As we gear up for our 19th survey season, we are deeply grateful for our volunteer support over the past 18 years. Together, we’ve overcome countless challenges and collected invaluable data that has revolutionized our understanding of kelp forests and their vital role in our marine ecosystems.

But as we look ahead to the 2024 season, we face a new challenge: funding cuts due to the California budget crisis.

Here’s what’s at stake:

North Coast: Seeking funding for 5 out of 27 long-term sites
Central Coast: Seeking funding for 18 out of 38 long-term sites
South Coast: Seeking funding for 17 out of 56 long-term sites

We need your help. You can support Reef Check by directly donating, sharing our work with your network, and checking with your employer to find out if they offer matching donations or volunteer grants.

Joining our monthly giving program is one of the most impactful ways to support us. A monthly donation of $30 can go a long way in helping us reach our goals! Every contribution, big or small, will make a tangible difference in our ability to keep these important sites on our survey list.

Together, we can ensure that our 19th season is a success. Thank you all for your unwavering support and dedication. Let’s dive into another year of protecting, preserving, and restoring our precious kelp forests! 

Groundswell Givers are a special group of our most committed supporters making a recurring gift of any amount each month. Groundswells occur at sea in response to a strong disturbance. In the same way, our Groundswell Givers are a powerful force of support for Reef Check in response to man-made disturbances inflicted upon the ocean.  Ongoing, unrestricted donations are critically important to Reef Check as they provide us with steady support that we know we can count on as we work together to make a difference in reef conservation. 

Your tax-deductible generosity will fuel critical scientific monitoring efforts worldwide and will offer sustainable conservation solutions to the extraordinary ecosystems we all depend upon. Your ongoing support will be put to use immediately and multiplied by our powerful network of thousands of volunteers, maximizing the impact of your donation.

Double Your Impact!
By simply completing a matching gift form from your company, you may be able to double or even triple the impact of your donation to Reef Check! And if you volunteer with us, your employer may provide us with a grant as a way to recognize your ongoing support. Search now to access your company’s matching gift forms and apply.

North Coast Tribal DIS participants (Photo: Rob McClelland)

Reef Check is excited to announce our newest Dive into Science Program in collaboration with the Coastal Chumash and Tongva communities! This program is funded by the California Natural Resource Agency Youth Community Access Program.

This Dive into Science program provides experiential on-and-under-the-ocean stewardship training and marine science opportunities to 24 youth ages 16-26 from the Coastal Band of Chumash and Tongva communities. Reef Check will train and certify youth in Open Water, Advanced and Rescue SCUBA, and provide courses in marine biology, ocean conservation, and our protocol for monitoring kelp forest ecosystems. This program will teach youth scientific methods by training them as Reef Check citizen scientists and will provide opportunities for them to become acquainted with kelp forest habitats surrounding the Channel Islands, as well as exposing them to careers and educational pathways into natural sciences or marine biology, ocean conservation, and marine resource management. This two year program will advance participants’ knowledge, skills, and abilities as science divers and ocean stewards, culminating in American Academy of Underwater Sciences (AAUS) certifications.

DIS participant scuba diving at Catalina (Photo: Rob McClelland)

We see the opportunity to work with tribal youth and elders as a way to learn about Indigenous Ecological Knowledge (IEK) and how it can be applied to resource management and conservation. Moreover, exchanges of IEK contribute to the reinvigoration of Indigenous people’s ownership and management of their land, culture, and power. In this way young tribal participants will prominently contribute to environmental and social justice solutions not as recipients or bystanders, but instead as rightful leaders.

Chumash ancestral territory

Reef Check’s Kelp Forest Monitoring training classes for 2024 are now open for registration, providing six opportunities in California, Oregon and Washington for divers to get involved as citizen scientists along the West Coast.

The Reef Check Kelp Forest Monitoring Training course is designed to provide participants with the skills and experience to complete the Reef Check Kelp Forest Monitoring survey protocol accurately. In addition to direct survey methods, the training will address safe diving practices, techniques of research diving, sampling design and theory, general marine ecology including species identification and interactions, and the importance of monitoring to meet marine management needs. Training includes a combination of online in-person training, recorded lectures and at-home work, and in-person ocean field sessions. Following completion of the training, all participants will have the skills necessary to complete the training examination allowing them to collect data and will be eligible to obtain a Reef Check Kelp Forest Monitoring Specialty Certification (NAUI).

