Images: taken at Bondalem’s Locally Managed Marine Area, Bondalem Village, Bali, Indonesia by Derta Prabuning – Reef Check Indonesia

Earlier this month, NOAA and ICRI (of which Reef Check is a member) confirmed that the world is currently experiencing its fourth global coral bleaching event and its second in the last 10 years. A copy of the full press release is below.

Previous events occurred in 1998, 2010, and 2015, and Reef Check teams around the world have been able to document each event as they unfolded. This current event has been no exception; Reef Check chapters share their observations here:

Reef Check Dominican Republic
“NOAA recently declared the fourth global massive coral bleaching event, with the Dominican Republic significantly impacted. In 2023, we observed that over 90% of coral colonies bleached as water temperatures soared above 30 degrees Celsius, peaking at 32 degrees during the late summer months. Witnessing our reefs turn ghostly white was alarming. However, by winter and spring, the reefs had regained their normal hues, and temperatures settled at a new normal of 27 degrees Celsius. We are now assessing the survival and mortality of our coral populations to understand their adaptation to these conditions and to inform more effective conservation strategies.” – Ruben Torres, President

Reef Check Malaysia
“Reef Check Malaysia has been monitoring this bleaching event as it unfolded over the last few months, using data from NOAA. In February, we started planning a monitoring program, including training local teams to monitor the onset, spread, duration and impact of the bleaching event. We wanted to get better data on the impact. We are now conducting regular bleaching monitoring surveys, based on the Reef Check standard survey methodology. We have reports of up to 20% bleaching in some areas.” – Julian Hyde, CEO

Reef Check Indonesia
“This bleaching season is unique and of course, the worst has already taken place in November – December 2023. These months are known as the rainy season in Indonesia’s archipelago, but bleaching occurs. Based on network reports, in November – December, bleaching took place in Karimunjawa Island, North Sulawesi, Bali, West and East of Nusa Tenggara, Raja Ampat, and several other places in Indonesia.

Reef Check Indonesia works closely with the Ministry of Marine Affairs and Fisheries, through the Director of Ecosystem and Aquatic Biota Conservation, to provide monitoring advice to the network so that coral bleaching monitoring can be monitored effectively and efficiently.

Now, we are preparing to release the previous bleaching report (November 2023 – January 2024) and monitoring advice for a bleaching alert in the middle of 2024 (June – July). We hope that bleaching does not occur, but if it takes place, we are ready.” – Derta Prabuning, Executive Director

ICRI Press Release

NOAA and ICRI Confirm Fourth Global Coral Bleaching Event

WASHINGTON D.C (Monday 15th April 2024) – The world is currently experiencing its fourth global coral bleaching event, according to NOAA scientists and ICRI’s network of global coral reef scientists, the second in the last 10 years.

Bleaching-level heat stress, caused by prolonged increases in anomalous ocean temperatures, as remotely monitored and predicted by NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch (CRW), has – and continues to be – extensive across the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans.

“From February 2023 to April 2024, significant coral bleaching has been documented in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of each major ocean basin,” said Derek Manzello, Ph.D., NOAA CRW coordinator.

Mass bleaching of coral reefs, since early 2023, has been confirmed in at least 53 countries, territories, and local economies, including Florida (U.S.A), the Caribbean, the Eastern Tropical Pacific (including Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama, and Colombia), Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, large areas of the South Pacific (including Fiji, Vanuatu, Tuvalu, Kiribati, and the Samoas), the Red Sea (including the Gulf of Aqaba), the Persian Gulf, and the Gulf of Aden.

Bleaching must be confirmed within each Ocean basin to make a final determination of a global bleaching event. Reports have now been confirmed of widespread bleaching across parts of the Western Indian Ocean, including Tanzania, Kenya, Mauritius, the Seychelles, Tromelin, Mayotte, and off the western coast of Indonesia.

“As the world’s oceans continue to warm, coral bleaching is becoming more frequent and severe,” Manzello said. “When these events are sufficiently severe or prolonged, they can cause coral mortality, which can negatively impact the goods and services coral reefs provide that people depend on for their livelihoods.”

