The Transect Line – August 2012 Newsletter Archive
Reef Check Spotlight: How Far Do Reef Fish Along the California Coast Move? Tobago Ecosystem Mapping Project – Four Years of Effective Conservation Science
Good & Bad News from the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium Reef Check Malaysia Update
No Fish Bombs is Good News for Philippine Reefs Reef Check’s Annual Gala: Purchase Your Tickets!
Maldives Marine Research Centre Training Scheduled for September    

Reef Check Spotlight: How Far Do Reef Fish Along the California Coast Move?

Have you ever wondered how far the fish you see when diving in the kelp forest move, or if you see the same fish twice when you come back to your favorite dive spot? Since there are no clear boundaries in the ocean, fish are often thought of as moving freely over large areas. Some fish such as the large pelagic (open ocean) species swim across the entire ocean on their migrations. But what about the species we see on the rocky reefs along California’s coast?

This is not only an interesting question because it will tell us how likely it is to see the same fish twice, but it also has important consequences for the management of fisheries and the conservation of these fish species. For example, movement of individuals in and out of protected areas determines how much protection a marine protected area (MPA) of a given size will provide to fish within its boundaries. Movement of individuals will also determine how quickly an area that has been heavily fished will be replenished by individuals moving in from other reefs.

In a recently published synthesis of what we know about the movement of reef fishes along the temperate west coast of North America, Dr. Jan Freiwald, Director of Reef Check California, summarized movement studies done since 1950 and on reef fishes along the coast (Freiwald, 2012). He found that the large majority of species studied did not move very far. In fact, for 80% of the species analyzed the maximum movement distance was less than 1.5 kilometers and many of them moved on scales of only a few hundred meters. Further, in all species that have been studied the movement distances of most individuals are much less. Another interesting finding of this study is that the reef fish along the west coast swim within a very defined area, called a home range. What this means is that they move back and forth within a region of the reef rather than moving along the coast in a linear fashion – never returning. We are used to this kind of movement from other animals – they stay within their range or territory but fish have often been thought of as moving without boundaries.

Such limited movement suggests that the neighborhoods in which individuals interact with each other or their ecological community (ecological neighborhoods) are rather small and their interactions are limited to local reefs. The finding of limited movement in temperate reef fish species will have important consequences for understanding the ecology of these species and also for understanding and modeling population connectivity in a management context. Small movement ranges, for example, suggest that MPAs even of relatively small sizes will be effective in protecting individuals and will give them a chance to grow larger within their boundaries. For divers, these findings mean that it is likely that you will see the same individual fish in their home ranges as you visit your favorite dive spots.

The study can be found at: Freiwald, J. (2012). Movement of adult temperate reef fishes off the west coast of North America. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 69(8): 1362-1374.

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Good & Bad News from the 12th International Coral Reef Symposium
By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Every four years, the world’s coral reef scientists gather for a meeting focused on the science of coral reefs. The 12th ICRS was held in Cairns (pronounced “cans”) on the northeast coast of Australia during July 9 to 12, 2012 with over 2000 scientists participating. Apparently, the “secret” is out that scientific study of coral reefs is both exciting and rewarding. Reef Check and two long-time partners (Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and SOCMON) organized a special “mini” symposium to investigate the question: “Does monitoring lead to successful management of coral reefs?” Of course, we knew the answer but we were looking to document examples of how this process has worked in different parts of the world. Some 70 scientists including many Reef Check team scientists and coordinators applied to present papers answering this question so we had to spread the “mini” symposium over two days. The audience often reached several hundred people.

The papers and poster presentations were truly a smorgasbord of examples of how important monitoring is to the process of marine spatial planning, management and ultimately successful conservation. In some examples, it was Reef Check monitoring that spurred an interest in conservation and led to the establishment of a marine protected area. In other examples, Reef Check has been selected as the one of the official monitoring methods for entire countries such as the Bahamas, Brunei and Brazil. In fact, the long-time coordinators of RC Brazil, Drs. Mauro Maida and Beatrice Padovani Ferreira of University Pernambuco presented results showing how their monitoring program eventually led to the establishment of a network of MPAs along the coast of Brazil. Dr. Jean Kenyon of US Fish and Wildlife Service and coauthors showed how the results of monitoring were essential language used to justify establishing the Pacific Remote Islands National Monument, one of the most amazing biodiversity reserves in the world. I reported that with the assistance of Reef Check, Brunei has now set up a no-take MPA network that encompasses about 90% of their coral reefs – probably the highest level in the world.

There were winners and losers at the meeting – the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority noted that the coral cover in the park has declined dramatically in the past few years – almost reaching the level in the Caribbean – about 30%. Korean scientists noted the arrival of tropical coral and fish species at their southernmost island Chejedo, and were making plans to set up a coral reef unit. Global climate change trackers from several countries reported that global warming is occurring much faster than anyone had predicted and that both sea level rise and changes in weather patterns will be more severe and will occur earlier than predicted causing major impacts to cities and towns throughout the world.

