July 28, 2015

New Expedition and Kickstarter Campaign Puts Focus on Channel Islands

Reef Check has launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund Reef Check California surveys of the Channel Islands.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, located off the coast of Santa Barbara and Ventura counties in California, is one of 14 federally designated marine protected areas in US waters. The sanctuary surrounds Channel Islands National Park, a remote area, which contains 175 miles of undeveloped coastline. The islands are situated in a unique position, located where cool nutrient-rich waters from the north converge with warmer currents from the south, and provide an environment for a variety of endangered species, thriving kelp forests and sensitive habitats not found anywhere else along the California coast. The northern Channel Islands are home to the largest aggregation of blue whales in the world with approximately 10% of the worldwide population visiting their waters in the summer months.

Over the past ten years, Reef Check has collected a tremendous amount of data on the marine life at 16 survey sites at Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands. In the past, these surveys have been conducted with much smaller vessels (and much smaller teams of divers). Unfortunately, in the past few years some of these vessels have gone out of service while the ones that remain lack the capability to reach to the more remote sites on some of the outer islands. Money from this campaign will go toward chartering a larger vessel which can accommodate 30 Reef Check California trained citizen scientists for a multi-day survey expedition with an extended range, being able to reach even the most distant islands. This opportunity to stay at sea for an extended period of time with a large group will allow us to maximize our efforts and resources to survey as many sites as possible during our expedition.

The information we will obtain from this expedition is severely needed. The Channel Islands are a gem of the California coast and due to the rich ecosystems and numerous endemic species, they are sometimes referred to the Galapagos of California. Fortunately, a number of protections have been placed on these islands, including the Channel Islands National Marine sanctuary, established in 1980, and a network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), established in 2003. These protections limit destructive practices in the Sanctuary and MPAs – comparable to underwater state parks – limit the area in which fishing and other consumptive uses occur, making these waters some of the most pristine in the state. But even the current measures cannot protect against global ocean stressors like climate change, plastics pollution and invasive species. The recent oil spill near the islands along the coast of Santa Barbara is a pertinent and sad example of how even protected waters can be impacted by accidents. In recent years, a number of disturbing trends have been observed along our coast. Sea star wasting disease has devastated populations of several species of sea stars at the Channel Islands. The loss of these animals may have repercussions throughout the food chain. Additionally, invasive species of algae have been seen at these islands in increasing numbers coinciding with several warm water events of the past years. With an El Nino very likely to hit California later this year, ocean temperatures are poised to remain warmer than usual, further impacting the sensitive Channel Islands ecosystem. These and other issues make it so important that we collect this data, to get a better idea of how these ecosystems are changing so that scientists and marine managers can make the right decisions to protect this unique habitat.

Our goal is to document what is happening beneath the waves along the 175 miles of undeveloped coastline along the islands. We will lead a team of trained volunteer citizen scientists to scuba dive and survey fish and other species using scientific protocols that are integrated with studies being done throughout the rest of California. At each place we stop, a team of roughly two dozen volunteer scientific divers will enter the water, and using well established scientific protocols, will count fish, invertebrates and seaweed to come up with a comprehensive picture of what the marine life along these islands looks like. The data we collect will be made available through our online Global Reef Tracker (data.reefcheck.org) so that fisheries managers, researchers and the public can view and analyze what we find.

In addition to all the biological data we plan to collect, if this expedition is funded, our goal is to document the work and the ecosystems we find using Google Ocean’s latest specialized underwater camera to take panorama or \”underwater street view” photos. We will upload these to Google Maps to help raise awareness of the conservation issues in this unique environment. Climate change, plastics pollution, invasive species, oil spills, large scale marine disease–our oceans are changing. Please help us respond to these changes by gathering the information necessary to adapt our management of these unique waters.

Visit https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2033378493/marine-ecosystem-assesment-of-californias-channel to contribute to the campaign. Booking information for the expedition can be found here: https://reefdpd.wpengine.com/eco-expeditions/