The Transect Line – December 2009
  Newsletter Highlights
Letter from the Director Reef Check Malaysia – Review of 2009
Successful Survey Season in California Numerous Achievements for RC Dominican Republic in 2009
Reef Check California Update Turks & Caicos Students Trained Up As EcoDivers
PERSGA Releases Status Report on Red Sea, Gulf of Aden    
Letter from the Director

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

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Successful Survey Season in California

By Reef Check California's Regional Managers Colleen Wisniewski & Megan Wehrenberg

The 2009 California survey season has come to a close and looking back at what we have done, it is really quite impressive. This year we conducted a whopping 79 surveys at 64 sites! Now that’s a lot of transects! Fortunately, we had a substantial number of top-notch volunteers. We trained 201 Reef Checkers statewide this year including recertifications for those returning from years past. Reef Check is truly a community endeavor and the program has continued to grow as supporters like you have spread the good word about what we do. Our most important goal of each season is to survey all existing sites that we have surveyed since 2006; only then can we attempt to add new sites. This year, through the dedication of our rock star volunteers we were able to add 6 new sites in Southern California: Pier 400, LA Federal Breakwater, Goldfish Bowl, Cathedral Wall, Johnson’s Lee, and Landing Cove! Way to go SoCal!

We had great end of the year parties in early December at the Long Beach Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where we had the opportunity to thank many of our volunteers for all they do for the organization. A good time was had by all as we were guided behind the scenes by aquarium staff, had a relaxing lunch, and viewed slide shows of photos and accomplishments of 2009. We’ve had spectacular participation by so many volunteers this year and we wanted to honor a few that went above and beyond the call of duty in 2009 with awards, broken up by geographic region. In the Southern California program, the Golden Calipers Award went to Dirk Burcham who surveyed 154 transects in 2009 (he also won the Golden Slate Award last year)! Wow! The Silver Slate Award went to Yasumichi Kato who surveyed 85 transects!  Sheree Lahey won a special Data Captain Award for entering a huge amount of this season’s data into our Nearshore Ecosystem Database (we love our data entry volunteers!). In the North/Central California region the Golden Slate Award went to Jonah Mulski who surveyed 52 transects!  David Horwich won a special Survey Captain Award for taking great initiative and organizing 3 surveys on his own. Congratulations winning Reef Checkers!  Big thanks to the aquariums for hosting us!

As we approach the last days of 2009, all of us at Reef Check are looking back on a successful year filled with beautiful dives, rare sightings, and above all else, tons of quality data. We are busy preparing for another great year in 2010!  All of our trainings and recertifications are up on the web so sign up now to take part in the fun!

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Reef Check California Update

By Reef Check California Director of Science Cyndi Dawson

The numbers are in and 2009 has been the most successful Reef Check California survey season to date! With the help of hundreds of divers statewide, we collected critical information on the status of 61 reef sites while completing 75 surveys. We had some great highlights this year as well: sevengill sharks in San Diego, training and surveying with the Port of Los Angeles Police, and the most successful north coast camp out ever, just to name a few. It really was an inspired year with participation and support of the program continuing to grow in leaps and bounds.

In addition to all the new partnerships and accomplishments, our successes would not be possible without the support of our incredible group of citizen scientist divers. Since the start of the program in 2006, 354 individual divers have taken part in RCCA surveys. Each one of those divers has taken action to help improve marine management in California. We even have 16 divers who have just completed their fourth season of surveying! We are a more well known and respected community-based monitoring network and I look forward to another amazing year in 2010.

If you want the inside scoop on what is happening with RCCA you can follow me on Twitter. I will continue “tweeting” throughout the season to keep everyone updated on the RCCA program and my exploits as RCCA’s Director of Science. All relevant updates will also be posted on the Forum including daily blogs when I am on the road spreading the word about Reef Check.

As you all know, this has been a challenging year financially for most of us and RCCA is no exception. Please consider making an end-of-the-year donation to help us finish 2009 in a healthy financial condition. We continue to be on the front lines of improving marine management in California and we need your continued support! Your donations to RCCA go directly to supporting the collection of the critical data needed to sustainably manage California’s marine resources. Please join us and help ensure the sustainability of reefs worldwide!