Where coral bleaching results in mortality, especially on a widespread scale, it impacts economies, livelihoods, food security, and more. However, it is important to remember that coral bleaching does not always lead to coral death. Rather, if the stress driving the bleaching diminishes, corals can recover, with reefs maintaining their biodiversity and continuing to provide the ecosystem services that we rely on.

“Climate model predictions for coral reefs have been suggesting, for years, that bleaching impacts would increase in frequency and magnitude as the oceans warm,” said Jennifer Koss, director of NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP).

This global event requires global action. The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), a partnership of 101 international members, currently co-chaired by NOAA and the US Department of State, is steadfast in applying resilience-based management actions for coral reefs. In response to the three previous global bleaching events as well as regional and local events, ICRI and its members have advanced coral interventions and restoration in the face of climate change. ICRI develops, and shares, best practices for the effective management of coral reefs through the implementation of its Plan of Action.

NOAA has incorporated resilience-based management practices, increasing the emphasis on coral restoration, into its 2018 strategic plan, and funded a National Academies of Sciences’ study, leading to the publication of the 2019 Interventions to Increase the Resilience of Coral Reefs.

Koss said: “We are on the frontlines of coral reef research, management, and restoration, and are actively and aggressively implementing the recommendations of the 2019 Interventions Report.”

The 2023 heatwave in Florida (U.S.A) was unprecedented; starting earlier, lasting longer, and with recorded temperatures higher than any previous event in the region. During the heat stress event, NOAA deployed the 2019 recommended interventions, building a valuable knowledge base and made significant strides, through its “Mission: Iconic Reefs program”, to offset some of the negative impacts of global climate change and local stressors on Florida’s corals including moving coral nurseries to deeper, cooler waters and deploying sunshades to protect corals in other areas.

Global bleaching events do not affect all coral reefs equally and require a suite of global, regional, and local interventions. This emphasizes the importance of regularly monitoring coral reef ecosystems and not just during bleaching events. Networks such as the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network, an operational network of ICRI, and the US Coral Reef Task Force, provide mechanisms for reporting on the impact of bleaching on the World’s coral reefs, alongside regional bleaching observation networks.

To share key messages and resources about coral bleaching, its impacts, causes and solutions currently being implemented and developed, ICRI has developed the “Coral Bleaching Hub” to support responses, policy and planning, and encourage global cooperation.

ICRI will be hosting a webinar on Tuesday 14th May 2024 to present and discuss the status of the 4th Global Bleaching Event, and the role of the global coral reef community. Register your interest to attend the webinar here.

Submitted by Maputo Dive Center

In the heart of Mozambique, a transformative journey unfolds as aspiring marine conservationists dive into the depths of the ocean, not just to explore its wonders but to emerge as guardians of its future. Maputo Dive Center (known as “Centro de Mergulho de Maputo” in Portuguese), Mozambique’s pioneering dive center, has become a beacon of hope and empowerment, guiding individuals from diverse backgrounds on a path to scientific diving and marine conservation. Last month, they celebrated a significant milestone, with the graduation of 9 university students, including 5 from Universidade Pedagógica, 3 from Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, and 1 independent learner.

Evander Nhaule: From Ocean Enthusiast to Guardian
One such individual is Evander Nhaúle, a graduate in Languages and International Relations, who found his calling in the ocean’s embrace. “I found my vocation in diving thanks to unexpectedly seeing whales in my vicinity,” Evander shares. His journey from being an ocean enthusiast to a scientific diver is a testament to the transformative power of the Reef Check program. “I was happy when they announced the scientific diving course because I never wanted to see the ocean just as a ‘recreational tourist’ but rather with the scientific eyes that enable me to understand what I’m really seeing before me. I believe that with this course, we can take on leadership roles that support marine conservation actions and the development of the Blue Economy, which is what I propose to do.”

