The Transect Line – February 2011 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
With Fisherman's Help, CNMI Becomes 1st US Territory to Ban Shark Fins Alternative Sustainable Tourism in La Caleta: Carey Aquatic Center Opens in DR
Reef Check California Update Reef Check UAE Receives Grant from Ford
Technical Question of the Month: Counting Juvenile Rockfish A New Phase for Coral Reef Monitoring in Brazilian Federal MPAs
With Fisherman's Help, CNMI Becomes 1st US Territory to Ban Shark Fins

By William “Bamboo” McCue

In January, CNMI became the first US territory to ban shark fins. This ban follows one put in place by Hawaii, the first US state to make it illegal to possess, sell or distribute shark fins. Fisherman William “Bamboo” McCue initiated the support for CNMI’s new law. He shares his story below:

“I grew up in Minnesota and loved the huge amount of water the state has- I had a creek behind my house and my brothers and I caught all sorts of fish and crayfish. We explored the area and did a lot of nature and bird watching- but back then you would not call it that. After college in Nebraska I moved quite a bit, but in those various places I worked for aquarium companies; I built, maintained, and designed aquariums up to 2000 gallons. I loved the fish and knew one day I had to be in the aquarium. 

After dive jobs in St Thomas, Saipan, and Guam, I ended up in Palau as a dive guide. Ever seen 300 manta rays in migration formation? I have. Even then I saw divers who were poorly trained hurting the very thing they came to see and appreciate. I ran out of money and left. I became a USCG captain, moved back to Saipan and started fishing. I had learned so much about fish behavior during my dives that I knew I could be successful in recreational sport fishing, and I was right. I spent the next several years fishing on Saipan for tuna, wahoo, marlin, sailfish- and many more nearshore and pelagic species. Every single fish we caught was eaten, and that meant the island did not have to import the exact same amount of refrigerated meat or fish. I became very good at fishing and won several small tournaments, then I won the grand prize in the biggest tournament on the island- the Saipan International Sportsfishing Derby. I got my picture with the Governor, and was king of the island for a year; everyone knew “Captain Bamboo”. 

I still had an urge to travel and did a season of sportsfishing in Costa Rica, and a short stint of on-camera work for ESPN2 in the Marshall Islands’ remote Bikini Atoll. Then I moved to Midway Atoll in the NWHI for the summers, and Panama for the winters. 

In all my travels, diving, and fishing I saw things few have seen. The ocean is many, many things, but it is incredible … and also fragile. In Palau I saw the Taiwanese commercial boats hang shark fins on the rails. In the Marshalls I saw ton after ton of tuna and marlin being offloaded for Chinese boats- some of it for cat food. At every island I visited were large commercial fleets- and every fleet caught tuna and finned sharks. It was disgusting to me. I released many marlin and sailfish- my island crew members thought I was loco until I told them the fish gods would be happy- and they all related that to the island elders’ cultural teachings and adopted the behavior in one way or another. 

I've been back in the USA for a decade now- but my heart is still in Micronesia. When Hawaii's bill to ban the sale/trade or possession of shark fins was going through the process of becoming law, I knew I had to find a way to have the same ban in the CNMI- of which Saipan is the biggest island. I asked my fishing friend Diego Benavente- long time speaker of the House of Representatives, former LT Governor, and current house member- to introduce a bill that replicated Hawaii's law. He said he'd think about it. After I gave him more information and asked others with more scientific expertise than myself, he was convinced and introduced such a bill. Many in the marine conservation world were skeptical that a fisherman really had good intentions with the bill, and some gave it little chance of passing. I worked with four other dedicated individuals off island who had the required scientific knowledge, and many on Saipan who could work inside the systems. Outsiders are rarely trusted on remote islands (rightly so) – but I was not an outsider. The combination worked beautifully, and many around the island and around the world climbed aboard. The bill is now law and the neighboring island and largest in Micronesia- Guam- has a similar bill in process. 

I will not be resting until all of Micronesia is a Shark Fin Free Zone!  I need all the help I can get- the OCEAN needs all the help we can give. You can help and follow the efforts on Facebook- check for Shark Fin Free Zone! There is one for CNMI, Guam, California, Washington and soon many more.”          

