The Transect Line – February 2009
  Newsletter Highlights
Vote For Your Favorite Video and Win! Montserrat Reef Check Survey to Kick Off Summer Dive Festival
Reef Check California Update OceansWatch Brings Reef Check to Papua New Guinea
Reef Check Baja Update Mark Your Calendars: Reef Check EcoExpeditions
 Vote For Your Favorite Video and Win!
Voting is now open for Reef Check's Kids International Singing Contest on Video featuring the “Year of the Reef” song. Be sure to visit the contest page to vote for your favorite video before the voting period ends on March 31st! Each voter will automatically be entered into a raffle to win a prize package containing a $50 gift certificate to and a Reef Check t-shirt and hat!

Hosted by Body Glove and Reef Lab, cash prizes of $1000, $600 and $300 will be awarded to the top three videos. Check out the great videos submitted by groups in American Samoa, Colombia, Comoros, Dominican Republic, Egypt, India, St. Eustatius, Taiwan, and Trinidad & Tobago to see the diverse ways people around the world express their culture and passion for reef conservation through music!

  Reef Check California Update
By Reef Check California Director of Science Cyndi Dawson

Reef Check California held its second annual Staff/Instructor Retreat at Catalina Island this month. We were graciously hosted by our partner Guided Discoveries at their Catalina Island Marine Institute, located a couple miles west of Avalon. We had 12 attendees from all over the state, with the largest contingent coming from northern California. The three-day retreat focused on calibrating all RCCA Instructors to ensure our counting techniques were in tip-top shape. As the program has continued to grow, we now have several academic institutions that are teaching our protocols without RCCA staff involvement. This is an exciting development and is allowing RCCA to reach and engage even more people across the state. In addition to completing calibration both inside the classroom and out in the field, the attendees also generated some important ideas that will help us guide RCCA in the future. It was a great opportunity to have people in a single location and ensure we translate volunteer ideas into future plans.  

Reminder: We have put the final touches on the 2009 Training Schedule.  Spread the word and get your friends and neighbors involved! There is no better way to take direct action to improve marine management in California than to become a trained RCCA diver. If you are an experienced certified diver please visit our training page and sign-up, the spots are going fast. This year, we are also piloting a project that can allow non-divers to take the course as well. If you are a non-diver, prefer warm waters, or have a friend or family member who would like to be more involved, please contact for details, requirements, and pricing.

Celebrate the new administration in Washington and make a tax-deductable donation to support Reef Check California.  With some strong signals coming out of Washington that science will be the driving force for environmental decisions in the future, obtaining high quality data on California rocky reef ecosystems is an urgent priority. We continue to be on the front lines of improving marine management in California and need your support! So if you aren’t a member, please join us.

  Reef Check Baja Update: Join Us on Our Expedition to Isla Natividad!
By Reef Check Assistant Program Manager Mary Luna

Once in Baja, and traveling with an open heart and mind, it is not difficult to imagine why tales of the colonization describe the natives as the “happiest people on earth.” Historically, Baja has enjoyed a low population and development rate due in part to the dry landscape and limited supply of fresh water. It is this relatively unspoiled beauty, the desert meeting the sea, the starry sky unclouded by blinding city lights, the mile after mile of open surf breaks, and abundance of breathtaking kayak-snorkel-dive spots, that take the traveler back to their adventurous, primordial self. Despite the rapid development of Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, and Ensenada northwards, the traveler may be delighted to learn that the largest total area of national park in Mexico (Areas Naturales Protegidas) is found in Baja. Yet the same forces that drive visitors to Baja also threaten the very attributes that make it so desirable. There, as in many other places in the world, the solution is not to stop socioeconomic development, but to direct it in such a way that it preserves nature and generates an educated population of locals and visitors. Ultimately, it is for the delight of every human to know that there still exist some pristine places in Baja that one can visit in body or spirit.

In 2007, Reef Check entered into a synergistic partnership with the Mexican non-profit Community and Biodiversity (Comunidad y Biodiversidad or COBI) to provide assistance to two Baja fishing cooperatives to design scientifically sound resource management plans.