Esperança Bila: Nurturing a Passion for Marine Ecology and Conservation
Esperança Bila, a final-year student in Biology Teaching and Laboratory Management from Maputo’s Universidade Pedagógica, echoes this sentiment. Her motivation stems from her background in conservation biology, her involvement in seagrass research and a deep understanding of the marine ecosystem’s complexity. “The diving course has given a significant boost to my skills as a biologist,” Esperança states. Her experience in the Reef Check program has been nothing short of incredible, “Diving is a passion. During the training, I was able to acquire knowledge and scientific methodologies focused on constructing questions that should be investigated. This is the essence of the scientific journey, where generated answers can be rigorously tested and validated. In marine scientific diving, the experience transcends merely observing the captivating beauty and vastness of the underwater world. It involves systematically gathering data to address scientific inquiries.”

The Graduates’ Voyage into Marine Conservation
Both Evander and Esperança highlight the program’s impact on their personal and professional growth. For Evander, it’s about “increasing my necessary experience to gain recognition in my monitoring capabilities.” Esperança sees her future in contributing to marine biodiversity conservation, “My knowledge and experience in Biology can be useful for Marine Biodiversity Conservation.” Their journeys through underwater data collection and analysis, identification of indicator species, and an entry-level coral reef monitoring program mark the beginning of a promising career in marine conservation.

But for most of the students, this was more than just a scientific diving course. They completed a much longer journey that began years ago when they learned to swim and dive recreationally before becoming scientific divers. It is a step forward in Maputo Dive Center’s mission to develop the next generation of marine conservationists, researchers, and conservation area managers in Mozambique.

The Urgent Mission for Coral Reef Conservation in Mozambique
Looking ahead, the recent approval of the National Strategy for the Management and Conservation of Coral Reefs underscores the urgency of this mission. With over 2,500 km of coastline, Mozambique lacks research and monitoring capacity for Marine Protected Areas. Swimming, snorkeling, and diving are fundamental skills for the management and conservation of coral reefs.

This first group of graduates will be crucial in helping to achieve the goals set out in the national strategy, but this cannot be a one-time exercise. Continuous training is needed to build an adequate workforce. With this in mind, and learning from the experience of the graduates, Maputo Dive Center conceptualized the Zero to Hero Diving Program to develop local capacity for the research and monitoring of coral reefs in Mozambique.

Zero to Hero Diving Program: Scaling Scientific Diving and the Reef Check Program
The Zero to Hero Diving Program will be an annual 9 to 12-month program that takes participants with zero underwater skills and teaches them swimming, snorkeling, and diving, including scientific diving methods through the Reef Check program. It is the replication of the experience that last month’s graduates had, in a single structured course. The goal is to continue bridging the gap between education and employment, complementing university theory with the introduction of practical knowledge and skills to work comfortably and safely underwater. The goal is to develop and enhance the capacity for coral reef research and conservation within Mozambique and prepare students for careers in marine conservation.

In this regard, last month, Maputo Dive Center signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Universidade Pedagógica to continue training their students through the future Zero to Hero Diving Program. This partnership aims to replicate the success to-date and continue building a resilient marine conservation community.

We extend our sincere gratitude to Reef Check, Associação Natura Moçambique, the Italian Agency for Development Cooperation, and all individual donors for their support in funding the courses to date. We also thank Universidade Pedagógica for their participation in these trainings with their students, Maputo National Park as the guardian of the beautiful and biodiverse context in which the training was conducted, and Dr. Yara Tibiriçá for writing and teaching the scientific diving curriculum, including teaching the Reef Check curriculum. Your contributions have been fundamental in shaping the future of these graduates.

Join us in congratulating the graduates and everyone who contributed to this journey. If you are interested in supporting our mission to build the capacity of future marine conservationists, please get in touch. Let’s make the Zero to Hero Diving Program a success together!

Click here to watch the graduation video to witness the joy and hope of this program. Together, we’re diving into a brighter future for Mozambique’s marine life!

Maputo Dive Center (Centro de Mergulho de Maputo)
Instagram: @centrodemergulhodemaputo
Email: info@cmm.co.mz
Phone: +258 87 734 5333

Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia

In conjunction with Earth Day, Reef Check Malaysia was thrilled to announce that after 16 years of coral reef conservation, we’re making waves with a major pivot! Introducing the evolution of Reef Check Malaysia (RCM), as we broaden our scope to protect all marine ecosystems.