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Reef Check Teams in Action

PERSGA Releases Status Report on Red Sea and Gulf of Aden
Submitted by PERSGA's Dr. Mohammed M. A. Kotb
The Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (RSGA) are globally distinguished by their great diversity of marine environments, the number of unique species, and the importance of marine resources to the social and economic development of the region. This region, however, has experienced rapid coastal development in the past four decades. This has been followed, in some places, by degradation of the marine and coastal environments and loss of their potential to sustain the livelihoods of coastal populations. The nations of the region have acted to conserve these environments, and PERSGA was established to organize regional activities, initiatives, and efforts for the conservation and sustainable use of natural resources.

PERSGA participated with member countries in two regional surveys of coral reef ecosystems, the first during 2002 and the second during 2008. Their status report, to be published in February 2010, presents data from the 2008 survey in which 36 sites were surveyed in Djibouti, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen using the Reef Check survey protocol. This data was compared to that collected during the regional survey of 52 sites in 2002.

The key findings of the analysis for the whole RSGA region are as follows:

  • Butterflyfish, indicators of the ornamental fish trade and overfishing, showed a slightly increased mean abundance in 2008 over 2002. These abundance levels however, were found to be lower than those recorded for the Indo-Pacific region as a whole during 1997-2001.
  • Sweetlips (Haemulidae), used as an indicator for line-fishing and spear-fishing, showed similar abundances in the 2008 and 2002 surveys. These abundances were found to be higher than those recorded for the Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001.
  • Grouper (greater than 30 cm), indicators for overfishing by line-fishing and spear-fishing close to reef areas, showed that mean abundances slightly decreased in 2008 compared to 2002. However these levels were higher than the recorded abundances for the whole Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001, but lower than those recorded for the Red Sea in the same period.
  • Snapper, an indicator for overfishing by nets close to reefs, showed a sharp decrease in mean abundance in the 2008 surveys compared to 2002. These abundance levels were still much higher than the abundances recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in 1997-2001.
  • Parrotfish, an indicator for overfishing and controlling algal growth over coral reefs, had similar mean abundances in 2008 and 2002. Similar abundance was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in the 1997-2001 surveys.
  • Lobsters, an indicator for overfishing through direct collection from reefs, were not found at 94% of sites during either the 2008 or 2002 surveys, indicating severe overfishing. Absence of lobster records in 90% of the sites was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001 surveys.
  • Long-spined sea urchins, Diadema, an indicator of problems with reef health if in high abundance, showed a decrease in mean abundance in 2008 from 2002. Higher abundance was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in 2000 than in RSGA during 2008.
  • Triton gastropods, an indicator of curio collection, were not found at about 90% of sites during either the 2008 or 2002 surveys, indicating severe collection of this shell. A similar situation was recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region during 1997-2001.
  • Giant clams, indicators for collection as food, curio, and ornamental shellfish, were recorded at about 70% of the surveyed sites during 2002 and 2008. The recorded shells were <20 cm in length, which are difficult sizes for collection. Higher abundances were recorded for the whole Indo-Pacific region in the 1997-2001 period.

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Reef Check Malaysia – Review of 2009
By Reef Check Malaysia General Manager Julian Hyde

2009 has been a year in which Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) has continued to develop our activities in Peninsular Malaysia, as well as become more active in East Malaysia.

Training and Surveys
In Peninsular Malaysia, we certified over 50 EcoDivers and 3 EcoDiver Trainers. This training was done in association with a small network of six dive centres on islands which are the main dive destinations off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Two new Certified Reef Check Facilities have also been established on the islands.

Once certified, EcoDivers are given the opportunity to participate in our Reef Check survey programme. This year, 50 surveys have been completed on the East coast islands, many of them repeats from the previous two years. This survey programme is sponsored by Sime Plantations.

In East Malaysia, we have conducted our first training programmes and have now certified 15 EcoDivers and two EcoDiver Trainers. We now have an active Reef Check Certified Facility in Miri, Sarawak, which is delivering training and organizing surveys through a local dive club. We are hoping to establish other training facilities around Sabah over the next 12 months.

As part of a government-sponsored expedition to assess marine resources around Sabah, 26 surveys were completed, many in areas that had not previously been surveyed. An additional 31 surveys were conducted in other parts of East Malaysia, covering both Sabah and Sarawak, by Reef Check Malaysia and its partners.

Our 2009 annual report will be published soon, with details of all surveys, and an update on coral reef health in Malaysia.