The island of Natividad lies about half-way down the Pacific side of Baja. The local fishing cooperative has a name that is longer than the island: Cooperative Society for the Production of Fisher-Diver and Fishermen (Sociedad Cooperativa de Produccion Pesquera Buzos y Pescadores de Isla Natividad). With about 80 members, this cooperative is one of the oldest and best organized in Mexico. They have an exemplary fisheries management program. Following training in 2006, 2007 and 2008, they have adopted Reef Check’s California protocol to monitor self-imposed marine reserves that have been in place since 2006. Each year they pay some of their best divers to survey inside and outside the reserves and collect data to assess the reserve effect. They spend over $100,000 annually to patrol the island perimeter and discourage poaching. The ability of the local citizens to control access to their fishery, along with an innate conservation ethic, has contributed to a well-preserved marine ecosystem. The diving in Natividad is superb and currently restricted to cooperative members and national and international researchers working on projects approved by the cooperative.

Fishing cooperatives like Natividad’s make a monetary investment when they set up marine reserves. The “opportunity cost” associated with not fishing in these areas increases over time as organisms inside the reserves grow in number and size. Part of the opportunity cost is expected to be offset by migration of juveniles and adults to surrounding areas in a “spillover” effect as well as by increased export of larvae produced by bigger, more fecund individuals. Another approach to offset the opportunity cost of not fishing these areas may be found by starting non-exploitive businesses such as tourism. The economic return of any emerging tourism activity must be substantial to make it worth the associated risks.

As part of a project on specialized markets and marine reserves COBI and RC, in cooperation with national protected areas agency CONANP, will be running an eight-day expedition to Isla Natividad this fall 2009. Interested divers will pay about $3000 all inclusive. This pilot expedition will serve to collect ecological data on sites along the Baja peninsula, and to compare them with the near-pristine marine ecosystem of Natividad (all sites of interest to CONANP, COBI & RCCA). It will also serve to collect information (e.g. diver experience, basic costs, etc.) useful in creating innovative market concepts. We expect that in future years the expedition price will skyrocket based on limited access and increasing demand. For details contact Mary Luna.

On the Gulf of California side of Baja, a second fishing cooperative known as the Women of the Gulf (Cooperative Mujeres del Golfo or CMG) is based in the Loreto Bay National Park (LBNP). This small cooperative of nine women is focused on sustainable fishing of marine aquarium species. The marine aquarium trade is a controversial mix of emotions and opinions for many. COBI and RC are advising the Cooperative on sustainability issues for this pre-existing ornamental fishery in and around LBNP. Reef Check has trained COBI scientists in our detailed MAQTRAC stock assessment protocol to assist in the development of catch quotas and zonation of the area.

Monitoring data are yielding some very interesting results. One example involves the bluespotted jawfish (Opistognathus rosenblatti), an endemic species of the Gulf highly desired by hobbyists and protected under the Norma Oficial Mexicana – the equivalent of the US Endangered Species Act. This mouth-brooder invests a lot of effort in raising its young and consequently produces few offspring. MAQTRAC surveys indicated that the jawfish population is currently too low for sustainable exploitation inside LBNP. Therefore CMG has not applied for a permit to collect this species in 2009. Mexican scientists and literature seem to indicate that such patchy, low-density distribution is common in most of the Gulf. This is an example of why continuous monitoring is a key component in accomplishing an economically and ecologically sustainable fishery. It also indicates the need for a campaign to educate hobbyists regarding what species they buy.

CMG is also working on minimizing mortality and habitat degradation at every step of the collection and sales chain (capture-holding-handling-transportation). CMG would like to be identified with a label that highlights the socioeconomic and ecologic sustainability of their origins.

If you are interested in learning more about the Natividad and LBNP projects please contact

  Reef Check Teams in Action
Montserrat Reef Check Survey To Kick Off Summer Dive Festival
by Reef Check Montserrat Coordinator James Hewlett

James Hewlett, Reef Check Coordinator for Montserrat, West Indies and a resident of New York, was recently awarded a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The project’s primary focus is to develop a model for integrating project-based learning into community college science curricula. The project involves a collaboration of four environmental research organizations (Reef Check, Braddock Bay Raptor Research, The Nevis Biodiversity Project, and The Terramar Foundation), five community colleges (Finger Lakes CC, Monroe CC, Genesee CC, Tompkins-Cortland CC, and Delaware Technical and CC), two four-year schools (Rochester Institute of Technology, Harvard University), three currently funded NSF programs (Research Integrating Molecular and Environmental Science, National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, Taking Delaware's Biotechnology Education to the Next Level), and a state government agency (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation).

