Bid with purpose! Reef Check’s “Bid for the Oceans” online auction fundraiser begins November 1. Preview all the fabulous items donated by our generous partners— trips, tickets, dive gear, jewelry, artwork, gift certificates, and much more! Proceeds will provide critical funds for Reef Check’s conservation, restoration and monitoring programs and every purchase helps further our mission to save reefs worldwide.

Antelope Valley cohort all smiles after receiving their certifications (Photo: Linden Wolbert)

By Morgan Murphy-Cannella, Dive into Science Program Manager

This month, two cohorts of foster youth from Antelope Valley and Los Angeles participated in the Dive into Science Open Water Scuba certification course at Emerald Bay on Santa Catalina Island.

The Dive into Science (DIS) program supports youth and young adults from underrepresented or Tribal communities to experience the ocean in a way that will support their long term educational or career goals. The program offers scuba and scientific diving certification courses, experiential ocean stewardship training, and marine science educational opportunities. 

Reef Check staff Morgan Murphy-Cannella and Ian Norton with the LA cohort students Diondra Powell, Dante Peterson, Carol Martinez and Isis Moore ready to board the ferry over to Santa Catalina Island.

During the two weeks on Catalina Island, students learned about scuba theory, practiced and mastered scuba skills, learned about kelp forest environments and dove in a Marine Protected Area (MPA). In addition to scuba diving, students also had lessons on kelp forest indicator species, career opportunities in marine science/scuba diving and team building exercises. Students participated in a PADI Open Water course taught by In2Deep dive shop, which consisted of 5 days of scuba practice. Reef Check is grateful to receive funding for the program through California State Park Outdoor Equity Grants Program (OEP), which aims to improve the health and wellness of Californians through new educational and recreational activities, service learning, career pathways, and leadership opportunities that strengthen a connection to the natural world. 

The dive class was primarily focused in Doctor’s Cove which is situated in the Arrow Point to Lion Head Point State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA). This is a no-take of invertebrates MPA and students were able to witness how an MPA can protect habitat and species diversity. The completion of this Open Water certification provided students a glimpse into the underwater world, as well as a stepping stone to continue their progression towards scientific diving. Training new ocean stewards is essential for safeguarding the health of our oceans and ensuring a sustainable future for both the environment and human society. 

The completion of this training concludes the DIS program courses for the 2023 calendar year but we are looking forward to starting more cohorts with Northern California Tribal communities and Southern California foster youth communities in 2024!

Dante Peterson and Carol Martinez are all smiles after a great dive

Being in Catalina and having the opportunity to dive is something I’ll forever be grateful for. I was able to dance with the kelp, kiss fish, live the beautiful island life, face my apprehension to the ocean and most importantly recreate with folks who come from the same community that I do. We normally aren’t here doing this sport. After this experience I am a more confident diver and am incredibly excited to keep coloring the ocean!

Carol Martinez

Los Angeles cohort

As someone who thought they would stay in the desert environment all their life, going to Catalina was a completely new and amazing experience I thought I would never get to go on. I became mentally and physically stronger from the experience of gearing up and being under the water. I had a fear of dark water before this experience because I didn’t know what was hiding there, and now I know that life under the water is actually very calm and serene so my fears are gone. Scuba diving is not something I have ever heard another person from my community partaking in, so it was amazing that I and the new friends I made throughout the experience were able to get trained in this particular skill. I hope to continue on to the next phases with my cohort because it will only get more exciting from here!

Christy Jilavdaryan

Antelope Valley cohort

Reef Check board chair Linden Wolbert leads students through evening discussions
Antelope Valley cohort learn how to plan for multiple dives
Antelope Valley cohort and In2Deep instructors ready to dive! (Photo: Marco Mazza)
Carol Martinez and Dante Peterson giving the ‘ok’ sign before entering Doctor’s Cove
Diondra Powell and Isis Moore preparing for their skin diving lesson
Maldives EcoExpedition 2023

Submitted by Biosphere Expeditions

Since its first trip to the Maldives in 2011, Biosphere Expeditions has thus far trained over 100 people in Reef Check surveying, including over 30 local Maldivians in techniques on how to monitor their reefs and set up community-based monitoring schemes. As a direct result, local NGO Reef Check Maldives was formed in 2017 and is now active in community-based reef conservation work and advocacy. 