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No Fish Bombs is Good News for Philippine Reefs
By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Starting in late July, I had the pleasure to serve as the Reef Check Instructor on the Philippine Siren, the gorgeous liveaboard dive boat run by Worldwide Dive and Sail. What was so special about this trip was that for three years from 1979 to 1982, I was a US Peace Corps Volunteer based at the Cebu City Bureau of Fisheries. My dive buddy Mike Ross and I had the pleasure of surveying coral reefs for the Bureau of Fisheries all over the southern Visayan region as it is called. So what condition are the reefs in now compared to 30 years ago?

The most amazing success story is that during more than a week of diving, I did not hear a single blast-fishing bomb go off. Even just a few years ago, I would have heard 3-4 blasts (or a zinging sound if the blast was a long distance away) per dive. The results can be seen in the high level of coral “cover” and huge schools of small reef fish like Anthias, which are decimated by indiscriminate blast fishing. Many Marine Protected Areas have been established in the southern Philippines – some more than 20 years ago. This has led to another success story — the return of large turtles, mantas and even some whale sharks to the area. Still missing however, and indicating a regular level of poaching are other sharks, large mature grouper, humphead wrasse, bumphead parrots and sweetlips as well as lobster and giant clams. For those of you familiar with the tropical Reef Check survey protocol, all except sharks are our “indicator species” used to measure human impacts on reefs. Even the famed Apo Island was missing some species and large sized fish – indicating that more attention needs to be paid to reducing poaching.

Everyone on the cruise participated in the Reef Check training and five stalwart volunteers passed their exams with flying colors and were certified as RC EcoDivers. They were so “hard core” they even carried out several RC surveys during the passage of a typhoon to the north. My thanks to the wonderful staff of Worldwide Dive and Sail and the incredibly enthusiastic staff and crew of the Siren for an amazing revisit to a favorite part of the world.

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Maldives Marine Research Centre Training Scheduled for September
By Reef Check Maldives Coordinator Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt

Between September 9 and 12th, Reef Check Maldives Coordinator Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt from Marine Conservation Society will be training the Marine Research Centre (MRC) of the Maldives to be Reef Check EcoDivers. The training will follow the second EcoExpedition aboard the MV Carpe Diem as part of our collaboration with Biosphere Expeditions. The MRC training programme will allow Maldivian government officials to be trained at their own department, and will be combined with training in more detailed monitoring of corals. Dr. Solandt hopes to return to Male in 2013 to follow up accreditation of the MRC as an EcoDiver certified training facility.

Dr. Solandt said, “After years of carrying out Reef Check and offering the data to the MRC for their own management purposes, we now will be training the entire MRC reef monitoring team directly. This is an exciting development for a country whose president recently announced its desire to set up further marine conservation initiatives in the country over the next five years.”

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Tobago Ecosystem Mapping Project – Four Years of Effective Conservation Science

By Coral Cay Conservation

Coral Cay Conservation has released its final report, summarizing scientific results and community work achieved during the Tobago Coastal Ecosystem Mapping Project (TECMP) which ran between April 2007 and June 2011. The full document can be found here.

Jan-Willem van Bochove, Head of Science for Coral Cay commented: ‘‘In the face of some significant challenges to this project, an outstanding team of scientists, volunteers, scholars and concerned Tobagonian citizens proved time and time again that with commitment, enthusiasm and resourcefulness, great things can be achieved. One of the ambassadors for Tobago’s environment was Peter Trotman, who led the establishment of the Speyside Eco-Marine Park Rangers but sadly passed away last year. This report is dedicated to him.’’

Dr. Owen Day, Co-Director, Head of Communications and Biodiversity of the CARIBSAVE Partnership and previous director of the Buccoo Reef Trust, commented: ‘‘This document will help maintain and build the momentum in Tobago and in particular in Speyside for getting Marine Protected Areas established and managed.’’

A comprehensive database, based on over 900 detailed surveys, is now available. The extensive survey effort was done by trained volunteers using expanded Reef Check surveys. Coral Cay also provided Reef Check training to local scholars, including the Speyside Eco-Marine Park Rangers who are now leading the implementation of a marine park around some of Tobago’s best biodiversity sites.

The outcomes of these surveys highlight Tobago’s incredible diversity of marine life but also raise serious concerns about the continued degradation of coral reefs that has taken place within the last decade. The two mass coral bleaching events and resulting disease outbreaks of 2005 and 2010 killed off many of the large coral colonies that are so characteristic of Tobago’s dive sites. The effects of these regional impacts have been exacerbated by local, land-based stressors, particularly sedimentation and pollution. These local stressors need to be removed in order to give Tobago’s reefs the best possible chance of surviving in the face of regional impacts like coral bleaching.

