The Transect Line – December 2011 Newsletter Archive
Letter From the Director New Partnerships Help Reefs in Indonesia
Reef Check Spotlight: Sea Otters Sighted in Southern California (Again!) Satisfying Results for Reef Check Hong Kong 2011
Reef Check California Update New EcoExpedition to the Philippines
Fish Bombing in Malaysia 3rd Annual Punta Sayulita Classic to Benefit RC

Letter From the Director
By Reef Check's Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

This year, thanks to your generous support, over one thousand Reef Check volunteers in California and in over 90 countries and territories around the world have been working hard to save our rocky and coral reefs. 

In 2011, our California volunteers tracked the health of rocky reef ecosystems at over 80 sites and helped to alert State agencies when the Sonoma coast abalone die-off started. Our teams of research divers helped to determine the locations where abalone were killed and continue to assist in the search for the cause associated with massive algal blooms. In the tropics, Reef Check dive teams carried out the first post-earthquake survey of coral reefs in Haiti. We are working to set up the first Marine Protected Areas in the country and to promote the potential of the reefs of Haiti to help save lives through food production. Our work to carry out the first comprehensive survey of Haiti’s reefs and to train the first team of Haitian Reef Check divers was featured in a print and video story in the New York Times.

So many generous supporters like you came together this year with a shared sense of purpose and a common goal: to save our reefs and oceans. We could not be more grateful for your support or more proud of what we have accomplished together.

With your help, in 2011, our carefully collected scientific data was used locally and nationally to help make important decisions regarding how to better manage coral reefs internationally and to check the status of newly declared Marine Protected Areas in California. We also helped to design national marine monitoring programs in the Bahamas 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.

We could not have done this important work without you!

Sadly, the threats facing our reefs and oceans continue and our work has just begun. I hope I can count on you to make a special year-end gift to help support our work both here in California and internationally. Your gift today, either by making a donation or becoming a Premium member of the Reef Check Foundation, will help support our efforts in conservation, education, and research. It doesn't cost a lot to make a real difference:

  • $25 can provide training materials for a Reef Check EcoDiver in Haiti.
  • $50 purchases survey materials for an entire reef monitoring team in the Caribbean.
  • $100 can cover the boat cost for 1 diver’s reef survey in California.
  • $250 covers the cost of a kids training in Southeast Asia.

Now more than ever, we need your help. Twenty percent of the world’s reefs have already been destroyed, and of the reefs remaining, 35% are in immediate danger. In the coming year, we need your financial support to continue our important work and protect and monitor reef and ocean health. Remember, for every dollar donated, it is multiplied many times by thousands of volunteers in California and around the world.


Dr. Gregor Hodgson
Reef Check Executive Director

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Reef Check Spotlight: Sea Otters Sighted in Southern California (Again!)

By Reef Check California's Southern California Manager, Colleen Wisniewski

If you had been standing on the shore at Catalina Island or Laguna Beach in the early 1700s, you might have witnessed sea otters swimming in the kelp. However, otters were hunted to near extinction. Today, we expect to see Southern sea otters (Enhydra lutris nereis) from San Mateo County in Central California to just below Point Conception, although their historical range is from Oregon to Baja. The current number of otters is estimated to be approximately 2,700, which is considerably less than their past population. The Southern sea otter has had quite a fascinating history here in Southern California.

Southern sea otters are typically considered keystone species of kelp forests, meaning that they have a specialized and central role in the way an ecosystem functions. In the case of a kelp forest, sea otters can help control populations of herbivorous urchins. Without otters to prey on them, the number of sea urchins in a kelp forest can explode. Large numbers of urchins can consume a lot of kelp, creating urchin barrens, or areas completely denuded of kelp. Here in Southern California, predators such as lobsters and large fish can also help control urchin populations; which is good news since the Southern sea otters have been missing from Southern California for many years.