Biosphere recently concluded its latest trip and brings us this update:

We came here feeling pessimistic. Reefs are battered from all sides – warming oceans, bleaching, acidification, overfishing, exploitation, you name it, we humans inflict it on reefs and the natural world. Indeed some say that this current decade is the last to prevent the total collapse of reefs worldwide.

So we did not expect to find signs of hope, but we have. A dim light at the end of the tunnel, a flicker of hope, however faint. It’s no reason to celebrate, but it shows why citizen science is so important. Without the citizen scientists on this expedition, this message, which we will write up in a scientific report, would not exist or be heard. So thank you to all those on board for enabling this with their efforts and funds.

And here’s the story:

Maldives EcoExpedition 2023

We have found some cause for hope for previously badly affected sites, mainly from the last 2016 mass bleaching event. Sites that are grazed by herbivorous fish and have not been colonized by corallimorphs have partially recovered since 2016. True, the recovery is slow (cue the problems from paragraph 1), but there is some recovery. Baby corals are taking a foothold, surviving on the skeletal corpses of once great boulder corals, finding a space for new life in between dead coral branches, clinging on and growing. But those reefs that have been colonized by corallimorphs are getting worse. They are or have phase shifted from coral to corallimorph reefs, blanketed by nothing but these fleshy creatures, which nothing eats and which take over everything. Once the brown carpet has taken over, nothing is left – no fish, no invertebrates, no corals. This has happened in other parts of the world, for example in Bermuda, where few coral reefs are left.

But we are not there yet in the Maldives and we hope our work makes a small contribution to never getting there.

Biosphere’s next expedition to the Maldives is scheduled for October 5-11, 2024. Visit for more information and how you can participate.

Maldives EcoExpedition 2023
Maldives EcoExpedition 2023
Maldives EcoExpedition 2023

Submitted by Dr. Ali Al Ajmi, Reef Check Oman

In a crucial step towards safeguarding our oceans, the vibrant city of Khor Fakkan in the United Arab Emirates hosted a Reef Check EcoDiver course on September 16, 2023. This landmark event, meticulously coordinated by Coral Life group, saw the enthusiastic participation of seven ocean advocates.

Under the expert guidance of Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer Dr. Ali Al-Ajmi of Reef Check Oman, participants delved into the theoretical foundations of marine ecosystems at the prestigious University of Khor Fakkan. Following this, they took the plunge into the depths of the Khor Fakkan Sea for an immersive, hands-on experience, actively applying their newfound knowledge.

This initiative showcases a united front in the battle to conserve our marine treasures, exemplifying the power of collaboration and education.

Training divers in a Reef Check course is crucial for reef conservation. It educates them on reef dynamics, enabling threat identification. Divers learn to assess reef health, aiding data-driven conservation efforts. This training instills responsibility, promoting sustainable diving practices and fostering environmental stewardship.

Villagers of Kampung Genting and Kampung Paya, Tioman Island, celebrating the decision

Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) has had a very eventful past couple of months. In July & August, they successfully campaigned against the construction of a new airport on Tioman Island that would have destroyed the biodiversity of the island, caused air, noise and water pollution and disrupted the community’s livelihood. After a long campaign and with the support of various people and organizations and solidarity from the Reef Check Foundation itself, the Minister of Natural Resources and Climate Change of Malaysia decided against the new airport. It is indeed a big win for the environment and the community.

Our team in Semporna, Sabah, is training youths in Larapan, Mabul and Kulapuan to conduct coral rehabilitation activities in Kulapuan Island under the IKI Coral Restoration project, a project by RCM to empower the local community in marine conservation activities. These youths will be certified as divers, trained as EcoDivers and will receive training on how to do coral rehabilitation work. Youths are the future, and getting them involved when they are young is our best preparation for the future.

Our team in Mersing Islands, Johor, has organized and conducted EcoDiver training for the local community. This training activity is one of our ongoing efforts to encourage islanders and local communities to participate in the conservation efforts in the Mersing Islands.

