December 12, 2007

2007 Year in Review: Reef Check California

By Reef Check California Director, Dr. Craig Shuman

Reef Check California (RCCA) has gone statewide! In just two short years since our inception, we have realized our goal of a statewide volunteer subtidal monitoring network. Fueled by a diverse support system, 180 RCCA certified divers completed 59 surveys to collect critical ecosystem data at 48 sites from Mendocino County to San Diego, more than doubling the survey effort from 2006.

The ability of RCCA divers to collect scientifically valid data has been especially timely on the central coast where a new network of MPAs went into effect on September 21, 2007. Many of the sites along the central coast were surveyed in both 2006 and 2007, providing baseline information that will be used in the future to help determine if the new MPAs have met their objectives. Data collected at other sites around the state will be crucial to help inform the ongoing siting of MPAs in California as required by the Marine Life Protection Act.

Partnerships played a key role in the success of the expansion of RCCA into a statewide network. We are indebted to our Science Advisory Team for their guidance and support which led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG). This MOU formally recognizes the scientific validity of RCCA training and data collection methods and provides the framework to share resources and data. Supported by the MOU, we combined forces with CDFG, the California Abalone Association and Santa Barbara Channel Keeper to complete the second year of surveys at San Miguel Island to assess abalone populations. We also partnered with CDFG to complete surveys on the north coast near Pt. Arena. With their assistance, we were able to complete the first recorded comprehensive ecosystem survey at Stornetta Ranch.

From a training standpoint, we have successfully partnered with Humboldt State University, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific, Moss Landing Marine Labs, University of California Los Angeles and University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) Scientific Diving Programs to incorporate RCCA into their existing diver trainings. We also completed a training with a group of Santa Barbara commercial sea urchin fishermen to help facilitate the inclusion of their tremendous local knowledge into the management process. These partnerships allow us to leverage resources and cost effectively train new divers to collect data that are needed to improve marine management in California.

Engaging diverse stakeholders to support science-based management is one of the primary goals of the RCCA program. This year, our programs reached a diverse constituency of ocean users through trainings, outreach events and public presentations. We also launched our Buddy Breathing Program. Partnering with dive shops across the state, we have arranged for free air fills and discounts on dive gear for all Reef Check California certified divers. Not only does this program reward Reef Check California divers with free air, but it helps provide additional incentives for new divers to participate in our training courses and promotes participating dive shops that support our efforts.

We have many exciting prospects on the horizon. In early 2008 we will release our 2-year report, which will summarize the results of the first two years of RCCA data collection. We will also unveil our new interactive online database. This innovative tool will allow all interested users to view and query our statewide database through a user-friendly interface. The application will also allow RCCA certified divers to enter data through a special portal and make our raw data accessible to resource managers and other qualified parties.

The trainings and recertifications scheduled for 2008 are filling up fast. Make sure you reserve your spot today to help ensure a healthy ocean along California’s coast. We look forward to seeing you all back out on the water in a few short months.

For more information, contact us at