Unlike most of their marine mammal counterparts, sea otters don't have blubber to insulate them. Instead, otters rely on very dense fur – estimated at over 1 million hairs per square inch – to help them thermoregulate. Because of this lack of insulation, otters have a very high metabolism and they must consume approximately 25% of their body weight in food a day. Their diet includes crabs, clams, snails, sea cucumbers and other bottom dwelling invertebrates, including urchins. Since their fur is much more dense compared to other animals, they gained a reputation for their luxurious pelts. During the 18th and 19th centuries so many otters were hunted for their pelts that by the early 1900's, they were nearly extinct. The only Southern sea otters that were found along the coast at that time was a very small population near Big Sur. This was drastically reduced from their population before the hunting began. Remaining otters were protected in 1911 by the International Fur Seal Treaty and then again in 1977, when they were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service embarked on a Southern sea otter translocation program and its main goal was to improve otter recovery. This was a two pronged approach. The first part was the creation of a “translocation zone,” into which sea otters would be moved. 140 Southern sea otters were moved to San Nicolas Island in an attempt to create a colony outside of their range, thus maintaining a population in case of an ecological disaster along the mainland coast, such as a large oil spill. The second part of this project was the designation of a “no-otter” management zone, which would be maintained as otter-free because of fishermen's concerns. This area included all California waters south of Point Conception except the area surrounding San Nicolas Island. These otters still faced some challenges, with a number of otter deaths attributed to entrapment in fishing gear, loss of habitat and exposure to disease and contaminants from human activities on land.

There has been some buzz in the news regarding the Southern sea otters during the last few months. First, the Fish and Wildlife Service announced in a press release in August 2011 that they are proposing “to end the 24-year-old southern sea otter translocation program in California following an in-depth evaluation that found the program is not meeting its objectives for restoring the species.” This change in regulations would stop the translocation of otters to San Nicolas Island (the current small population would be left there) and also effectively end the management of the “otter-free” zone south of Point Conception. This would allow for the natural expansion of sea otters in Southern California. This policy modification has the potential to be a controversial issue as it could have an effect on commercial shellfish fisheries, and as such, a series of public hearings was held in October. In other news, during an October 2011 boat tour with a group of bird-watchers, a single sea otter was observed in the kelp forest canopy just outside San Diego Bay. And most recently, in early December 2011, a group of whale watchers off the coast of Laguna Beach spotted a solo male sea otter.

Sea otters have had an intriguing history along the Southern California coast over the last 200-300 years. It will be interesting to see if we notice any shifts in their current ranges within our lifetimes, especially with the new changes in management practices that will be taking place over the next few years. Soon it may not be too far-fetched to see otters from the shore of Catalina Island after all!

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

Reef Check California has completed another exciting and very successful year! We have completed our data collection which continued into the fall and winter this year. Throughout 2011, we surveyed most of our existing sites, added additional survey sites where we saw the need (especially with respect to the new MPAs that will go into effect in southern California), and added another year of data to our Nearshore Ecosystem Database. Some of the highlights of the year were the beginning of the MPA baseline monitoring in southern California where we are working with a collaborative team of researchers to establish the ecological and socio-economic baseline of the region as reserves are put into place in this largest of the five MLPA regions of the state. In addition to our monitoring efforts in this region we have partnered with the Surfrider Foundation to conduct outreach and educational events over the last few months to inform the public about the new MPAs. These events were very well attended and lively discussion between audience and presenters often went on long after the presentations had ended.

Further north, we have successfully completed the data collection for the baseline monitoring of MPAs that were established in 2010 between San Mateo and Mendocino Counties. All of the data collected in this region will now be combined and analyzed to describe the status of the ecosystem as MPAs have been established. At the same time we had our first volunteer training in Ft. Bragg, Mendocino County. A group of very dedicated local divers participated, have started to survey sites and will build the backbone of the expansion of our program in this under-monitored region of the state.

Throughout the year we built new partnerships with educational and research institutions. On Catalina Island we started to work with the Emerald Bay Boy Scout Camp and trained their staff in RCCA survey methods. The group of dedicated staff at the camp has set up and started surveying two sites of their own. We also partnered with the scientific diving programs at Monterey Bay State University and the University of California Santa Cruz and will start to train their divers in time for the next survey season. These partnerships strengthen our program, add to our body of dedicated citizen scientists and, at the same time, provide a hands-on educational experience for students. We have also continued to work with our existing partners, including the Department of Fish and Game which has continued to provide many boat days on their RV Garibaldi, enabling us to survey our sites at the Northern Channel Islands.

Overall, this has been a very successful year for Reef Check California and we would like to thank all of our dedicated and hard working volunteers, community partners, collaborators and supporters! We could not have done this important work without you and look forward to continuing to work with you next year.