School outreach has become a very important activity for RCM. Our main programme is the Rainforest to Reef programme, sponsored by Alstom Power. This is targeted at schools on the Marine Park islands off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia (Perhentian, Redang and Tioman). Comprised of a three day Coral Reef Camp and two additional Supporting Activities, the programme introduces children aged 11 years old to basic environmental awareness, and includes a snorkeling trip to show participants a nearby reef to strengthen understanding.

This programme will continue through to 2011 under the existing sponsorship arrangement. We are now extending this programme to Urban schools. KPMG has funded a programme for a KL-based school, and we will extend the programme to an additional six schools around Kuala Lumpur in January 2010 with funding from local bank CIMB.

Community Programmes
In February 2009, RCM launched an 18 month programme on the Perhentian Islands, a Marine Park off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. Funded by the UNDP-GEF Small Grants Programme, the goal of the programme is to encourage greater community involvement in the management and operation of the Park. Activities under the programme include: establishing a new association for businesses operating on the islands to improve communication; establishing Reef Check monitoring teams and a survey programme; skills training including “eco friendly snorkel guiding”; and a programme targeted at school children.

A similar project at Pangkor Island on the West coast is looking into how we can improve the marine environment around a tourist island which is not a protected area. Coral reefs in the area have been badly damaged, in part by tourism activity (boat anchoring, poor snorkeling supervision). We are looking into the possibility to do some small scale coral reef restoration, which would improve snorkeling areas and link into tourist and community education programmes. This is a long term programme with YTL Group, a major RCM sponsor.

If you would like more information on RCM, please visit their website at

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Numerous Achievements for RC Dominican Republic in 2009
Submitted by Reef Check Dominican Republic

The achievements of Reef Check Dominican Republic (RCDR) during 2009 are as numerous as they are diverse. The Caribbean team started the year by adding new talent – including volunteers and friends – to their Board of Directors.

Much progress was also made in La Caleta marine reserve, which RCDR currently manages. The Inter-American Foundation visited with RCDR to exchange ideas on the management of the reserve and to discuss future plans. Throughout the year, fishers, tourism outfitters, and volunteers gathered to maintain the buoys inside the reserve. Monitoring of La Caleta during 2009 was supported by the American Chamber of Commerce, and was conducted by RCDR, community members and recreational divers.

In addition, an important local achievement was the completion of a workshop on buoy installation conducted in Punta Rusia. In April, RCDR signed an agreement with the government agency DINAPES (Dirección Nacional de Pesca de la Marina de Guerra) to collaborate on efforts to reach out to coastal communities, and to conserve marine resources through workshops, trainings and field activities. RCDR also collaborated with World Resources Institute investigators, who interviewed users of the La Caleta reserve as part of a project to assess the economic value of the country’s marine ecosystems.

RCDR also conducted educational trainings for dive shops, and organized several camps for children in which they snorkeled and experienced the marine environment firsthand. Snorkeling gear was generously donated by Body Glove.

Other accomplishments included the monitoring of reef health at Bayahibe as part of the Blue Flag program. Also, a proud group of youngsters from Punta Rusia won third place in Reef Check’s Year of the Reef International Singing Contest; this was made possible with the support of RCDR volunteer Alicia Srinivas.

To view a full report (in Spanish) on RCDR in 2009, click here to download. Please visit for more information.

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Turks & Caicos Students Trained Up As EcoDivers
Submitted by Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer & SFS Intern Jim Catlin

The School for Field Studies (SFS) provides opportunities to undergraduate students from the US to study abroad for one semester. SFS in the Caribbean is located on South Caicos of the Turks and Caicos Islands. Marine species identification is a key component of the existing course material here, so it made sense to offer the Reef Check EcoDiver programme to interested students. In total, we had 11 students complete the course and become Reef Check certified EcoDivers.

Given that the students had spent the first month of their time in South Caicos familiarising themselves with over 150 fish, invertebrates and corals, my job as Reef Check trainer was made considerably easier. Field sessions were great fun and took place in the clear and calm waters of Cockburn Harbour, South Caicos. The photo shows students showing off their Reef Check certificates (printed on underwater paper) after the in water presentation ceremony. I may stand corrected, but this may be a Reef Check first!!

We have our next semester beginning in Feb 2010 and it is hoped that the new students will bring as much enthusiasm and commitment as our EcoDiver graduates this time round.

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