The Transect Line – April 2012 Newsletter Archive
Reef Check Spotlight: Japanese Tsunami Debris Working for Better Reefs in Amed, Indonesia
Haiti EcoDivers Learn to Dive Win $5000 For You, $5000 For Reef Check From Steaz
Reef Check California Update Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala: Sept 8 2012
RC Participates in Boston International Seafood Show    

Reef Check Spotlight: Japanese Tsunami Debris
By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

In a recent announcement, the governors of the US West Coast states and the Premier of British Columbia published a joint response to the potential of marine debris washing up along the West Coast as a result of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last March. The states will work together to develop a communication strategy, respond to any environmental threats that might arise and insure the safety of workers and citizens. An estimated 1.5 million tons of debris is still floating in the Pacific Ocean as a result of the tsunami. It is very unlikely that any of this is radioactively contaminated because of the sequence of events after the tsunami and the Fukushima reactor melt down. Most of the debris was already washed out to sea before the radiation leak.

The West Coast and Japan are mainly connected through two large oceanographic currents, the California Current and the Kuroshio Current. The Kuroshio Current flows north-eastward along the Japanese coast and into the northern Pacific, whereas the California current flows southward along the west coast of the United States. Both of these currents connect in the northern Pacific in a region known as the North Pacific Gyre. While the likelihood of finding things that were washed into the ocean as a result of the earthquake and tsunami are rather low along the west coast, the fact that it is a real concern demonstrates how connected the world is through these major ocean currents. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have estimated that it would take buoyant debris about a year to reach the West Coast based on the current speeds and wind patterns over the last year.

One particularly large piece of ‘debris’ was sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard in early April. A Japanese fishing vessel destined for the scrap yard was washed out to sea by the tsunami and had been drifting through the northern Pacific as a ‘ghost ship’ ever since. The Coast Guard decided that it was safer to sink the vessel before it reached shallow waters or busy shipping lanes off Alaska than trying to salvage it.

This connectedness is not something that we think of very often when considering environmental impacts of local actions. In most cases we are concerned with much smaller spatial scales but this tragic event demonstrates how events in one part of the world can affect large regions; it demonstrates how interconnected the continents are. Other major currents connect the continents in the Atlantic and in the Indian Ocean as well.

To find out more about the potential of debris arriving along the West Coast and for instructions on what to do if debris is found, go to: or

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Haiti EcoDivers Learn to Dive
By Nikole Ordway, Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director, Ft Lauderdale, Florida

During the first week of April, my position as a Reef Check Course Director led me from Florida to Haiti to teach 13 students the PADI Open Water Diver course. These students are comprised of Haitian school teachers and university students studying diverse subjects such as agronomy, architecture, medicine and business. Each student was selected from 70 original applicants to become part of Haiti’s first Reef Check EcoDiver team.

The Reef Check EcoDiver course includes both classroom and field sessions and is designed to train non-scientists to become certified to conduct scientific Reef Check surveys. The team from Haiti will run Reef Check surveys to track corals, invertebrates and fish. In Haiti, the main reason coral reefs are suffering is due to overfishing. All the big fish are gone and the local fishermen are now taking and wiping out smaller fish populations, like parrotfish and grunts, in order to make a living.

Before I went to Haiti, the students had already learned to swim and snorkel with Reef Check last summer (check out the video from the New York Times). With their skills getting better, it was time to introduce them to scuba…and boy did their eyes open! In Haiti, most divers are foreigners, so what an opportunity this was for locals to learn to scuba dive.

For the pool training we were based in downtown Port au Prince. Carrying the scuba cylinders and equipment around was quite a spectacle for locals walking by because most had never seen these items before.

With the help of Reef Check’s Director, Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Research Assistant EJ Beucler, and RC Haiti Coordinator Erika Pierre-Louis, the class and pool trainings went very well. Communication was a challenge because, while most of the students understand some English, they speak French or Creole a whole lot better. What did surprise me was their confidence with their water skills. They enjoyed learning about the equipment, clearing regulators and masks, and controlling their buoyancy…it seemed easy for them. I was excited to get these students into the ocean and to open up their eyes to the creatures that live underneath the water. But first, my students wanted to open my eyes up to what the city of Port au Prince had to offer and how the people of Haiti live and socialize.