For a list of course prerequisites and to sign up, visit our registration page at:

If you have been previously trained as a Reef Checker, you can sign up for a recertification class to get ready for the upcoming survey season at

Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia

Our colleagues at Reef Check Malaysia stepped into 2024 with a flurry of activities; a recap follows:

Group photo with homestay guests

Our “Homestays Improvement Program” that began in Mantanani has been progressing rather well. After several training sessions with the local homestay owners, they were equipped with better skills to run their business. The two-year project called “Establishing Community-Based Eco-Tourism in Mantanani”, funded by GEF SGP UNDP Malaysia, ended in 2022. Since then, the businesses have been running and generating quite a good income for the local owners. The total income in 2023 alone was close to RM60,000, which is almost three times more than the income in 2021! The total number of tourists who used the homestays also increased from 124 people in 2021, to 425 people in 2022, to 665 in 2023! 

In mid-November, 60 bundles of compressed plastic (22,039 bottles) weighing 407 kg and metal cans weighing 110 kg, were sent to the mainland and collected by recycling company (GNC). The company paid RM177.10 for these recyclables and this money was used to cover the cost of truck transportation from Kota Kinabalu, which was RM150, but did not include the cost of RM1,000 to rent a boat to transport these items to the mainland.

As for the waste management program, more than 1,800 kg of trash collected in the last three months of 2023 was transported out of the island to the Kayu Madang landfill area. We’re still facing the problem of costs with regards to our effort in transporting recyclables and other waste, and we’re looking to find better and cost-effective ways to address this issue. 

RCM staff, Diana, collecting the bottles on a weekly basis
Bottles collected are compressed before being sent to the mainland
Trash being sent out of the island to Kayu Madang landfill
Members of RMCG during a reef rehabilitation briefing session with a lecturer from a local university
RMCG members working together to remove a ghost net

Our “Cintai Redang” program is the newest kid on the block, having only been kicked off in early 2023. Our colleagues have made great progress nonetheless, having set up the Redang Marine Conservation Group (RMCG) to replicate the success of the Tioman Marine Conservation Group (TMCG). The RMCG now has eight members who are equipped with basic skills and certifications to conduct Reef Check surveys, reef rehabilitation efforts and other marine conservation-related activities. As they continue to expand the program, we will be starting the environmental education and awareness activities with the local school, introducing Green Fins to the dive operators on the island, and participating in several training and learning courses to enhance our team’s skills. 

We’ve made a video of our journey in 2023, which can be viewed here:  

Enter 2024… We’ve recently released our 2023 Annual Survey Report, capturing the health of coral reefs in Malaysia. Here is a quick summary:

  • A total of 326 sites were surveyed in 2023 (2022: 323); both in established Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and non-protected areas. 
  • On average, the coral reefs surveyed have a “fair” level of living coral, at 45.87%. This is a slight decrease compared to 2022 (47.83%). 
  • Abundance of most indicator fish and invertebrates remains low. 
  • Indicators of disturbance and pollution have increased in many reef areas. Many reef areas in the Sunda Shelf region have issues with crown-of-thorns outbreak. 
  • The report recommends taking action to improve management of marine resources by addressing local impacts and introducing participatory management. This gives local stakeholders a stronger voice in decisions that affect their livelihoods. 
  • The government is asked to consider introducing a more sustainable tourism model, moving away from the “mass” tourism model of the last 20-30 years. 

The full report can be found here

Our colleagues have also launched coral bleaching monitoring efforts for 2024. The data collected will be submitted to NOAA. An online coral bleaching monitoring form is being developed for the public to use and report incidences of bleaching observed. The form is created based on NOAA qualitative and quantitative questionnaires, which will help provide sufficient data to them. We are also preparing communication materials to be distributed and published in all our social media channels, together with the online bleaching monitoring form. This is to pre-inform our local stakeholders regarding the possibility of severe bleaching this year, the steps that we will take, as well as what they can do to help.

At the end of January, our colleagues held a community engagement session on waste management in Larapan Island to provide an update on progress and challenges of the waste management program on the island. The event was attended by 68 locals, as well as the Head of Village, Field Coordinator and RCM’s staff. Ten houses were awarded with a ‘Certificate of Excellence’ for their full participation and compliance with the waste management program throughout 2023.

