The Transect Line – December 2010 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Letter from the Director Reef Check Italia Onlus 2010
Reef Check California Update CoReMo Launches New Software
Technical Question of the Month: RC California 2011 EcoExpeditions with Biosphere Expeditions
Hong Kong Corals Stable Reef Check Egypt 2011 EcoDiver Schedule
New EcoDiver Team in Sayulita, Mexico    
Letter from the Director

By Reef Check's Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Thank you for your generous support of conservation for coral reefs and rocky reef ecosystems. So many people like you came together this year with a shared sense of purpose and a common goal: to save our reefs and oceans. And I could not be more grateful for your help or more proud of what we have accomplished together.

With your help, in 2010, Reef Check's volunteer citizen scientists were able to survey hundreds of coral reefs in more than 60 countries and nearly 80 sites along the coast of California. Our carefully collected scientific data was used locally and nationally to help make important decisions regarding how to better manage coral reefs internationally and what areas in California need to be protected.

We also helped to design national marine monitoring programs in the British Virgin Islands and Brunei. And we continue to assist the government of Mexico to establish sustainable fisheries across three regions of the country.

Our education efforts helped create awareness for hundreds of children from tropical countries by showing them first hand ? with a mask and snorkel ? the beauty and importance of reefs.

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 2010 partners and volunteers for all the wonderful accomplishments of 2010.

Dr. Gregor Hodgson
Reef Check Executive Director

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

Reef Check California has just finished its last survey for 2010. A team of volunteers from all over the state came together for an overnight boat trip to San Clemente Island to establish a new site on December 11th – a perfect end to the 2010 survey season. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all our volunteers who have put in so much work this year to make it another successful survey season for RCCA. We can only do this important work because of you! I would also like to thank all our non-diving supporters for their continued commitment to our work. RCCA has now collected five years of monitoring data from a total of 73 sites ranging from San Diego to Humboldt County. This is an enormous dataset and every completed year of surveying makes it more valuable for helping, for example, evaluate the new MPA networks (see below). This accomplishment is entirely the result of all the hard work that Reef Check volunteers have put into this project over the years.

Now that this year?s surveys are done we are working on compiling all data and adding them to our database so that they are ready to be analyzed. To do this and to wrap up our survey season we just had our annual staff meeting for our five-year report. Since we are distributed throughout California, this is a time when we all get together and reflect on the past year and make plans for next year. We have developed next year?s training and recertification schedule and expanded our locations with additional trainings offered in San Luis Obispo and Fort Bragg next year. Sign up today by checking out the new 2011 training schedule.

As this year comes to a close, there is big news in southern California this month. The Fish and Game Commission approved the implementation of a network of new marine protected areas (MPAs) under the MLPA initiative. This means that over the next year new MPAs will be established in this region. Therefore, next year we will reevaluate our monitoring network in this region and add surveys where necessary to reflect these important management changes in southern California. A map of the approved MPAs can be viewed at the California Department of Fish and Game Website. As we plan for next year, I am excited about the new opportunities that will arise for Reef Check California and look forward to seeing all our volunteers out in the ocean again diving to monitor California?s rocky reefs. Until then, I wish everyone a peaceful and relaxed holiday and a happy new year.

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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 – What happens with RCCA data after they are collected in the field and how is their quality insured?

With the survey season behind us, we are busy processing the data that all our volunteers collected this year. This data processing includes six steps of data quality assurance. Why is this so important? Our results are used and analyzed by people such as scientists and resource managers who were not involved in the data collection process. Since data users have no way of checking data quality for themselves, Reef Check California (RCCA) has to insure that the utmost care has been taken to eliminate data errors and that the data are collected, entered and processed in a way that insures its quality.

The first quality control step happens once the data are written on the diver?s slate and brought to the surface right after the dive. Every diver checks their datasheet for completeness and readability, and then it is checked again by a second person to make sure it is ready for data entry.

Next the datasheets are collected to be entered into RCCA?s online Ecological Nearshore Database (NED). During the data entry process there are again several data checks to insure data quality. When the data are entered online, two types of data validation are performed. First, invalid characters or impossible numbers are flagged and the system requests a valid number to prevent typos during data entry. Once a survey is entered, all data are automatically checked against expected species-specific data values. For example, if a large number is entered for a fish species for which we typically only see one or two individuals on a transect, the observation is flagged and the person entering the data is asked to verify the number. If the number is confirmed to be true it will remain in the data, if it was a mistake it will be corrected before the data are submitted.