One of my students, Alexandra, took me into town to check out the local markets. Women carry fruits and veggies on their heads from the high mountains every morning to sell on the street. People also sell clothes and everyday items. Bargaining is expected so I learned to bargain for purchases. After navigating the street markets, we rejoined the group to get ready for the ocean dives, an hour’s drive away.

We headed out to a lovely beach house located at Trou Baguette, where we had easy access to the water. Just in front, there are some patch reefs with plenty of coral life to dive on. One thing I noticed is that all the fish were small because the fishermen have fished out the reef using nets, spears, and traps. We did see banded coral shrimp, a spotted moray eel, puffer fish, lots of grunts and we found big patches of coral rocks with large sea fans. The visibility was unlimited when the wind was right. We had one day when the waves picked up and visibility was reduced to about 40 feet. I noticed that the wave action stirred up the ocean, and plastic trash from the town was in the water and washing up on shore.

The students’ first dives were exciting because they wanted to swim all over the reef to check it out…so I really had to work hard to keep them with me. For the second dive I reminded them about the importance of the buddy team system, and they were great students after that! The second day of training dives went very well — the students were very good at getting themselves ready for the dives, helping each other, and some would even set up my gear too! Their buoyancy skills also became much better. We discussed evaluating ocean conditions, and the need to make good judgments about the ocean, the equipment, and who they are diving with because the closest hospital is over an hour away and the nearest decompression chamber is in the Dominican Republic.

On the last day the students took their final exam, and all 13 students passed! What a rewarding experience for a dive instructor and I only hope that I can do this in other places. I look forward to returning to Haiti to see how this Reef Check Haiti team is doing!

Do you want to learn to dive or become a Reef Check EcoDiver? Contact Nikole in Ft. Lauderdale at Force-E Dive Centers. Her next EcoDiver training is set for May 2012! Reef Check would like to thank our hosts in Haiti Josiane, John and Chantel for use of her beach house.

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

It is time to get recertified for another Reef Check season! This month we are having our first recertification classes in Los Angeles, Monterey and Fort Bragg. So if you are a Reef Checker and can’t wait to get in the water again, please come to one of our recertifications to get ready for the survey season. I would also like to welcome the new Reef Checkers from the University of California Santa Cruz, Monterey Bay State University and West Valley College who have finished their training and are ready to survey this year. Over the past few months we have been busy working on last year’s data and getting ready for another year of data collection. The annual recertifications are always an important part of Reef Check’s data quality control. By practicing and being evaluated by a Reef Check instructor every year, volunteers get a chance to re-familiarize themselves with the survey techniques and organisms so that we can insure consistency in data collection. Please check the online training schedule and forum for upcoming recertifications, trainings and surveys.

We are looking forward to seeing everyone out on the water again after this long dry season!

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Reef Check Participates in Boston International Seafood Show

By Mary Luna, Reef Check's Program Manager, Mexico

“It's no fish ye're buying, it's men's lives” reads a quote from The Perfect Storm, a fishing story based off the coast of Boston. I presented our work on sustainable seafood in Mexico at the 2012 International Boston Seafood Show (IBSS) with Santa Monica Seafood (SMSF) and their Responsible Vendor Program. During the presentation, I talked about our partnership in Magdalena Bay, on the Pacific side of the Baja California Peninsula, in Mexico. The Magdalena Bay Cooperative, one of the oldest in the area, closed part of their fishing concession to all types of fishing in 2009 to rebuild the stocks of commercial species such as abalone and lobster. SMSF’s funds are partially funding the salary of the son of a local fisherman to go out with fishers on their boats and collect fisheries-dependant data that will serve to estimate fishing quotas. The presentation was an opportunity to introduce the efforts of the Baja fishers and organizations like Comunidad and Biodiversidad (COBI) to an international audience.

I also attended the “Development of a Regional Seafood Marketing Coalition, the Gulf of Mexico Experience” presentation, and found many similarities between the needs and goals of Gulf fisheries with those of Baja. Presenters talked extensively of preserving local jobs and creating a brand to represent and increase awareness of Gulf seafood, garner support, and affect purchasing. Job and identity preservation is a shared goal among fishing communities in Alaska, the Gulf of Mexico, and Baja.

