Coral Reef CSI

Gathering evidence underwater

Most coral reef ecosystems suffer some level of damage from illegal human activities, including vessel groundings, destructive fishing practices and coastal pollution. Prosecuting the perpetrators of these coral reef crimes is an important element of effective conservation efforts, but it's also a challenging prospect — especially because most of the evidence is located underwater. Few field investigators are equipped to handle coral reef criminal or civil cases.

Fortunately, an innovative program is training natural resource investigators to do just that. Utilizing forensic science techniques modified for use underwater, the Coral Reef Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) program provides resource managers and law enforcement personnel with the tools, strategies and specialized training required to gather and preserve courtroom-worthy evidence from the marine environment.

The training program features a five-day field-based workshop that serves as an intensive initiation into the relatively new field of coral reef forensic investigations. International professionals in wildlife enforcement, coral reef ecology, ecotoxicology and marine natural resource investigation present the curriculum and guide participants through demonstrations and practice investigations.

After introductory sessions in the classroom, participants get hands-on practice, utilizing techniques, equipment and role-playing in different impact scenarios. At the end of the training, participants present a court case from evidence gathered during practice investigations, familiarizing them with the rigors of the legal process.

More than 350 marine-protected area managers, enforcement officers, academics and litigators from coral reef destinations around the world have already attended Coral Reef CSI workshops, and the program continues to grow and expand. New training modules addressing the illegal marine wildlife trade, aquatic contaminants and sea turtle field forensics are currently being developed and tested.

Initially developed under the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), the Coral Reef CSI program has now found a home at the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), an international nonprofit committed to uniting communities to save coral reefs. This exciting new partnership is strengthening global efforts to pursue effective litigation that will increase protection for coral reefs.

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© Alert Diver — Fall 2011