RCM is now a ‘marine ecosystems conservation’ organization as we shift our focus to include seagrass and mangrove ecosystems, deepening our collective understanding of environmental interconnectedness. Here is our new mission and vision:

Our CEO, Julian Hyde, explains more about our pivot in focus here

Coral Bleaching

Coral bleaching occurrences have become more frequent and severe in recent decades, posing a significant threat to coral reef ecosystems around the world. The loss of coral reefs has surpassed the ecological, economic, and social consequences threshold, as coral reefs are the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems, in addition to providing coastal protection, supporting fisheries, and contributing to tourism.

NOAA’s Coral Reef Watch is showing the predicted mass coral bleaching happening this year. Our Reef Check Malaysia teams at various locations are also actively monitoring for coral bleaching and have activated RCM’s Coral Bleaching Response Plan, having received a warning from NOAA.

We welcome the public to help us monitor the health of Malaysia’s coral reefs. If you’re in Malaysia and have seen any bleaching corals, you can report your observations to us at https://bit.ly/rcmbleachingreport  or by scanning the QR code. We can work together towards the preservation and recovery of our coral reefs.

Local Marine Conservation Groups Meet

A few weeks ago, RCM organized a trip for the members of the Redang Marine Conservation Group (RMCG). Led by our colleagues from Redang Island, they paid a visit to Tioman Island, to meet our RCM colleagues and the Tioman Marine Conservation Group (TMCG) team! 

The RMCG team spent four days on Tioman, learning and sharing experiences with the TMCG team on various marine conservation efforts and issues. They also had the opportunity to conduct marine biodiversity monitoring as well as visiting “Rumah Hijau” where all the recycling activities on the island are conducted. RCM has been working to send our colleagues on the ground from one location to another, in an effort to help them learn and understand each other’s work better and gain necessary insights that will help them serve their community better.

Briefing of RMCG members before a dive in Tioman
Visit to Rumah Hijau to learn the recycling process

Waste Management & Recycling Program

One of the households who received the certificate of excellence

Since its introduction about three years ago, the local islanders of Mantanani have been exposed to waste management and its benefits. Recently, our colleague on the island organized a community engagement session focusing on waste management, attended by close to 100 islanders. We discussed the challenges faced by the efforts, and also updated them regarding the current status and progress of the waste management program. We also took the opportunity to award 80 households with a “Certificate of Excellence” for their full participation and compliance with the program throughout 2023.

Waste management team weighing the food waste before composting

In an effort to extend the program, our local waste management team on Mantanani embarked on a trial to compost daily collected waste. On the first day, the team successfully processed more than 80 kg of food waste which will be composted. This extension was tested as a bid to reduce the amount of food waste that is collected by the local team every day. We hope that in the near future, composting will be a regular activity adopted by the local community. 

Meanwhile in the Mersing group of islands, the recycling program in Pulau Tinggi has successfully collected over 100 kg of recyclable materials, including plastic bottles, metal and aluminum tins, and glass bottles. Since its inception in August 2023, the program has received overwhelming support and participation from the island community members. Additionally, tourism operators on the island have expressed interest to collaborate in this initiative, further enhancing waste management efforts on the island. This year, we plan to extend the recycling program to Pulau Aur and Pemanggil. We hope that by sharing the outcomes and progress achieved through the recycling programs in Pulau Sibu and Pulau Tinggi with other island communities, the initiatives will also be accepted across the Mersing islands.

Island community working together to collect recyclables
Segregation of recyclable materials conducted by Pulau Tinggi community

Mooring Buoys Installation

Preparation of the heavy duty rope used to connect the metal drums and mooring buoys in Semporna

Our colleagues in Semporna, together with representatives from Jeti Pelancong Semporna, the Semporna Professional Divers Association – SPDA, Semporna District Office, youth leaders from the Larapan Marine Conservation Groups, and Pulau Sipadan Resorts & Tours, deployed four mooring buoys in Timba-Timba Island. These sites are famous with tourists, who come over for snorkelling or diving. Recognizing the possible damage caused by anchor impact, the installation was done promptly to solve the problem and to promote the use of mooring buoys at other sites too. Each of the buoys are able to accommodate 3 to 5 boats at a time, as they are supported by sinkers made from metal drums filled with cement. 