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

Reef Check California (RCCA) just had its fourth annual retreat on Catalina Island this month. Every year our staff and RCCA instructors meet at one of the Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) facilities to regroup after the survey season, and to gear up for the year’s surveys and trainings. Twelve staff and instructors from all over the state attended the meeting. We had lively discussions about how to improve our training for the upcoming year, and reviewed protocol changes that will be implemented based on our five-year review. This annual meeting is always an important and fun event to keep our statewide network connected. It keeps everybody up to date on events that happened at RCCA over the last year and informs all instructors about plans for the coming year. 

We also all got in the water and recalibrated our survey skills. We had great diving conditions and practiced our skills with each other. This annual retraining of the RCCA trainers is an important step in the quality control of our data collection. Since we work somewhat independently throughout the year, it is critical to have this time to recalibrate everybody’s skills. We not only got a lot of work done, but we also had time to hike up into the hills of Catalina where we had amazing views of the entire Los Angeles basin, including the snowcapped mountains in the background. After this productive and fun event we are ready for another successful survey season in California!

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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 – Why and how do we count juvenile rockfish?

California’s kelp forest ecosystems have a great diversity of rockfishes. These species have a life cycle in which tiny larvae are released from the females (in contrast to most fishes, they don’t lay eggs). These planktonic larvae spend several weeks to a month in the open water where they grow and develop into fully formed fish. The timing of the release of larvae, and the duration of their pelagic stage varies greatly among species. Once the tiny fish have grown to a few centimeters in length, they return to the kelp forest habitat. Often they arrive in great numbers and several species of rockfish, now referred to as recruits or young-of-the-year (YOY), arrive simultaneously in pulses throughout the summer season. These recruits are the fish that will grow up on the reefs where we see them as adult rockfish. Therefore, their arrival on the reefs is an important component of the kelp forest ecosystem and the variability in their numbers that arrive every year has great consequences for rockfish populations.

In addition to sizing and counting the adult rockfish, Reef Check California (RCCA) also counts these YOY rockfish as they arrive at our monitoring sites. Many of the species of rockfish are very difficult to tell apart when they have just recruited to the kelp forest because they often look very different than the adult individuals of the same species and many species look very similar as YOYs. Therefore, during our surveys, we combine all species of YOYs into one category on our datasheet. That way we can track the variability in recruitment of rockfishes to our survey sites but do not have to identify each of these small individuals to species level. Additionally, by counting YOY in their own category we also remove them from the small (<15cm) category of the respective species. Since their abundance is highly variable and seasonal, this removes a lot of variability from our rockfish counts in a category that also includes older juvenile individuals which have been on the reef for up to several years. Removing this variability increases the usefulness of this category because without the YOYs we can use this data to look at the juvenile rockfish populations at our study sites. In summary, RCCA’s protocol of counting YOYs in their own category allows us to track the important variability of rockfish recruitment to the kelp forest while at the same time we can track older rockfish populations without having to account for the variability of seasonal recruitment pulses.

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Alternative Sustainable Tourism in La Caleta: Carey Aquatic Center Opens in the Dominican Republic
By Reef Check Dominican Republic

With the presence of officials from the Ministries of Environment, Tourism, Reef Check Foundation, and the community of La Caleta, The Carey Aquatic Center officially opened in February. The Center will offer an alternative life to the community, who for years have hoped for a reward in this important protected area of the Dominican Republic.

The Carey Aquatic Center is one of the actions taken by Reef Check Dominican Republic, with financial support from the Interamerican Foundation, along with the Ministry of Environment, to find an environmental solution to overfishing and to make the La Caleta Submarine National Park a model of sustainable management for replication in other similar areas of the country.

The event was attended by Deputy Ministers Bernabé Mañón, Protected Areas and Ydalia Acevedo, Coastal and Marine Resources, the Sub Director of Ecotourism of the Ministry of Tourism, among other friends and related parties.

The Carey will offer equipment rental for scuba diving, snorkeling and kayaking, in addition to the services of local guides to accompany the visitor on a safe and memorable adventure.

The Cooperative of Fishermen and Touristic Service Providers of La Caleta (COOPRESCA), together with the Reef Check Foundation, has developed a strategy of awareness and respect for the park's natural resources, implementing conservation measures, a reduction of fishing pressure and now a community-based eco-tourism offering, a scenario that will benefit everyone.