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Fish Bombing in Malaysia
By Reef Check Malaysia

Fish bombing, or blast fishing, is a form of destructive fishing that is illegal in most countries, including Malaysia. It involves the use of explosives, usually homemade, that are mixed in a bottle. When the charge explodes, it causes shock waves which kill or stun fish. The fish then float to the surface or sink to the bottom. This enables the blast fishers to collect some of them.

In Malaysia, blast fishing is still practiced, especially in Sabah, where up to 15 blasts can be heard per hour. One study has shown that many reefs in Sabah have less than 25% of their reef structure intact and some have interconnecting series of bomb blast craters. On bombed reefs, fish diversity was reduced to less than half and actual numbers of benthic living fish species were reduced to less than 10% of original numbers.

According to another study, the use of bombing techniques for short term benefit has caused destruction of more than 80% of coral reef cover in some places. A single bomb can destroy 5m diameter of coral reef and can kill reef fish within 15m in radius. A survey in 1998 showed that 3.75% of coral reefs in Sabah were being destroyed each year. If the situation does not improve, it will mean that all existing coral reefs in Sabah will disappear before 2020.

The short term gain from blast fishing is the attraction for fishermen. Economic models show that blast fishing is initially four times more efficient than non-destructive fishing methods. However, after 20 years, income declines to one fifth of what would have been available by sustainable methods. For example, in North Sulawesi, Indonesia, net annual income per fisherman dropped from US$6450 to less than US$550.

Although many blast fishers understand that their activities destroy fish habitat, most are not aware that their activities threaten their own livelihood. They know that their reefs have deteriorated, but most are convinced that there are still better reefs further afield. For some, lower yield from traditional fishing methods are forcing them to turn to blast fishing, even though it exposes them to many dangers.

The general lack of funds, staff and facilities for enforcement, coupled with the lack of knowledge and awareness and a shortage of political will, means that the destruction will continue for the foreseeable future. In Sabah, fisheries landings have fallen by 44% in 10 years. Unless something is done, this decline will continue.

One problem impeding more effective action on fish bombing is lack of data. The coasts are vast and we acknowledge that it is almost impossible to patrol every single area. But with better data, we will be able to pin point the “hot spots” where blast fishermen conduct their activities and possibly when they are most likely to do so.

To this end, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) has just launched a fish bombing data collection system, to start to collect data on the scale of fish bombing around Sabah. Simple to use, the data provides a means for dive operators, resorts and members of the public to report incidences of fish bombing. RCM will collate the data and provide periodic reports to the authorities on the scale of the problem.

Anyone hearing a fish blast, or finding recent evidence of dynamite fishing, is being asked to send a text message to 010 363 6013 or complete a short form on our website, so we can collect better information. Once credible evidence is gathered, we can pass the data on and, hopefully, properly address this issue.

At the same time, RCM is seeking funding for programmes to raise awareness of this issue and how it is affecting the value of Sabah’s reefs. For more information, see

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New Partnerships Help Reefs in Indonesia
By Jenny Willis, Reef Check Indonesia

Reef Check Indonesia has been busy the past month certifying new EcoDivers and Trainers!

Nusa Lembongan’s coral reefs will now be better monitored thanks to a new partnership on the island. Two local dive instructors, Andrew Taylor and Cody Macdonald, completed their Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer certification. Andrew and Cody co-founded the Blue Corner Dive Centre on Nusa Lembongan, a small island off the coast of south-east mainland Bali.

The training certifies them to deliver the accredited EcoDiver training to others, so that they can take part in Reef Check’s global coral surveys.

Jensi Sartin, chairman of Reef Check Foundation Indonesia, said that surveying the condition of reefs is a key way to monitor the effects of climate change and human-caused damage to reefs.

He says, “Becoming an EcoDiver is a great way to take an active part in preserving the world’s coral reefs. Anyone who can snorkel or dive can do the two day training course and join the community of hundreds of other EcoDivers around Indonesia.”

Having more EcoDiver trainers is one way in which dive centers can assist to protect Indonesia’s reefs.

“If we have more trainers then we can train more people. If we have more EcoDivers we’ll be able to do more surveys and collect more data about which areas and species are particularly vulnerable and need help, ” Mr. Sartin added.

“Reef Check is working with Indonesia communities on lots of projects, but working with dive centers is really important to us. Dive instructors spend a lot of time interacting with the reef, and they are in the privileged position of being able to teach new divers about how to look after coral and minimize their impact on it.”