Once the survey data are submitted, an RCCA staff scientist will check the entered data against the datasheets by comparing values in the database to the values on the underwater datasheets. After this step the survey data are finalized and can be viewed on NED?s interactive Map Viewer. But before data can be used in other ways and analyzed there is one more step. At the end of the year RCCA?s database manager runs the entire database of surveys through data checking programs and for example, removes surveys that have not been completed or labels missing values so that they can be treated correctly in data analyses. The data are then combined with RCCA?s data from previous years and ready to be distributed and analyzed. Along with the rigorous training of our volunteers, these procedures insure that no mistakes are made and that RCCA data are of high quality and can be trusted by people not involved in the data collections process.

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Hong Kong Corals Stable

Submitted by the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department

The results of Hong Kong Reef Check 2010 showed that local corals are generally in a healthy and stable condition, and exhibit a rich diversity of species.

In collaboration with the Reef Check Foundation, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has coordinated an annual survey of Hong Kong's corals since 2000. The number of participants reached a record high this year, with 528 volunteer divers in 44 Reef Check teams from different sectors, including education institutes, green groups, commercial sectors, government departments and diving groups.

The Chairman of the Marine Parks Committee, Professor Paul Lam Kwan-sing, commended the participating teams for their zealous support and contribution to the success of Hong Kong Reef Check 2010, and presented them with souvenirs at an award presentation ceremony held December 4.

The three month survey, which started on June 3, covered extensive marine areas, including 33 sites of ecological importance in the eastern part of Hong Kong waters extending from Tung Ping Chau in the north to Ninepin Groups in the south, and including three marine parks – Hoi Ha Wan, Yan Chau Tong and Tung Ping Chau.

The survey results are encouraging. In general, the growth of corals in Hong Kong is stable and healthy. Indicator species are abundant in most of the survey sites. A variation in coral coverage (ranging from 30% to 78.1%) was recorded among 33 survey sites. Twenty-one of them, including dive sites within the marine parks, recorded a high coral coverage (above 50%). Among all sites, the public pier, Coral Beach at Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park and Sharp Island North recorded the highest coral coverage (ranging from 73% to 78.1%).

Most of the survey sites boast high species diversity. Of the 20 assigned indicator species, 19 were recorded, which is the same as last year. Wrasses, groupers, butterfly fish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and cowries were species commonly found in the survey sites.

The Coral Watch bleaching monitoring system has been included in the Reef Check surveys since 2005 to enhance the monitoring of coral health status. By measuring the color intensity of the coral using a specially designed chart, the health condition of corals can be determined.

Corals at 11 sites were assessed using Coral Watch this year. The average health index was 4.54 (ranging from 3.71 to 5.69). The results were similar to last year?s (4.31). The average health index is well above the general average value (3), indicating the corals were in healthy and stable condition.

Coral bleaching and some coral damage were observed at a few sites but the impact was minor and localized.

Corals form a highly productive system that supports various marine organisms by providing food and shelter. The AFCD will continue to organize Reef Check activities to collect important information necessary for devising conservation and management measures to protect the precious corals. For more information, please see AFCD?s Reef Check website.

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New EcoDiver Team in Sayulita, Mexico

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

The band plays, walking through the streets of beautiful Sayulita, Mexico and residents follow singing in celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Punta Sayulita and Reef Check (RC) contribute to the holiday spirit by holding the first EcoDiver training. The training is part of the Adopt a Reef Program and the main goal is to annually survey the condition of the reefs surrounding Sayulita. Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Executive Director of RC, led the group through three days of boot-camp style training. The result is 14 newly certified EcoDivers and one full survey of the Marietas Islands.

Sayulita is located at the southern limit of the state of Nayarit, about a half hour north of Puerto Vallarta. The town is popular among tourists who come to enjoy the warm beaches and fun waves. But on Friday December 3rd, the first day of class, we?re glad the waves are small. Enjoying hot coffee and muffins we listen as Dr. Hodgson begins his presentation on reef ecology. The audience includes academics from the Banderas Bay Technological Institute (Instituto Tecnol?gico de Bah?a de Banderas), the University of Guadalajara, and the Costa Verde International School; and recreational divers from Sayulita and surrounding communities. We learn about fishes, invertebrates, and substrate (fancy word for sand, rock, coral, etc.).

The sky is clear and the ocean flat on Saturday; perfect conditions to dive the Marietas Islands, located just a 15 minute ride from Punta Mita. Once at the site Greg gets in the water and lays out the 100 meter transect in a shallow area, teams of two follow, datasheets in hand and ready to practice the skills learned in class. The water is colder than expected and the visibility about six meters; the krill is abundant and so are the surface sightings of humpback whales and turtles. Back on the boats people smile and ask each other questions: Was that an angel fish, or a butterfly fish? Did you see the giant trumpet fish? What?s the sign for rock, how about sponge? After a delicious burrito lunch we review the morning dives and remaining materials in Mi Otra Casa, the beautiful house Punta Sayulita has provided for the meetings.