EcoDiver training with youths from Larapan, Sabah
EcoDiver training with youths from Kulapuan, Sabah

In September, we coordinated a nationwide International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). Over 10,000 volunteers managed to remove over 26,000 kg of trash from the coastlines of Malaysia. This initiative is important not only to keep this trash away from the ocean, but also to strengthen awareness of the harm of marine pollution. We are thankful for everyone’s support and the sponsors of this year’s ICC, TechnipFMC and Zoom, for their generous donations that helped make this year’s ICC a success.

The coral rehabilitation work is still ongoing at all of our bases and coral monitoring in Tioman Island has shown that the coral fragments are growing well.

Finally, Reef Check Malaysia turned 16 on August 3! The past 16 years have been an adventure as we maneuver the ups and downs of protecting and saving coral reefs in Malaysia. We are thankful for the support of our funders, supporters and volunteers who have helped us and kept us going. We have expanded to having bases on Tioman Island, Mersing Islands, Mantanani Island, Semporna Island and Kota Kinabalu in Sabah and Redang Island. We are also now 22 staff strong.

Visit to find out how you can get involved.

By Morgan Murphy-Cannella, Reef Check Kelp Restoration Coordinator

DIS students and staff after a day of diving at Russian Gulch State Park

Reef Check’s Dive into Science program (DIS) has completed its first round of scuba training on the North Coast of California. With generous support from the CA State Coastal Conservancy Explore the Coast program, Reef Check’s staff instructors trained 11 participants in the NAUI scuba diver curriculum. Participants hailed from both the Sherwood Valley and Kashia Bands of Pomo Indians based in Sonoma and Mendocino County.

Dive into Science was specifically developed to increase diversity and reduce barriers to participating in Marine Science. Our goal is to guide participants through beginning, advanced, rescue and scientific diver training to position them for careers in marine resource management and empower them to participate in marine conservation efforts statewide. 

The class started with online learning from the NAUI curriculum where students learned about the gear, science, physiology, planning, and skills necessary to complete the field portion of the course. Additionally, students learned about oceanography, kelp forest ecology, kelp forest species and marine resource management. 

Once familiar with the basics of the NAUI scuba course, students were ready for the practical portion of this course which consisted of 3 weekends: one weekend at CV Starr Center pool in Fort Bragg for confined water practice, and two weekends in the ocean at Van Damme State Park and Caspar Cove. In the ocean, students practiced scuba skills, buoyancy, dive planning, and rescue skills. There were some challenges for each student, but with guidance from staff instructors each student was able to complete the required skills and build their confidence underwater.

DIS students Arella La Rose and Kimberly Carver and Reef Check staff instructor Morgan Murphy-Cannella pose pre-dive at Caspar Cove.

This newfound confidence afforded students the opportunity to observe sea life in its natural habitat, connect with the natural world in a way not previously possible, and witness first hand the intricacies of the ecosystem they have depended on for generations. This course has given each student the opportunity to explore the marine environment while increasing their knowledge about kelp forest ecosystems and marine science. Some students have plans to use these skills to expand the Environmental Departments within their tribe.

One student shared that she was very excited to be learning how to scuba dive because her grandmother taught her how to harvest abalone many years ago, and the ocean is a bonding place for her family. She explained that people in her family and community are unfamiliar with marine research and are largely unaware of the status of the marine ecosystem and of abalone fisheries. She is looking forward to being able to observe abalone in their habitat and get a first hand look at the status of the ecosystem where her family once used to spend a lot of time. She wants to be able to dive to share her thoughts, observations and experience with her community and family.

Another student shared with us that scuba diving has been an amazing support for them emotionally. They feel that when they are underwater that all their stresses and worries “wash away with the bubbles” and they feel renewed after a day of diving.

We are excited to continue working with this cohort to advance their diving skills, and to start new courses in 2024.

We would like to extend a special thank you to Seals Watersports and Sonoma Coast Divers for gear rentals and tanks, to the Kashia and Sherwood Valley Bands of Pomo Indians for their enthusiasm and dedication to this endeavor, and to the Coastal Conservancy for creating this opportunity for the North Coast community.