The Transect Line – April 2011 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Grenadines MPA Staff Trained in Reef Check Methodology Reef Check Taiwan Continues to Grow
Reef Check California Update 2nd Punta Sayulita Longboard & SUP Classic Benefits EcoDiver Program
Technical Question of the Month: RCCA Invasive Species Save the Date: Reef Check's Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala
Grenadines MPA Staff Trained in Reef Check Methodology

By Sustainable Grenadines Inc. Intern Molly Brewis

Staff at two recently established Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the Grenadine islands are now better equipped to monitor the health of their coral reefs, following a training course on the Reef Check (RC) methodology which took place on Carriacou, Grenada in early February.

The course was just one component of a larger project to strengthen the ability of MPA managers to effectively manage their valuable marine resources. Coordinated by Sustainable Grenadines Inc. (SusGren), a transboundary NGO that spans the countries of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the southern Caribbean, the project is generously funded through a grant from the United States National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF).

Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer Olando Harvey, marine biologist for the Tobago Cays Marine Park, was assisted by ranger Benjamin Wilson in delivering the course to participants over a 4-day period from February 8-11, 2011. Three wardens from the Moliniere-Beausejour MPA (Ann-Marie Taitt, Cecil McQueen, and Coddington Jeffrey) travelled from mainland Grenada to join their counterparts from the Sandy Island Oyster Bed MPA on Carriacou (wardens Bryan Prince, Kordel Simon, and Jody Placid, along with board chair Davon Baker) in taking the course. SusGren staff Molly Brewis and Valerie Francella were also on hand to help with course organisation and participate in the training sessions.

Following an initial classroom session, participants were given a practical introduction to the RC methodology in a shallow area of the Sandy Island Oyster Bed MPA. They tried their hand at placing the transect line, recording substrate cover, and counting indicator organisms while snorkelling. On the last two days of the course, participants collected data in deeper areas of the MPA using SCUBA. Following a delicious meal of saltfish souse on the final day, participants successfully completed the required test and became certified Reef Check EcoDivers! This training will assist the MPA managers involved in implementing a standardized protocol to regularly monitor the effects of stressors such as tourism, climate change, and coastal development on the coral reefs of the Grenadines. Additional support for the implementation of reef monitoring is being provided through a year-long small grant program for each of the participating MPAs, which is also being delivered by SusGren and funded through NFWF.

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Reef Check California Update
By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

In April Reef Check California (RCCA) kicked off its sixth field season by recertifying our seasoned citizen scientists and completing our first surveys. Recertifications were held in southern California, Monterey and in our northern region. We always look forward to this time of year when we meet our veteran volunteers again, with whom we will spend many weekends over the coming months collecting data. In a program such as RCCA, in which volunteers have to go through an intensive training and become very skilled at research techniques, it is critical that volunteers stay involved for many years to continue generating high quality data. Many of our volunteers have now surveyed for up to five years and bring their much needed experience back again this year. They run surveys, help train new volunteers and enable the program to grow. I would like to take this opportunity to thank you, our long-term volunteers, for doing this important work! We could not do it without you.

Recertifications are also an important part of RCCA’s data quality control. By practicing and being evaluated by an RCCA instructor every year before beginning to survey, volunteers get a chance to re-familiarize themselves with the survey techniques. In this way RCCA can insure consistency in data collection. So if you have not been recertified yet, please sign up. The scheduled is posted at: If you have been recertified this year please join a survey. Survey schedules are posted on the Reef Check Forum.

Thank you for coming back to Reef Check California for another survey season!

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Technical Question of the Month

Each month, Reef Check will answer a technical question regarding the monitoring protocol of our coral reef or rocky reef programs. If you have a question you would like answered, please email

Reef Check California – Which invasive seaweeds do we monitor and why?

During Reef Check California (RCCA) surveys, not only do we count canopy-forming seaweeds on our transects, we also search for selected invasive species of seaweeds. Invasive species are species that have been introduced to an area in which they were historically not present, and do or are likely to have adverse ecological or economic effects. Invasive species are often found to spread rapidly and can alter the structure of communities by ‘outcompeting’ native species for space, food or light in the case of algae. Because they are new to an area they may not have natural predators that keep their populations in check. Invasive seaweeds are very common in areas that receive a lot of boat traffic because they are usually spread in ships’ ballast waters, or as fouling agents on a boat. Therefore they often start out in bays, harbors, and marinas. 

