Source: The State 
ASHLAND, OREGON — When death strikes a coral reef, whether from an oil spill off Mexico or sediment unleashed by a dam bursting in Hawaii, marine biologists know what to look for, but not how to document and preserve their findings so they will hold up in court.
Now biologists and criminalists from around the world are joining forces to develop crime-scene investigation techniques that work underwater.
The “CSI”-type standards 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 defense attorneys cannot argue that evidence was tampered with.
“This is going to be startling,” said David Gulko, a coral reef ecologist for Hawaii. “Once we have standards accepted by the resource management community within a region, it will no longer be a lone resource manager going up against the paid expert witness with a long list of credentials.”
While no one has figured out what to do about warm ocean water damaging coral reefs, authorities can take action against damage from ships, runoff from farm fields, pollution from factories and poachers using cyanide to flush out fish.
Gulko and his team will present their recommendations at an international symposium in October in Mexico and offer a five-day training session for marine biologists from around the world.
Ken Goddard, director of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory here and a former homicide police officer, supplies the criminal investigation expertise.
“The coral reef is the body,” Goddard said. “Except I can’t take it in for an autopsy.”
Speed is crucial. Investigators are limited by the air in their tanks, currents constantly change the scene, and fish swim in and out, sometimes eating the evidence, Goddard said.