We are happy to announce there is a new Reef Check coordinator and training facility in Ecuador, led by Conservación Marina Ecuador (CONMAR). They share this introduction to their organization below:

One of CONMAR’s main objectives is to increase the efforts on scientific research and monitoring of coral reef ecosystems in continental Ecuador. Looking into how we could do this, we came across Reef Check. We really liked the standardized reef health survey methods they use and decided it was time to implement it here in Ecuador, while also creating EcoDiver teams at different local coastal communities. We invited marine biologist and Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director Andrew Taylor, from Blue Corner in Bali, Indonesia, to train us to become Reef Check EcoDiver Trainers. For about two weeks, we were diving every day conducting reef health surveys, while learning more about coral communities in Ecuador. We also updated indicator species for the East Pacific according to what we saw during our surveys. Now, we are only a team of four people, but we are hoping to grow more over the coming years, showing citizens the importance of coral reefs, ecosystem monitoring, and how each one can help to conserve our ocean backyard. 

Please visit the Reef Check Ecuador page for more information.

File photo of Sargassum muticum, by Colleen Wisniewski

On May 12, 2022, a team of citizen science divers with Reef Check California observed Sargassum muticum, an invasive species of seaweed, in the State Marine Reserve at Point Lobos State Park. Sargassum muticum, also known as “wireweed,” is native to the temperate coastal waters of Japan.

Reef Check citizen science divers observed the wireweed growing near the boat ramp in Whaler’s Cove. The specimens were observed growing in several clusters of multiple individuals in shallow water, approximately 2-3 ft deep.

Whaler’s Cove is located inside the marine portion of Point Lobos State Park and the Point Lobos State Marine Reserve. This area is one of the oldest marine reserves in the state and is prized by divers for its unparalleled beauty and diversity.

Reef Check has been conducting monitoring at two sites in the Point Lobos Reserve for 17 years. Reef Check’s citizen science divers undergo specialized training to identify and quantify problematic invasive species, along with nearly 80 other species that indicate ecosystem health.

Wireweed was first documented in Washington in the early 20th century, fouling boats and fishing equipment. Wireweed is known to have established itself in locations along the US West Coast including Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, and at locations in the open ocean in Southern California, and has previously been observed in Elkhorn Slough and along Pebble Beach, Monterey County. This is the first recorded observation in a Marine Protected Area along the open coast of Central California.

Long-term monitoring programs like Reef Check are critical for tracking species range expansions, including for invasive species, and checking kelp forest ecosystem health. Frequent ocean observations by Reef Check’s vast network of citizen science divers, coordinators, and ecologists help inform and advise policymakers, resources managers, and scientists so they can be proactive before challenges like these become a major issue.

Sargassum horneri, also known as hornweed, a separate invasive Sargassum species, has invaded countless miles of kelp forests in Southern California, particularly around Catalina Island. In 2020, Reef Check citizen science divers observed hornweed growing in Monterey at San Carlos beach. Reef Check notified the California Department of Fish and Wildlife of that observation and department divers proceeded to search the area and remove any hornweed plants that they found. Without Reef Check divers being on the lookout for invasive species, they may go unnoticed for an extended period allowing them to proliferate and potentially impact the local environment.

Invasive species can invade new territories by being carried over great distances by ships, in addition to being transported by ocean currents. Invasives can be incredibly harmful to local ecosystems. In many instances, they have no natural predators to control their populations. If left unchecked they can outcompete native species for resources like food and sunlight, and put pressure on the services the ecosystem naturally provides. This ultimately might lead to a collapse of the ecosystem especially if it is already under pressure from climate change and species extinctions.

Reef Check has welcomed Annie Bauer-Civiello into a new position as Director of the Kelp Restoration Program. Annie received a Bachelor of Science in marine biology from the University of California Santa Cruz and her Master of Science in marine biology and PhD in environmental science at Australia’s James Cook University. While in Australia, Annie worked as the Great Barrier Reef Survey Coordinator for Reef Check Australia, where she led scientific dives, marine debris clean ups and outreach events. Annie has recently returned to her roots in California and she is very excited to bring her wide range of experience and knowledge to assist Reef Check’s Restoration Program.

Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia

Reef Check Malaysia was invited to participate in a conservation activity done by the Department of Fisheries

Each June, the world celebrates World Coral Day on the 1st of the month, World Environment Day on the 5th, World Ocean Day on the 8th and Coral Triangle Day on the 9th. While for us at Reef Check, every day is an important ocean day, it nevertheless is great to celebrate these days alongside the public who may only think of ocean issues on these special days.

Therefore, in conjunction with what we call the Ocean Month, our team in Malaysia has been tirelessly working with and alongside government officials and the local community.