The model being tested includes a variety of teaching components, and features regular Reef Check survey work in Montserrat and Nevis, W.I. over the next three years. Included in the model is the idea that incorporating undergraduates in Reef Check surveys not only immerses them in a learning activity that is impossible to replicate in a classroom, but engages them on a scientific level where questions lead to hypothesis testing. In a recent example, two students participating in an invertebrate survey observed a patch of reef that appeared to contain an unusually high level of sponge diversity. This patch was located very near a sunken barge. The students questioned if the disturbance from the barge was related to their observation. This curiosity turned into an undergraduate research project that continues under the grant program.  

The project also highlights how Reef Check Coordinators can work together with local governments to create synergy. Montserrat faces many challenges with respect to tourism and economic sustainability. In July 1995, the Soufriere Hills Volcano woke up after a long slumber. Over the next few years, pyroclastic flows buried the capital city of Plymouth and the international airport. Following mass evacuations, the population relocated to the north end of the island. More than half of the island still remains in an exclusion zone due to regular volcanic activity that continues to pound the southern end of the island. Tourism has all but disappeared on the island, and the economy is extremely fragile as the proud Montserratians work to rebuild a sustainable community . . .  

OceansWatch Brings Reef Check to Papua New Guinea
by Jane Pares of OceansWatch

OceansWatch has partnered with Reef Check to offer training and surveys in the western Pacific.

Magic Roundabout, OceansWatch lead boat, spent August – October 2008 in Papua New Guinea successfully building relationships with coastal communities and government departments, visiting schools, raising awareness of marine issues, and conducting Reef Check surveys. The team included Chris Bone, Irene Llabres-Pohl, Leila Cara and Jeges Nuttall.

Growing numbers of coastal communities in PNG understand the need for sustainable fisheries management and the team on Magic Roundabout was interested to discover a non-governmental organization based at Kavieng on New Ireland called Ailan Awareness – a community-based management approach to conserving marine resources. “The important aspect is that villagers take ownership of the project,” says John Aini, head of Ailan Awareness. “Our role is to facilitate and support, but the program is conducted at the village's pace.”

The OceansWatch team was fortunate to be briefed by John Aini about their next port of call, Nonovaul Island, where a marine reserve has been in place for three years. During the survey at the reserve, the team was very pleased to note several species like the Barramundi Cod, which are becoming rarer in the Pacific. A site outside the reserve was also surveyed and the lack of Reef Check indicator species was noted, even though the reef itself had a lot of healthy coral. The team was helped on this survey by Keithson, from Moussau Island in the St Matthias group, where the villagers are Seventh Day Adventists and so do not harvest fish for personal consumption. A member of the Nonovaul Fisheries Management Committee also helped, resourcefully using a mask made from an old inner tube, discarded glass, and a large pipe clip!

After the survey, canoes started visiting the boat. At one stage, Magic Roundabout had 14 canoes alongside with 26 visitors! On board, the team was very encouraged to hear that school children had collected 86 batteries off a local reef after the team had talked at the school earlier that day. During the school visit, the teachers shared their stories of what the reef was like 20 years ago and, as in every community the team visited, they told of how the fishing was getting harder every year.

At the suggestion of The New Ireland Provincial Fisheries Department, the OceansWatch team also conducted Reef Check surveys on Nussa and Nago Islands, where the government plans to establish a marine research facility . . .

  Mark Your Calendars
Reef Check EcoExpeditions

Join one of Reef Check’s many EcoExpeditions and make your diving count! Reef Check partners with expedition groups all over the world to create exciting and valuable research expeditions to monitor coral reefs. Expeditions are tailored to Reef Check certified and non-certified divers alike, so dive in to help conserve the world’s reefs!

Trips to six exotic coral reef destinations are scheduled for 2009:

Puerto Galera, Philippines
Cayos Cochinos, Honduras
Andaman Sea, Thailand
Musandam, Oman
Tioman Island, Malaysia