Small-scale fishing employs over 90% of fishers worldwide. In Baja, the level of organization of small-scale fishers varies from one community to the other; most or all of their income, however, comes from the sea. Baja products are overall wild, and include spiny and blue lobster, shrimp, abalone, octopus, giant lion’s paw scallops, snail, yellowtail jack, sea bass, halibut, among many others. Many of these fishers are already working with non-profit organizations such as COBI to get their products evaluated under the sustainability criteria of the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

A great need still remains to improve product handling and basic infrastructure, so that the high quality of the Baja marine products can be preserved until they reach the supermarket shelf. Groups such as SMSF, Central Seafood Coast and FishWise are already assisting these fishers in bringing their products to international standards; their efforts will no doubt generate a supply of high quality, sustainable seafood from Baja. We continue to work on improving the supply chain, and I hope next year we can return to the IBSS with a group of our Baja fishers and samples of their products, so that seafood companies can see the quality of their products, and hear the stories behind them.

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Working for Better Reefs and a Better Future in Amed, North Bali, Indonesia

By Jennifer Willis, Reef Check Indonesia

Amed is renowned as one of Bali’s popular tourist locations, especially because of its great diving and snorkeling. Thousands of tourists visit the area each year seeking a relaxed holiday away from the busier Bali destinations of Kuta, Nusa Dua and Sanur.

But Amed’s popularity as a tourism location is also one of its threats.

Field officer Riyan Heri says that’s the reason Reef Check Foundation Indonesia and Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) have been working with the community in Amed.

“One of the biggest threats to the coral reefs in the Amed region is rubbish,” Riyan said.

“Amed is a dry area of Bali, so during the dry season rubbish accumulates in the dry river bed. When the flooding rains come in the wet season, this rubbish is all washed into the bay. This rubbish then chokes the coral, harms fish and other marine animals and has negative impacts on tourism too.”

Thanks to a micro-grant from CORAL, Riyan worked with local community members to install a solid waste (rubbish) trap on the river.

“Using common materials, we worked with the community to construct a trap made from thick bamboo uprights, netting and ropes. We put it slightly upstream of the river mouth and used it to catch the rubbish before it entered the ocean. Each time it rains, the local residents must empty the trap, which they have taken responsibility for.”

While the rubbish trap is far from a permanent solution to the problem, it is an important community awareness tool. This activity provides direct experience and understanding to the community about the problems they face with rubbish.

By actively engaging the community and sharing responsibility for the problem, it is hoped that members of the community will better understand the sources and kinds of rubbish threatening their reefs. By making a connection between the rubbish and impacts on reefs, and subsequently their livelihoods, Reef Check and CORAL aim to help the community adopt more sustainable behaviors.

Apart from reducing the impact of rubbish on the reefs, other initiatives in Amed are helping protect the reef.

Aside from fishing, many of the boats operated in Amed are used to transport snorkelers and divers.

“We have engaged and worked with local fishermen to install two mooring buoys, with another one soon to be added,” Riyan said.

The boat operators were consulted and the buoys were put in locations most convenient for both purposes, encouraging people to stop anchoring in the coral.

Riyan said that informational signs and flyers are another important part of the work underway at Amed.

“It’s important that we help the local community and tourists learn more about how they can protect coral reefs. We’ve installed illustrated signs in Indonesian, English and French about our snorkeling and diving code of conduct. It is simple advice that tourists can follow to make sure they are being responsible and not damaging the coral reef while they are enjoying it.”

Riyan said that through good collaborations great outcomes can be achieved.

“We want to keep working together in Amed so that the community and the coral reefs have a better future.”

For more information on work underway to protect coral reefs in Indonesia visit

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Win $5000 For You, $5000 For Reef Check From Steaz

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Reef Check Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala: September 8, 2012

This year's Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Reef Check Gala will be be held September 8, 2012 at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica, California. The evening will recognize the contributions of our “Heroes of the Reef” each having demonstrated an exemplary commitment to ocean conservation.

Sponsorship opportunities are available. We are also looking for donated items for our live and silent auctions. Please contact or 1-310-230-2371 for information.

Proceeds from the gala will fund educational programs for children and the conservation of tropical coral reefs and California rocky reefs.

Details on the 2011 gala can be found at

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