The team over in the islands in Mersing, Johor conducted a beach cleanup at Pantai Teluk Cina, Pulau Sibu – a beach not easily accessible to villagers. As part of the #cleanseas campaign, seven people were involved in the cleanup and a total of 447 kg of trash were collected.

Reef Check Malaysia was also invited to participate in a conservation activity in conjunction with World Coral Day. Seven divers from the Department of Fisheries and one representative from Reef Check Malaysia conducted maintenance activities at one of the coral replanting sites at Pulau Mentigi, Pulau Tinggi. Among the activities that took place were brushing off algae on the structures and removing barnacles.

Annual Reef Check survey for Mabul and Kapalai Island

With the local community, the team at Mersing conducted a virtual presentation via Facebook Live through the Majlis Daerah Mersing’s (The Mersing Local District Office) Facebook account. The talk, “Kepelbagaian Ekosistem Marin di Mersing – Tanggungjawab Bersama” (Marine Ecosystem Diversity in Mersing – A Shared Responsibility) was in celebration of World Environment Day. A virtual tour of the island, eco-diving and talks on the importance of protecting the ecosystem and an introduction of the various ecosystems in Mersing were part of the presentation.

In another Sabah series of activities for World Ocean Day, a team also completed their annual Reef Check survey for Mabul and Kapalai Island with trained EcoDivers. The dedicated volunteers also did underwater clean ups after finishing the surveys. This survey was supported by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment of Sabah (KEPKAS). And on June 10 – 12, the team in Sabah also held an EcoDiver training with youth from Mabul and Mantanani Island.

The Tioman team had a beach cleanup and reef rehabilitation with MTG Capital Sdn Bhd

Heading over to Tioman Island, the team held a beach cleanup and reef rehabilitation with MTG Capital Sdn Bhd. The ‘Reef Rehabilitation and Beach Cleanup’ campaign on the 5th and 6th of June was done in conjunction with World Ocean Day. During the event, 15 people planted 100 corals and collected a total of nine bags of trash, amounting to 70 kg of trash collected. And as we all know, the work never ends! The Tioman team went for another beach clean up in conjunction with Coral Triangle Day on the 9th of June. 

Also, Reef Check Malaysia’s General Manager, Julian Hyde joined 140 people from Yayasan Sime Darby and Sime Darby group of companies at Pantai Kelanang for a cleanup for World Ocean Day. The group successfully collected 1,074 kg of trash all in a day’s work.

EcoDiver training with Mabul and Mantanani Youths
Reef Check Malaysia’s General Manager, Julian Hyde joined Yayasan Sime Darby and Sime Darby group of companies for a cleanup for World Ocean Day

Kelp forests in Washington have been in decline over the last 100 years – with a 36% decline in kelp forests in the San Juan Islands in less than ten years, 80% lost in south Puget Sound the last 50 years, and disappearance of all bull kelp beds around Bainbridge Island as of 2015. Scientists and managers lack the data needed to fully understand the causes of this situation. Reef Check is working in conjunction with Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) and the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to address this issue.

We are a part of the Kelp Forest Monitoring Project funded by the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation. This project includes a network of partnerships including PSRF, Reef Check, Marauder Robotics and The Bay Foundation. The goal of this project is to understand how to achieve a higher level of kelp health and resilience that leads to better management and conservation of this fragile but mighty ecosystem, using a variety of methods.   

We have been working closely with PSRF to build a base of volunteer citizen science divers and establish a network of monitoring sites throughout the Salish Sea. PSRF focuses on structure forming species, Olympia oysters and bull kelp, and habitat enhancing species, such as pinto abalone. Their partnership has been a crucial part of determining the Reef Check indicator species for Puget Sound and their local knowledge of current and historical kelp beds will be invaluable in determining our survey sites. 

Jackie Selbitschka
Jackie Selbitschka

To carry out this effort, we welcome our new Washington Regional Manager, Jackie Selbitschka. Jackie graduated from the University of California Santa Cruz with a BA in Marine Biology and AAUS scientific diver certification. Her background is in marine science education and she has been a NAUI instructor for 10 years. Her passion is to share the incredible life that lives underwater so that others are inspired to care for and protect our marine habitats. She is excited to bring this passion to training Reef Check citizen science divers in Puget Sound. 

Reef Check is in the middle of training the first round of Washington divers this spring. We have 15-20 monitoring sites that will be monitored this inaugural season selected with input from the Washington Department of Natural Resources and Tribal groups. All training is comparable to the California and Oregon protocols to create a network of monitoring sites up and down the west coast. While spring training sessions are underway, to become a Reef Check Washington citizen scientist diver, you can find information about prerequisites and our future training schedule here

In advance of our 2022 Kelp Forest Monitoring trainings, Reef Check has awarded scholarships to seven deserving divers from diverse backgrounds which will allow them to participate in our training.

