It's a dilemma that's bedevilled marine ecologists for decades. How do you make reefs accessible to the public and yet protect them? The alluring beauty of coral reefs draws in tourists, but this beauty and fragility can be easily damaged by human contact. But yet marine tourism might actually increase awareness and help protect the reefs for the future? The answer might just be to create and install educational trail markers all around the reef, as marine ecologist Marsha Pardee and artist Pamela Leachan proposed in 2000. Thus was born the White House Reef Snorkel Trail located at Bight Reef, Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Backed by the Department of Environmental and Coastal Resources (DECR) and funded by the British Foreign Office and many local businesses, the program involved the creation of tile markers and attaching them to hollow concrete reef balls fastened to the sea floor. The 11 blue ceramic markers were created by local artists in Providenciales, and each one directs the path of a snorkeler around the outskirts of the reef, providing facts about the sea life living there or within the reef itself - or warning against the effects of touching or kicking up sand on the coral. The reef balls are innovatively designed with holes in them so that fish can use these eco-friendly environments as habitats and coral can be attached in the event of necessary relocation.
Years and years of marine growth eventually rendered the markers illegible. But with the help of the Turks and Caicos Reef Fund and through the commitment of volunteers who have spent hours scraping and scrubbing, the tile markers are now completely cleaned up and reinstalled.
Bight Reef is not just a top snorkel spot in the Turks and Caicos. In fact it was dubbed by caribbeantravelmag.com as one of the top 25 places in the world to snorkel.1 Visitors to the reef comment, "Probably the best snorkeling I have done... and I have done some great snorkeling!"2 and, "No area was as convenient or more filled with marine life than the Bight Reef in front of the Coral Gardens".3
The White House Snorkel Trail has been given new life and now not only guides the way to snorkelers swimming by, but also points the way to preserving the fragile balance between the beauty of the reef and the ecotourism which enjoys it.