Sunday is the last day of the training. We head back to the Marietas where divers get to practice once again and collect their first set of data! Back in Mi Otra Casa Kevin Roberts from Punta Sayulita thanks the new EcoDivers for their participation, and Greg hands each of them a certificate. Enjoying a cold beer and food, the new EcoDivers start to plan the next monitoring; the goal is to conduct at least two per year. The second goal is to transplant some coral fragments to dead reef near Punta Mita where coral cover was destroyed by bleaching and storms.

Kevin Roberts and Punta Sayulita associates organized the 1st Punta Sayulita Long Board and SUP Classic last April. The event was a tremendous international success; proceeds were split 50/50 and went to finance this training and the Sayulita Foundation that works with low-income kids. The 2nd Classic is scheduled for March 12 & 13, 2011; mark your calendars and join the fun!

This training was sponsored by Punta Sayulita and we are grateful for all the help from Kevin Roberts and Jose Luis Caselin – and the participation of Rosi Campos, Alejandra Flores, Veronica Garcia Ramiro Gallardo, Karla Gonzalez, Sheila Gonzalez, Nora Hernandez, Alejandro Ledezma, Adrian Maldonado, Alfredo Mercado, Mar Moller, Gerardo Noriega, Teresita Pallares, and Minerva Zamora. Click here for more photos.

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Reef Check Italia Onlus 2010

Submitted by Reef Check Italia Onlus Coordinator Carlo Cerrano

The year 2010 was declared the International Year of Biodiversity. Thanks to the contribution and commitment of many volunteers, Reef Check Italia Onlus has been one of the protagonists of this initiative, which helped to raise awareness among a growing number of people about the value of the biodiversity that characterizes the marine environment of the Mediterranean Sea. The numerous data collected will contribute to our database which in turn will be helpful in delineating the distribution of species of great ecological interest, and the long term monitoring of the evolution of coastal marine habitats of the Mediterranean Sea.

Here?s a short summary of the main activities performed during 2010:

The Week-End of Coastal Environmental Monitoring (WE-CEM) has been the most important initiative of 2010. Many organizations including MPAs, diving centers, scuba diving associations, local governments and many enthusiastic scuba divers have joined the event which covered the entire Italian coasts of the Mediterranean Sea, from Ventimiglia to Trieste, with initiatives located in different regions including Liguria, Tuscany, Sardinia, Campania, Sicily and Puglia. The event, held in Tavolara Punta Coda Cavallo (Sardinia), has been recorded and broadcast by EuroNews in 9 different languages.

EcoDiver MAC Courses were held in the following localities: Ventimiglia, Rimini, Pesaro, Santa Margherita Ligure, Alassio, Andora, Palinuro, Trapani, and Tavolara. Currently there are 81 certified EcoDiver MAC divers and 21 EcoDiver MAC Trainers, while 191 people are holders of a Discovery Certification.

RCI attended two important events, the ?Fiera del Libro? during Spring and the ?Vele d?Epoca? in Autumn, both held in Imperia (Liguria). An exhibition of 20 posters printed with the assistance of CEA (Center for Environmental Education) of the Municipality of Imperia and produced by the staff of Reef Check Italia Onlus has provided a significant contribution to the knowledge of marine biodiversity of the Mediterranean Sea, focusing also on protected habitats and endangered species.

Topics of the posters focused on biodiversity and Reef Check Italia?s commitment in trying to involve Italian divers in the monitoring and data collection of Mediterranean Coastal Marine habitats. Activities and results were presented at the XXI Congress of the Group for Basic Ecology (G. Gadio) in Olbia 21-23 May, presenting ?The role of Marine Protected Areas for the protection of biodiversity? and at the 2nd International Workshop on Research in Shallow Marine and Freshwater Systems in Milazzo, 3-10 October, presenting ?An overview of the worldwide involvement of SCUBA diver volunteers in scientific research programs.?

This is an important branch of the CEM protocol. Its aim is the characterization of the sandy and rocky coasts in terms of both organisms and stranded waste. This year the surveys were conducted on the beaches of Marine Protected Areas and along coasts with heavy human impacts. The MPAs involved were Tavolara Punta Coda Cavallo Porto Cesareo. In Liguria the beaches of Paraggi (GE) and Sarzana (SP) were monitored.

– Database: the RCI database will be improved to allow anybody to check data directly online. Some results are available at

– WE-CEM: will be held the first weekend of June 2011; many different organizations have already expressed their interest to join the event.

– MAC-DRY: it is planned to increase the number of the beaches and to keep on monitoring beaches already surveyed. These activities will be conducted mainly with secondary schools but the involvement of primary schools remains a priority. Surveys are also underway on the beaches of the Marche Region.

– RCI Tropical: for those who are interested in Tropical RC an innovative proposal is planned. The initiative, aimed at university students, should take place in Indonesia with the assistance of the Marine Science Department of the Polytechnic University of Marche. Grants will be available for some of the participants.