The Reef Check Scholarship Fund is made possible by generous donations from our supporters, please click here to contribute.

Congratulations to this year’s recipients! Statements from each can be found below.

Chelsea Abrahamian
Chelsea is from the San Fernando Valley in southern California, and is currently living in Simi Valley. She is a recent graduate in Environmental Science and is interested in marine ecology, climate change and environmental justice. She began diving in 2019 in the landlocked state of Utah, but has since developed a deep love for the kelp forest ecosystems of California. While diving, she enjoys taking analog photos on her Nikonos V.

LeAnn Adam
LeAnn Adam started her SCUBA journey just 15 months ago, but she hit the water with an obsession that propelled her into earning Rescue certification and diving nearly every weekend in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest. This enabled her to quickly gain skills and add to her recreational diving by volunteering as a diver with the Oregon Coast Aquarium and ORKA. She wants to participate in the Reef Check class to add purpose to her diving as a citizen scientist and live out her lifelong aspiration to learn more about marine science and contribute to conservation efforts. Primordially drawn to the ocean, she’s excited to start conducting surveys for Reef Check Oregon.

Alessandra Adamo
I was born in South America and work in healthcare full-time to make ends meet. I have discovered a passion for scuba diving along with my boyfriend. We continue to encourage minorities around us of all ages to never fear adventure and to show that these types of sports and activities can be accessible to all and are deserved. I strive to learn more about the magical marine world that lies past our shores and would take any opportunity to further my skills and preserve our oceans.

Vivian Chin
Vivian Chin has been a long-time resident of Oakland, CA. She’s been fascinated with the underwater world ever since she was certified in Monterey- almost a decade ago. Years have gone by and many dive destinations later, the kelp forest still holds a special place in her heart. Having witnessed the heartbreaking decimation of the kelp forests in many areas along the coast has made Vivian want to contribute her effort to help preserve this natural treasure. Over the past few years, she has participated in various privately organized events on sea urchin cleanup. Having heard about Reef Check from other members of the diving community and the wonderful work the organization does all over the world, she’s excited to learn and contribute to the cause. In her free time, Vivian enjoys hiking, kayaking, and traveling with her dog.

Francisco Guzman
I would like to thank you for the opportunity to join this year’s cohort of citizen scientists. I was born in Mexico, but have grown up in the foster care system all around the Monterey Bay peninsula. I’ve attended many schools within Monterey County, but notably attended Everett Alvarez High, transferred to Robert Louis Stevenson, and then went on to earn a degree from the University of Redlands in Southern California. I did not think that I would graduate from high school, much less earn a four year degree; some would say that I have beat the odds.

After graduating from Redlands in 2013, I returned to Monterey Bay to finally become a naturalized citizen of the United States. Over the past decade, I’ve become a professional sea kayaker, river rafting guide, white water kayaker, avid backpacker, sailor, free diver, and am on my way to become a SCUBA Divemaster. Looking at the last decade summarized in a couple of sentences makes me feel that I haven’t accomplished much, but it sure does beat a childhood full of purgatory.

I am currently living in the north harbor of the Elkhorn Slough, the heart of the Monterey Bay.  I have chosen to live here because I love its biodiversity and I enjoy educating the public about its international importance. Becoming a Reef Check citizen scientist will allow me to better educate the public, become directly involved with California’s coastal conservation efforts, and hopefully help life return to the Monterey Bay as it once was. Thank you, Reef Check, for all that you do.

Crys O’Grady
Growing up, Crys loved the water and was always curious about scuba diving that she had seen on TV. However, she didn’t have the chance to start diving as a young person because she was in foster care and diving just wasn’t in the budget. Additionally, being a steward of the land and ocean was a big part of her worldview as an indigenous person (tribal member of the Monacan Indian Nation). In her late 20s Crys was able to start diving and has not stopped exploring the ocean yet and wants to ensure that she does her part to address the impact that environmental changes are having on the ocean’s ecosystem. She wants to join Reef Check Oregon to support the efforts to restore kelp forest environments. When she is not diving, you can find Crys at work at the Oregon Department of Education where she works as a policy analyst, or running/kayaking along the Willamette.

Cormac Toler-Scott
I am a Seattle resident and recent graduate of the University of Washington, where I studied biology with an emphasis on ecology and conservation. I have been passionate about marine science since I could walk! As such, I currently work as a research scientist in UW’s School of Aquatics and Fisheries Sciences where my work focuses on nearshore restoration ecology in relation to juvenile salmon migration throughout the Puget Sound.

I began SCUBA diving in 2019 and have always dreamed of diving within kelp forests but haven’t had the chance until now. Reef Check will be the perfect opportunity for me to learn to dive with kelp safely and responsibly, all the while learning to effectively monitor these invaluable marine forests in the pursuit of conserving them for the future.