Do you remember back in the 1990s when we were all wondering how we would pronounce the years after 1999? And now we have just completed our first decade of the new millennium. How are coral reefs and California rocky reefs doing? How is Reef Check helping?
Despite the financial chaos this year, the continuing support of thousands of volunteers from around the world allowed Reef Check to maintain its staff and programs, and carry out over 500 coral reef surveys and 70 rocky reef surveys in California. The tropical data are being used by independent scientists to analyze and publish peer-reviewed papers in top scientific journals – leading to new insights in the science of coral reef ecology such as the role of algae in destabilizing reef systems. At the local level, the data are used by government managers to track the status of their reefs. More and more governments are finally realizing how difficult it is to fund detailed ecological monitoring by pure scientific teams every year. Countries such as Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean and Vanuatu in the Pacific are using community-based monitoring as a primary tool to track the status of their reefs. At the international level, Reef Check data are being used to push for more action on coral reef conservation using tools such as the Global Status Report series.
Climate change, global warming and ocean acidification were in the news in 2009. Coral reefs are THE most sensitive ecosystem to climate change. We found this out in 1997-8 when an overheated ocean killed 10% of the world’s reefs in a few months. Some scientists predict that coral reefs will be completely killed off within 50 years if global warming continues. Many countries and local managers recognize that Reef Check monitoring provides a great way to track climate change impacts on coral reefs. In addition, the EcoDiver certification program not only produces high-quality data, but also is an ecotourism opportunity that provides both jobs and income to coastal residents.
In California, under the mandate of the Marine Life Protection Act, the state is in the midst of designing a network for Marine Protected Areas. The high quality data from Reef Check’s California surveys are available to the general public, and are being used on a regular basis by government agencies, especially the Fish and Game Department, by academics, fishermen and other non-profit organizations to help determine the best design. With four years of data in the bag, the California program is poised to be able to track future effects of the MPA network on the populations of key fish, algae and invertebrates.
Reef Check’s partnership with Communidad y Biodiversidad in Baja, Mexico continues to produce successful marine management results. On the Gulf of California side, we have helped to develop the stock assessment program for the sustainable aquarium fishery while on the Pacific side, we have been assisting with the monitoring program for a sustainable food fishery for abalone, lobster and sea cucumber.
Reef Check’s immersion learning programs for children continue to educate hundreds of kids. It is a sad irony that so many children in small island developing countries as well as in large American coastal cities such as Los Angeles have never had the chance to put on a mask and snorkel and see our underwater treasures. With your help we hope to expand our kids programs in 2010.
Reef Check is a partnership organization focused on citizen science. We could not do this work without the thousands who volunteer each year to learn and carry out surveys. We salute our 2009 partners and volunteers for all the wonderful accomplishments of 2009.
Dr. Gregor Hodgson
Reef Check Executive Director