– Publishing activities: RCI is collaborating on the publication of several volumes dedicated to the description of dive sites and guides to support its monitoring activities. On our website we will keep publishing informative articles and new curiosities about the marine environment.

For more information, please see

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CoReMo Launches New Software

The CoReMo project (for Coral Reef Monitoring) recently launched a new version of its software, CoReMo 3. The software is designed to enable scientific and non-scientific operators to monitor coral reef health and provides a common database for all stakeholders in charge of reef monitoring activities, including the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN), Reef Check, and IFRECOR (French Coral Reef Initiative).

CoReMo 3 was designed to develop simple, effective, standardized protocols to monitor benthic populations (fixed and mobile fauna), fish and stress indicators. The protocols are adapted to the local operators? level of expertise (Basic, Intermediate or Expert). There are forms for entering, consulting, modifying and exporting field data and data analyses in the form of charts and tables.

The CoReMo project is developed by ARVAM and funded under an agreement with IFRECOR, R?union Regional Council, and the European Union with additional support from CRISP. For more information, visit

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Mark Your Calendars

2011 EcoExpeditions with Biosphere Expeditions

Biosphere Expeditions recently added a brand new EcoExpedition to the Maldives for 2011, to go along with their continuing EcoExpeditions to Honduras and Oman. Reserve your spot today! Each trip includes the Reef Check EcoDiver training course.

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
Expedition dates: March 6 ? March 18, 2011 or March 20 ? April 1, 2011 (12 nights)

Biosphere Expeditions promotes sustainable conservation of the planet's wildlife by involving the public in real hands-on wildlife research and conservation expeditions alongside scientists who are at the forefront of conservation work. In Honduras, Biosphere Expeditions is surveying the coral reefs of the Cayos Cochinos marine protected area. The Cayos Cochinos form part of the world's second largest barrier reef system, known as the Meso-American Barrier Reef, and have been identified as one of the key sections of the barrier reef system to preserve. Data from this survey will be compared to that of other parts of the Meso-American Barrier Reef System and to reefs worldwide.
For more information:

Expedition Dates: September 3 ? 9, 2011 or September 10 ? 16, 2011 (6 nights)

Many reefs in the Maldives are in a relatively pristine state and of high aesthetic quality. The Maldives Marine Research Station of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture identified a need for further research and monitoring work as far back as 1997. Biosphere Expeditions is addressing this need and is working with Reef Check and the Marine Conservation Society in order to provide vital data on reef health. During transfers between the Reef Check dive sites, the expedition will also endeavor to record the presence or absence of whale sharks from the vessel.
For more information:

Musandam, Oman
Expedition Dates: October 9 ? 15, 2011 or October 16 ? 22, 2011 (6 nights)

This EcoExpedition will take you to the United Arab Emirates and from there to the remote and mountainous Musandam peninsula of Oman. There you will study the diverse coral reefs fringing the areas where the mountains plunge into the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. This is a pioneering study to map this currently unprotected underwater environment. The reefs boast a rich mixture of beautiful corals and a multitude of fish and other animals. Data on the current biological status of the reefs and of population levels of key indicator species are therefore crucial for educational purposes and to be able to put forward ideas for future marine protection areas.
For more information:

Reef Check Egypt 2011 EcoDiver Schedule
Reef Check Egypt is offering many opportunities in 2011 for certification as a Reef Check EcoDiver. Reef Check partners, Red Sea Diving Safari (RSDS) and the Red Sea Environmental Center (RSEC) have the following trainings already on the schedule:

February 3-7, 2011: RSDS EcoDiver course at Red Sea Diving Safari, Marsa Shagra (click here for details)

April 16-29, 2011: RSEC Easter Reef Check – 2-weeks with Reef Check EcoDiver Training; includes accommodation, 20 dives, airport shuttle, 1 boat trip 700?

August 18 ? September 29, 2011: RSEC Dahab Reef Monitoring & Reef Conservation Project
Extended Reef Check and coral reef surveys and local conservation measures in Dahab; Long-term volunteers (6 weeks, preferably students of biology or related field) and short-term volunteers wanted! 2 week participation possible any time within the schedule period. 6 Weeks ? includes accommodation, 40 dives, airport shuttle, 2 boat trips for 880? 2 weeks ? includes accommodation, 20 dives, airport shuttle, 1 boat trip for 730?

August 25 ? October 3, 2011: RSEC Reef Monitoring Quseir
Extended Reef Check and coral reef surveys and local conservation measures 6 weeks ?includes board and lodging (basic), 40 dives, airport shuttles, 1 boat trip for 850?

RSEC will also be offering a new EcoExpedition to the Seychelles. Details will be available soon.