When invasive species are detected soon after arrival there is a higher chance to eradicate them before they cause much of an ecological effect. Therefore, RCCA records and reports the four most concerning invasive species of algae in California if they are found anywhere during a survey dive. Two closely related species that we monitor, Sargassum muticum and Sargassum filicinum, are fairly widespread in Southern California. These are native to Japan and outside of their original ranges they are found to be highly invasive, clogging marinas and boat pipes, and covering otherwise diverse reef ecosystems. They disperse successfully due to numerous airbladders covering their branches, and their abilities to live and grow as unattached mats and fragments. Currently there are no removal efforts underway in California for these species.

Another seaweed that we monitor is the only invasive kelp (a class of large brown algae) in California, Undaria pinnatifida (aka Wakame –an ingredient of miso soup). This species, recently introduced from Japan, has been found inside harbors all along the California coast, and only on a small area of natural reef on Catalina Island. There have been numerous efforts to eradicate Undaria by manual removal within several harbors.

The invasive seaweed of greatest interest in California is Caulerpa taxifolia. This small green alga was historically a favorite in home aquaria because of its beauty, fast growth, and hardiness. Irresponsible dumping of aquarium water has been a primary dispersal technique of this invasive. It has caused widespread ecological and economic damage in waters it has invaded, particularly within the Mediterranean Sea. Small infestations in California, in Carlsbad and Huntington Harbor, took 6 years and over $7 million to eradicate.

Monitoring the presence of these species in California helps marine managers to study their effects on the environment and assess the need to take action. Early detection of the spread of an invasive is critical for eradication efforts to be successful. Therefore, the more educated divers we have in water the better able we are to detect such a change.

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Reef Check Taiwan Continues to Grow

By Reef Check Taiwan's Lulu Keng

2010 was the second year that the NGO TEIA (Taiwan Environmental Information Association) organized Reef Check (RC) in Taiwan, creating partnerships among community volunteers, government agencies, scuba diving centers, and other non-profits. Last year, over 32 transects from a total of 6 survey sites were completed, with 121 volunteer divers from different backgrounds joining together with RC in Taiwan.

Many people in Taiwan, an ocean nation, have very little understanding of our marine system; the invaluable resources of this beautiful coral paradise are not well appreciated. In fact, environmental conditions are optimal for coral growth in Taiwan; as a result, the island is surrounded by well-developed reefs. However, conservation measures are lacking and the reefs are consistently under stress from overdevelopment and overfishing. On the islands where tourism flourishes, such as Green Island and Liuqiu Island, untreated domestic sewage is directly released into coastal waters, resulting in the degradation of coral reefs. One of the consequences may be the outbreak of a species of black sponge at Green Island. Furthermore, coastal fishery management within reef areas is underdeveloped and lacks proper enforcement. Unregulated fishing activities are still a major problem in reef areas, evident from the large amount of ghost nets.

According to the 2010 survey data, living coral coverage was less than 25% on some transects from 2 of the survey sites (North-east coast & Liuqiu Island); coral coverage was even less than 10% on one transect from Liuqiu Island. On the other hand, living coral coverage was above 50% at some of the survey sites at Green Island and Lanyu Island.

Unfortunately, the data from the species survey showed the reef was degrading. Large fishes were not seen at any of our sites. The fish species recorded were unvaried among sites- butterflyfish, snapper, and parrotfish, all less than 8 individuals/100m. In the invertebrate survey, the average abundance of species varied with location, but most of the abundances were very low. The number of crown-of-thorns and lobster were zero at every site.

Compared to the general public, the glory of coral reefs is well-known to scuba divers, but the role the reefs play in all of our lives is not fully perceived, thus not all recreational divers care about the health of coral reefs to begin with. However, scuba divers are becoming more aware of the urgency to protect the reefs. Hence the action of Reef Check was well-received. Chen, a volunteer diver who participated in both 2009 and 2010 Reef Checks in Taiwan, said, “the coral reefs in Taiwan are comparable to most diving hot spots in the world, and we hope Taiwan can become the paradise for divers worldwide in the future.”  