Our colleague, Fauzi, and the Village Head, presenting the Certificate of Excellence to one of the local villagers
The Village Head addressing the attendees

As a continuation of the community-based coral restoration project funded by IKI Small Grants Programme launched in 2023, the local Larapan Marine Conservation Group conducted maintenance activities at the reef rehabilitation sites, cleaning the reef star structures and the nursery area. They also deployed 87 bottle reefs to add to the ongoing efforts.

At the same time, two other RCM colleagues led a team of 50 local residents of Selakan in preparing 215 reef stars, collecting coral fragments, tying and deploying the structures. This is part of the community based coral restoration project in Tun Sakaran Marine Park, a collaborative project with Sabah Parks funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment Sabah.

The bottle reefs ready to be deployed
Selakan community preparing more reef stars

Top row:
Newly certified kelp forest surveyor in San Diego (Photo: Vincent Pederson)
EcoDivers from Reef Check United Arab Emirates (Photo: Emirates Diving Association)
Sea otter in the Tanker’s Reef Restoration site (Photo: Annie Bauer-Civiello)

Middle row:
Annie Bauer-Civiello, underwater at Big Sur Reef Restoration site (Photo: Calvin Abbott)
Reef Check EcoDiver in Tobago (Photo: ERIC – Environmental Research Institute Charlotteville/ Don Markham)

Bottom row:
Dive into Science participants Dante Peterson and Carol Martinez are all smiles after a great dive (Photo: Morgan Murphy-Cannella)
Reef Checkers in Washington pose for a team picture after completing their field weekend
Antelope Valley Dive into Science cohort ready to dive (Photo: Marco Mazza)

As we approach the end of another year, I find myself reflecting on the incredible achievements we have accomplished together in 2023. On behalf of the entire Reef Check team, I want to express my deepest gratitude to our global community of volunteers, donors, and partners. Without your unwavering support, none of this would have been possible.

Throughout the year, Reef Check has dedicated countless hours to the vital task of monitoring coral reefs and kelp forests, restoring habitats impacted by climate change, and advocating for environmental justice and equity. Our tireless efforts have yielded remarkable results, and I couldn’t be prouder of what we have achieved together.

I invite you to take a moment to explore some of our collective accomplishments in 2023, which are detailed in the links provided below. It is my hope that you will find inspiration and joy in reading about the positive impact we have made on our precious marine ecosystems. 

As we look forward to the new year, I ask you to consider a donation to Reef Check if you are in a position to do so. Your generous contributions play a crucial role in enabling us to meet the growing demand for our work. Every donation is deeply appreciated and helps us continue our mission of protecting and preserving our oceans.

As we enter the holiday season, I want to extend my warmest wishes to you and your loved ones. May this festive time bring you joy, peace, and a renewed sense of hope. Here’s to a new year filled with even greater achievements and continued collaboration in the name of marine conservation.

With heartfelt gratitude,

Jan Freiwald
Executive Director
Reef Check Foundation

2023 Successes

Kelp Forest Program

Coral Reef Program

Restoration Program

Education Program

In October of this year, a transnational team of Reef Check divers embarked on a trip to monitor and safeguard the vital kelp ecosystems around the Coronado Islands just south of the Mexico/US border. The divers hailed from the coastal stretches of Southern California and Ensenada, Mexico and formed a unique partnership under the Reef Check banner. Fueled by a shared commitment to safeguarding the ocean, these volunteers contributed their time and expertise to monitor and protect the marine ecosystems surrounding these islands.

The Coronado Islands, located roughly 10 miles off-shore of Baja California just south of the US border, became the stage for this cross-border collaboration. Kelp forests are a cornerstone of marine biodiversity here, providing shelter and sustenance for an array of marine life. Along the California coast, Reef Check has documented declines in kelp from the overgrazing by sea urchins, the increasing prevalence of invasive species and other environmental stressors. These ecosystems do not stop at international borders, and data on the health of the kelp forest on these islands is lacking. 

Our transnational team of divers, trained in Reef Check’s rigorous monitoring protocols, assessed the density of kelp, fish, and invertebrates. Their efforts contribute to a comprehensive understanding of the state of the kelp ecosystems on these remote islands, vital for informed conservation strategies.

This expedition was more than a scientific undertaking; it was a celebration of cross-cultural connections. Volunteers from Southern California and Ensenada joined forces, transcending geographical boundaries to unite under the common cause of marine conservation. The bonds forged underwater echoed the universal language of environmental stewardship.

Thank you to the San Diego Foundation, whose generous funding under the Binational Resilience Initiative (BRI), made this expedition possible.