Boat operators in Mersing utilizing the newly installed mooring buoy

In the Mersing group of islands, we have successfully installed an additional eight mooring buoys at various snorkeling sites. This activity was conducted in collaboration with Mersing District Council, the local island community, and boat operators. The installation of mooring buoys offers a more environmentally friendly alternative compared to the usage of anchors which can be damaging to marine habitats such as coral reefs, seagrass beds and other underwater ecosystems. Additionally, the mooring buoys also help to facilitate safe boat operations and island-hopping activities around coral reef areas on the islands.

Submitted by Stephan Moldzio, Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director

Red Sea Diving Safari’s next Reef Check EcoDiver course will take place in Marsa Nakari, Egypt July 18-21, 2024, with five subsequent surveys from July 22-25. Spaces are available for both certified Reef Check EcoDivers, and divers who would like to be trained and certified as EcoDivers.

2023 marked the 15th year of Red Sea Diving Safari’s reef monitoring program, which took place in Marsa Shagra from July 13-16, 2023. We had six course participants and for the subsequent surveys, six already-certified EcoDivers who had completed the course in previous years joined us. They had timed their stay specifically to take part in the surveys.

As experienced Reef Checkers, they not only helped with the data collection, but also with laying out and collecting the two transect lines. We were a large and varied team, with participants ranging from 12 to 69 years old, from Open Water Diver to Master Instructor. We had great dives and a very eventful time together.

Reef Check sites at Marsa Shagra
Reef Check team

Reef Check EcoDiver Course and Surveys
Theory sessions and practical dives alternated during the Reef Check EcoDiver course. Participants first learned about the Reef Check method and the different indicator groups of fish, invertebrates & human impacts, as well as substrate (coral, algae, reef rock, sand, etc.). On each day of the course, we conducted two training dives on the reef to practice identifying indicators and using underwater hand signals. On the third day, the practical application of the Reef Check method was practiced on land along the transect line during a beach exercise.

Once all the participants had successfully completed the tests to identify the indicator organisms, they were certified as Reef Check EcoDivers. When it came time for a test survey on the final day, it was clear to all participants that it was time to get serious!

We had planned Reef Check surveys at five different reefs. With two 100 m transect lines, we were able to set the transects for both depths simultaneously. The survey teams were also able to complete both depths in one dive, first at 8.5 m and then at 3.5 m.

About our results:

The substrate team found an average hard coral cover of 49.5% across all five survey sites and both depths. Marsa Shagra North had the highest value with 65.0% at 3.5 m depth and 43.1% at 8.5 m depth.

Substrate survey

In this area, the reef slope is a little shallower and not so steep, so there is more light at the deeper levels and therefore more coral growth.

For giant clams, the difference between the shallow and deeper levels was particularly evident. This is because giant clams also have symbiotic algae in their mantle lobes and therefore prefer light-flooded, shallowly sloping reef slopes.

The only other invertebrates we found during our surveys were a few pencil urchins, banded coral shrimps and, at Wadi Lahami, a large crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci).

The `Invertebrate and Human Impacts team´ looked very carefully in all the caves and crevices during the surveys since most invertebrates hide during the day from the many predators. However, during our night dives we found the full spectrum of invertebrates who only emerged from the reef caves at night.

For groupers, which are an important indicator of overfishing, we found by far the most groupers larger than 30 cm at Marsa Shagra North with 1.75 individuals per 500 m³ transect. Specimens smaller than 30 cm are not counted in the Reef Check method.

In addition to more than 30 years of consistent protection, the extraordinary width of the reef flat around Marsa Shagra contributes to the abundance of fish and high species diversity.

Giant clam (Tridacna maxima)
Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci)
Roving coralgrouper (Plectropomus pessuliferus marisrubri)
Dr. Ahmed M. Shawky

Tour through Wadi El Gemal National Park
We then headed to Wadi Lahami for two more surveys. The normal two-hour bus journey passes through the Wadi El Gemal National Park (WGNP). We turned it into a national park tour with stops at selected locations.