In conjunction with the underwater surveys, Reef Check Taiwan also organized on-land activities on Penghu Islands and Taitung coast, such as beach cleanups and cultural workcamps, namely the Reef Check Working Holiday. We hope to expand the vision of the divers to care not only for the underwater coral ecosystem, but also the problems occurring along our coastlines. Through Reef Check Working Holidays, volunteers have the opportunity to interact with people from the local communities, gain insights to the difficulties that local people face, and the cause and effect of the marine crisis.

This year TEIA will continue to organize Reef Check in Taiwan. The number of survey sites will increase to 7; and more local divers and communities are being recruited as collaborators to build the foundation for sustaining the action. The accomplishments of Reef Check Taiwan are immense, considering scuba diving is not very popular in Taiwan, our people are unaware of the value of our ocean, and our government neglects the importance of marine policy. Nevertheless, we still have the passion and faith to persist with Reef Check in the years to come, in the hopes of seeing our coral reefs being treasured someday.

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2nd Punta Sayulita Longboard & SUP Classic Benefits EcoDiver Program

By Mary Luna, Reef Check Program Manager for Mexico and Outreach

Legends and rising stars rocked the ocean-minded world this past March 11 & 12 at the 2nd Punta Sayulita Longboard and SUP Classic; in support of the Punta Sayulita and Reef Check (RC) Foundations. Continuing to fulfill its mission to empower people to save our reefs and oceans, RC staff trained the first Sayulita EcoDiver team in December 2010. That same month the certified EcoDivers, which included professors and students of the Instituto Tecnológico de Bahía de Banderas and recreational divers from the area, braved the cold water and low visibility to conduct scientific underwater surveys of the Marieta Islands. These activities are part of Punta Sayulita’s commitment as member of RC’s Adopt-A-Reef Program, and were funded with proceeds from the 1st Sayulita Classic. Proceeds from the 2nd Sayulita Classic will fund additional training and surveys to continue assessing the status of the subtidal ecosystem, and to assist in improving the management of the local marine resources.

The 2nd Sayulita Classic was launched with a sense of solidarity with the people of Japan, a nation that had just experienced significant loss from a powerful tsunami and earthquake. A group of Huichol indigenous people headed by a Shaman held a fire ritual where they made an offering to their sea goddess. Brett Ellsworth, director of the organizing committee and surf legend Gerry Lopez greeted the public with the Aloha spirit.

Gerry participated in the Classic alongside big wave rider Chuck Patterson, Slater Trout, Anthony Vella, Tigre Cadena, Ticho Gonzalez, Ikaika Kawai, Mary Osborne, and Candice Appleby, among other national and international athletes; as well as EcoWarrior James Pribram, legendary local Tono Ochoa, and Kevin Roberts of Punta Sayulita. Slater Trout, a 17-year old athlete from Maui, won both the Championship Elite SUP and the Long Distance Races. Mary Osborne of Ventura, California won the Women's Longboard Division for the second year, and Darren Eudaly the Men’s Division.

Mishka, an important figure in contemporary reggae music and waterman, gave a free concert on the beach and improvised with local musicians.

Reef Check thanks Punta Sayulita, Mishka, the sponsors and participating athletes, as well as the Sayulita Reef Check divers, for making the 2nd Punta Sayulita Classic a success. To view pictures, please click here.

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Save the Date: Reef Check's Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala

On Friday, September 16, we will celebrate the important work of the Reef Check Foundation, on the sand, at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica, California. It will be a casual “toes in the sand” evening featuring never-before-seen footage from the world’s leading underwater filmmakers along with an opportunity to meet some of the thousands of volunteer divers who monitor these essential natural resources.

The evening will also recognize the contributions of three “Heroes of the Reef” each having demonstrated an exemplary commitment to ocean conservation. Marine artist Wyland, famous for his Whaling Walls, has long promoted the urgency of protecting and preserving the world’s oceans, waterways and marine life through his artwork and the work of the Wyland Foundation. Emmy Award-winning underwater filmmakers Michele and Howard Hall, best known for their underwater IMAX films, will be recognized for extraordinary achievement in film and photography inspiring millions around the world to appreciate and protect their oceans.

Sponsorship opportunities are available, please click here for more information. If you would like to donate an item for our silent auction, please download our auction donation form.