“It’s really great to have Blue Corner Dive Centre become a local champion and motivate other businesses to also get involved in protecting the local reefs so we can enjoy them into the future.”

December saw a big step forward for coral reef conservation at Tanjung Benoa, Nusa Dua, Bali. Being one of the most popular places in Bali for watersports, Nusa Dua’s marine environment is very important for Bali’s tourism industry.

That’s why Jensi Sartin says it’s great news that five very experienced dive leaders and the head of the local branch of the marine tourism authority have become part of Reef Check Indonesia’s EcoDiver network.

“It’s really great to have such experienced dive guides from dive centres in Tanjung Benoa on board – each of these guys have done more than 500 dives,” said Mr. Sartin who taught the EcoDiver course. This initial monitoring team is an important step for the Tanjung Benoa area, “if these people didn’t come forward, no one will take care for the reef and it will be unmanaged and likely destroyed.”

Mr I. Made Tromat, Head of Gahawisri (Indonesian Marine Tourism Association) Badung Region said the newest EcoDivers will take part in coral reef monitoring project this January.

“We’re really happy to join this session especially because we’ve already done hundreds of dives. But by having this course it gives us more understanding about the coral, fish, invertebrates and humans and how they interact,” he said.

“It will change the way that we dive. In the past we just look, but now we understand more about what we are seeing and if coral looks sick. It’s good for tourism to look after our reefs and beaches.”

If you are ready to do something good for Indonesia’s reefs, why don’t you become a EcoDiver too? Go to and click “Kontak” for our contact details.

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Satisfying Results for Reef Check Hong Kong 2011
By Reef Check Hong Kong

In collaboration with Reef Check Hong Kong, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) has coordinated an annual survey of Hong Kong's corals since 2000. AFCD held a presentation ceremony December 3 in appreciation of the work of Reef Check teams and their contribution to the success of Hong Kong Reef Check 2011.

The 41 Reef Check Teams comprised more than 500 divers from different sectors of the community, including education institutes, green groups, commercial sectors, government departments and diving groups.

The water areas surveyed are extensive, covering 33 sites of ecological importance. The three-month exercise starting in June covered coral sites in the eastern part of Hong Kong waters extending from Tung Ping Chau in the north to the Ninepin Group in the south, including three Marine Parks – Hoi Ha Wan, Yan Chau Tong and Tung Ping Chau.

The survey continues to yield encouraging results. In general, the growth of corals in Hong Kong is stable and healthy. Indicator species are abundant at most of the survey sites. A variation in coral coverage (ranging from 20% to 77.5%) was recorded among 33 survey sites. Twenty-three sites, including dive-sites within the Marine Parks, recorded high coral coverage (above 50%). Among all sites, Bluff Island and Sharp Island North recorded the highest coral coverage of 77.5%.

Most of the survey sites boast high species diversity. Out of the 20 assigned indicator species, 19 were recorded – the same as last year. Wrasses, groupers, butterflyfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and cowries were species commonly found at the survey sites.

Coral Watch has been included in the Reef Check since 2005 to enhance the monitoring of coral health status. By measuring the colour intensity of the coral using a specially designed Coral Health Monitoring Chart, the health condition of corals can then be determined.

Corals at 11 sites were assessed using the Coral Watch tool. The average health index is 4.14 (ranging from 3.5 to 4.95 out of 6). The results are similar to last year (4.54). The average health index is well above the general average value (3), indicating 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.

The results of “Our Coral Underwater Photo Contest 2011” were also announced at the ceremony, with 13 winners in total and three photos chosen for the top prizes. Jointly organized by Reef Check Hong Kong and AFCD, the aim of the contest was to enhance public understanding and interest in coral ecology and promote local underwater sites for coral appreciation. Over 160 entries were received. All winning photos are on display at

In addition, the AFCD introduced a new iPhone application, “Hong Kong Reef Check”. Users can browse the coral coverage of 33 survey sites, and the distribution and photos of indicator species including reef-building corals, fish and invertebrates. Users may also make use of the Quick Response (QR) Code to download the application.

Corals form a highly productive system that supports various marine organisms by providing them food and shelter. The AFCD will continue to organise Reef Check activities to collect important information necessary for devising conservation and management measures to protect the precious corals.