Our long-time friend, marine biologist Dr. Ahmed M. Shawky, who also participated in the Marsa Shagra surveys, guided us through the National Park, explaining the natural features at each stop.

Dr. Shawky has worked for the WGNP rangers for many years and knows the park ‘like his own backyard’. This allowed us to experience the fantastic nature and scenery, as well as the Egyptian culture and way of life of the Bedouin who live here.

At our first stop, right at the start of Wadi El Gemal National Park, we visited Roman ruins and a large umbrella acacia (Vachellia tortilis).

Ras Baghdadi is the remnant of a once mighty river, also known as the Wadi El Gemal Delta. The river pebbles washed down from the mountains bear witness to much wetter times many thousands of years ago. Today, the wadi (= dried riverbed) only carries water during floods, which occur every few years. Despite this, the groundwater allows the local vegetation to flourish, with doum palms (Hyphaene thebaica), date palms (Phoenix dactylifera), Nile tamarisk (Tamarix nilotica) and many other plant species. A pond with common reed (Phragmites australis) provides fresh water for many animals.

Ababda Bedouin serving Gabbana

The last stop was at El Qulan. Here we had the opportunity to enjoy a traditional Egyptian coffee, the “Gabbana”, with the Ababda Bedouins. It is very strong and refined with cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, pimento, nutmeg and pepper.

We then explored the large mangrove area: the white mangrove (Avicennia marina), with its aerial roots, is the only mangrove species in the Red Sea that is adapted to the dryness and high salinity. Typical inhabitants of the mangroves are the land hermit crab (Coenobita scaevola) and various other crabs. They dig tunnels in the sandy soil and build conical “castles”.

In the evening, Dr. Shawky gave a talk on dolphins in the Red Sea, offering  interesting insights into their behavior and social life, their nocturnal hunting and interaction with their only predators- the large tiger sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks.

Fish team

Wadi Lahami & Fury Shoals
After our last two surveys at Wadi Lahami house reef, we were able to dive the fantastic reefs of the Fury Shoals. While the offshore reefs of “Angel” and “Malahy” boast epic reef formations, nearby “Daisy” captivated us with its nutrient-rich conditions, abundance of fish, and lush coral growth.

In addition to the more common species, these reefs are home to the rare hooded butterflyfish (Chaetodon larvatus) and the endemic Red Sea longnose filefish (Oxymonacanthus halli). Both species feed exclusively on coral polyps and are therefore dependent on areas of dense coral cover.

A big thank you goes out to Red Sea Diving Safari for all their support and great cooperation!

The next Reef Check course will take place in Marsa Nakari, July 18-21 2024, with five subsequent surveys from July 22-25.

Are you interested in learning more about the diversity of coral reefs and taking part in reef surveys to collect scientific data? Send us an email at info@marinebiologyworkshops.de

More information at: https://www.greencorals.de/en/reef-check-2/

Full report “Reef Check 2023” with more pictures

Reef Check is delighted to share an incredible new site that celebrates the wonder of bull kelp and the biodiversity it supports: The Mysterious World of Bull Kelp, presented by Above/Below. This webstory is more than a website, it’s like a digital book that explores the “forests below” through artistic illustrations, compelling photography, lyrical essays, historical and contemporary kelp maps, and scientific diagrams to take you on a deep dive into the world of bull kelp forests. This project is the brainchild of co-directors Josie Iselin and Marianna Leuschel and is the centerpiece of a larger ocean literacy campaign that aims to raise awareness about kelp forests. Stay tuned for more from Above/Below, and in the meantime you can check out some of Josie Iselin’s art in our Reef Check online store.

We are excited to announce the launch of our Reef Check Washington swag designed by the talented artist/ designer/ author and Reef Check volunteer J.S. Weis! Items are now available through our Crewtopia Shop. Check it out and wear your support for kelp forest monitoring for all to see, and be sure to check out all the other Reef Check swag offered by Crewtopia at https://crewtopiasupply.com/collections/reef-check.