Recommendations include the implementation of several well-managed, no-take zones in areas of high biodiversity and resilience to coral bleaching. These marine parks will not only help secure important marine habitats but also allow fish stocks to increase and spill over into adjacent fishing grounds. Communities should be involved in setting up these parks as well as their continued monitoring and management. Income can then be generated from park user fees, creating a sustainable source of income from tourism. Finally, an increased effort needs to be made to reduce land-based pollution and runoff which continues to be a real threat to the island’s coral reefs.

Encouragingly, Coral Cay’s scholarship programmes have helped to create local capacity to support the management of marine parks. For example, the Speyside Eco-Marine Park Rangers (SEMPR) are spearheading the effort to develop a marine park to protect some of Tobago’s best remaining reef systems. Dr. Day continues: ‘‘This is a momentum that was built by the work of Coral Cay and the Buccoo Reef Trust and that is now being driven by the SEMPR. The government of Trinidad & Tobago and several international agencies are looking at supporting the next phase of this work and the formulation and implementation of management plans. The legacy of the work done by Coral Cay and its dedicated staff is alive and well!’’

Coral Cay would like to thank our project partners and all the staff, volunteers and scholars who made this project such a huge success. For more information, please visit their website at

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Reef Check Malaysia Update

By Reef Check Malaysia

The Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) survey season has begun and we are now almost half of the way through, having completed surveys for Perhentian, Redang, Payar and Tioman island, while certifying 35 new EcoDivers; not to mention the surveys at Sembilan Islands off the West coast, completed at the beginning of the year. RCM would like to thank the staff at DMPM and also all the committed volunteers who covered a total of 41 sites with us.

In the month of June, two Rainforest to Reef coral reef camps were held in Pulau Tioman. The first was comprised of 30 students from 2 different schools, SK TTDI (2) and SK Brickfields from Kuala Lumpur, supported by KPMG Malaysia. We would like to make a special mention of Puan Kok, the headmistress of SK Brickfields, who took the time to attend the camp. Her passion and effort towards her students’ development is truly remarkable!

We would also like to thank the Ministry of Education for sending 3 representatives from the co-curriculum department to evaluate the camp. Their insights were very valuable towards the improvement of the activities conducted. And fortunately, their overall response was extremely favorable. They also expressed an interest in collaborating with us to allow more children to be exposed to the program.

On the 23rd of June 2012, another coral reef camp got underway. Also held in Tioman, this camp was supported by Alstom Power Malaysia. The camp hosted the children from the local school, SK Tekek. The Rainforest to Reef program with Alstom is now into its fourth year, an extension from a 3 year program.

We have new updates from our nurseries, which focus on reef rehabilitation. In Pangkor, we have created a new frame design in order to reduce the impact of underwater currents to the frames, increasing the survivability of the coral nubbins. Our last analysis of Tioman showed very positive results. Survivability rates were either the same or better than before. The nubbins are progressing better than we had expected. The project in Perhentian is the latest addition to RCM’s Reef Rehabilitation initiatives. At this site, we’re working to reduce the number of nubbins being harvested from donor sites while increasing the diversity of coral.

It has been just over a month since Reef Check Malaysia officially launched its office in Kota Kinabalu, and things have been going very well since. In the next month or so, RCM programs will commence with planning almost finalized. The core of RCM’s programs in KK will be focused on combating destructive fishing methods such as fish bombing, considering the severity of the problem there. A school environmental education program has been designed together with KK Reef Watch to conduct activities at various schools in Sabah. Its aim is to provide basic environmental education to school populations, based around a series of presentations and station games.

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Reef Check’s Annual Gala: Purchase Your Tickets!

With September 8th right around the corner, Reef Check is organizing its annual “Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans” gala at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica.

The evening will recognize the contributions of our “Heroes of the Reef” each having demonstrated an exemplary commitment to ocean conservation.

Our honorees include California Assemblymember Paul Fong, who will receive the Reef Stewardship Award for his commitment to the conservation of our seas, demonstrated by his leadership in the authoring and successful passage of the bill banning the sale or possession of shark fins in California, as well as his current efforts to raise awareness and protect the Leatherback Sea Turtle.

Receiving the Poseidon Award are Commissioner Richard B. Rogers from the California Fish & Game Commission, William W. Anderson and Gregory F. Schem from the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, and Don Benninghoven, MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force member and former California Fish & Game Commissioner. They are being recognized for their leadership and public service in the creation of a statewide network of marine protected areas in California through the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA).

Our Gala will also include silent and live auctions featuring fabulous vacations, fun activities, and an assortment of gift certificates. Don’t miss your opportunity to be part of a wonderful night, tickets can be purchased at
Sponsorship and auction donation opportunities are also available.

For additional information please call Reef Check at 310.230.2371 or email

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