


By utilizing the tools and resources from the Reef Resilience Training, Jennifer was able to improve relationships with dive operators, increasing the dive operators' willingness to collaborate on Park projects. Through developing and launching the iSimangaliso Reef Resilience Monitoring Program, Jennifer initiated the start of a regional reef resilience monitoring program to fill information gaps on coral reef communities and contribute to future management decisions. In order to move the iSimangaliso Reef Resilience Program forward, Jennifer began working with the Park Management Authority on the 2018/2019 operator contract to include a clause that ensures the iSimangaliso Reef Resilience Program is implemented by dive operators. By providing support and guidance to Park Management Authority during the development of this clause, Jennifer aims to establish a formal mechanism to collect sufficient data on Sodwana Bay coral reef ecosystems and involve dive operators in marine resource management.

Jennifer presenting during iSimangaliso Reef Resilience workshops.


Photo Credit: Jennifer Olbers; Carlton Ward for The Nature Conservancy

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