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New Reef Check EcoExpedition to the Philippines with the Siren Fleet
By Worldwide Dive and Sail

This July, Reef Check’s Dr. Gregor Hodgson will be hosting a 10-night Liveaboard Dive Safari in the Philippines, sponsored by Worldwide Dive and Sail and the Siren Fleet. The cruise departs from Cebu and will journey through the Southern Visayas region of the Philippines, visiting numerous marine sanctuaries – including the Hiltonguan Sanctuary first established by Dr. Hodgson and the now famous Apo Island marine reserve.

With a wide variety of sites to choose from, with differing topography ranging from shallow fringing reef to steep walls, this is a perfect itinerary to assess the progress of the coral reefs in the region and the effectiveness of the existing marine sanctuaries.

Dr. Hodgson and the Reef Check team will be teaching all guests the 3-day EcoDiver course, which will enable divers to assess the reefs throughout the trip. Using the Reef Check indicators of marine species, divers will learn how to survey reefs and, upon successful completion of the course, can continue their experience on further Reef Check trips or simply on any dive in the Indo-Pacific. Having worked in Cebu for 30 years, Hodgson will bring unique insights to this trip.

Worldwide Dive and Sail & the Siren Fleet are providing the 10-night liveaboard safari aboard the S/Y Philippine Siren, at a reduced price of just 2000Euro (2700US$) per person including all diving equipment, course materials and certification.

Trip Dates: – 23rd July – 2nd August 2012.
Departs from Cebu Yacht Club, Cebu @1pm

Space is limited to just 14 guests and early booking is advised! Click here to view the flyer.

For further details contact the Siren Fleet reservations team at

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3rd Annual Punta Sayulita Classic to Benefit Reef Check

The 3rd Annual Punta Sayulita Longboard & Stand-Up Paddle Classic has been scheduled for March 9 – 11, 2012 in the beautiful surfside village of Sayulita, Mexico, 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta along Mexico’s tropical Pacific coastline known as the “Riviera Nayarit.”

Over the past two years, the Punta Sayulita Classic has developed into one of the premier surfing and stand-up paddle events in North America, attracting thousands of spectators and one of the deepest international fields of professional athletes as well as talented amateurs competing head-to-head in longboard and stand-up paddle (“SUP”) surfing contests. With the generous support of the event’s sponsors, the invitee ambassadors and professional athletes, the event has successfully raised awareness for environmental protection and respect of the world’s oceans and wildlife as well as financially supported the local chapter of the Reef Check EcoDiver Program and the Punta Sayulita Foundation’s educational and youth development programs.

“In addition to the return of last year’s defending surf contest champions Sean Poynter of San Diego, CA (SUP), Darren Eudaly of Laguna Beach, CA (longboard), Mary Osborne of Ventura, CA (longboard) as well as SUP distance and Elite Race champions Slater Trout of Maui, HI and the #1 ranked female paddler in the world, Candice Appleby of Oahu, HI, the 3rd Annual Punta Sayulita Classic has received early commitments from many of the top international longboard and SUP professionals including last year’s 3rd place finisher and extreme waterman, Garrett McNamara, who recently rode a world record breaking 90 foot wave, the #1 ranked SUP surfing star Kai Lenny of Maui, HI, past longboard world champions Collin McPhillips and Kai Sallas, past SUP Classic distance race champion Chuck Patterson and many more,” reported Kevin Roberts, a Principal with Punta Sayulita. Roberts adds, “By far, this will be the deepest and most talented field at the Punta Sayulita Classic and will be a phenomenal showcase of talent for the spectators to enjoy.”

In addition to the action packed weekend of surf competitions and SUP races on the water, the festivities on land continue with this year’s benefit concert featuring reggae recording legend, Pato Banton. The free concert will take place on Saturday night, March 10th. “We are very fortunate to have the support of a musician of Pato’s caliber to allocate time from his schedule to play the benefit concert for the event. When Pato learned about the event and how the event raised money for the Reef Check and Punta Sayulita Foundation programs, he was very gracious and eager to support the event and we are very thankful for his generous support,” remarked Roberts.

Proceeds raised will be donated to the Reef Check and Punta Sayulita Foundations. According to Roberts, “The 3rd Annual Punta Sayulita Classic is expecting to outperform the fundraising from last year which, at the end of the day, is a significant financial contribution to support the important environmental and community programs established by the Reef Check and Punta Sayulita Foundations.”

Please visit for more information.

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