The community hopes to see the benefits of the initiatives, as other protected areas with government backing and support of the community have from the preservation of the resources around them, as is the case of the 27 pools of Damajagua in Puerto Plata.

The Carey is an ideal choice to contribute to the sustainable development of La Caleta Submarine National Park. Located just minutes from Santo Domingo, divers and marine life can enjoy swimming together in the park’s crystal clear waters.

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Reef Check UAE Receives Grant from Ford

This month, the Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Grants awarded a US$9000 grant to the Emirates Diving Association (EDA) for the preservation of the coral reefs of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). EDA is the coordinator of Reef Check activities in the UAE.

The grant will fund training programs for volunteers and the collection of data during Reef Check surveys in Al Aqqa, Rul Dibba and Al Faqeet around the East coast. Reef Check UAE not only collects scientific data important for the conservation of the marine environment, but also provides volunteers information to understand the status of the UAE’s coral reefs and their main threats. It is also hoped that local communities will have an increased awareness of the state of coral reefs and the need to conserve them.

Rita Bento, EDA marine biologist and Reef Check Course Director said, “The information we collect allows us to know more about the threats to corals. The money will help us to train more people and rent the boats to get them out to some of the popular dive sites.”

The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) also received a grant to help them in their efforts to combat the illegal trade of animals, particularly a large number of sharks and shark fins exported from Yemen to Asia has been rampant largely due to lack of awareness.

“Both projects that received grants from Ford emphasize the community's role in protecting the environment. We commend the determination of EDA and IFAW in pursuing extensive awareness campaigns through training programs and workshops,” said Hussein Murad, director of Sales at Ford Middle East. “Through the Ford Grants and the legacy of Henry Ford who was in the business of not only creating good products but goodwill, we continue to give back to our local communities where we serve.”

The Ford Motor Company Conservation and Environmental Grants is a grass-root level program that has offered US$1.1 million in grants to over 130 Middle Eastern environmental projects since its launch in 2000.

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A New Phase for Coral Reef Monitoring in Brazilian Federal MPAs
By Reef Check Brazil

The Brazilian National Coral Reef Monitoring Program started in 2002 with a two-year pilot phase to test and adapt Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) protocols to Brazilian reefs. The adopted protocol is Reef Check (RC) compatible, expanded to include more indicators and identification at species level, individual size measurements as well as abundance, and to incorporate more refined measurements for coral bleaching and diseases. The program has run now for seven years and one of the objectives is to monitor the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) under different management regimes. The Program has been executed by Instituto Recifes Costeiros – IRCOS and the Federal University of Pernambuco – UFPE, with support by the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment (MMA) and grants from AWARE and Wetlands for the Future (WFF). The Participation and support of NGOs, research institutions and local volunteers has been essential to its success, and the key for the sustainability of the program.

In Brazil, the Chico Mendes Institute for Biodiversity Conservation (ICMBio) is the governmental entity responsible for the administration and monitoring of MPAs. In 2010, ICMBio started the process of incorporating the Coral Reef Monitoring Program as a regular activity of the MPAs under its administration, thus guaranteeing their frequent and long-term monitoring. This shift also aims to generate more efficient answers faster to the management of these marine areas.

In October and November 2010, joint meetings were held in Cepene facilities, located in Tamandaré, with the presence of ICMBio parks managers and analysts, representatives from the Brazilian Ministry of the Environment, and researchers from the monitoring team lead by Dr. Beatrice Ferreira (Brazilian RC coordinator). These meetings have resulted in the agenda for the 2011 monitoring campaign on several important Brazilian reefs, such as Abrolhos Reef, Fernando de Noronha Archipelago and the Atol das Rocas Biological Reserve. Also, trainings in Tamandaré (Coral Coast MPA) and in Fernando de Noronha (National Marine Park) were conducted with ICMBio personnel, the majority of the participants had previous experience with diving and underwater surveys.

Severe bleaching events occurred in 2010 in Brazil, when temperature anomalies reached alert level 2 according to the NOAA coral watch system. Volunteer divers observed bleaching of 10 to 100% of coral colonies depending on the coral species. Following this event, ICMBio and RC Brazil jointly mobilized two monitoring campaigns to Fernando de Noronha and Atol das Rocas, in November and December 2010 respectively, to monitor coral recovery. More campaigns and trainings are planned for 2011 to establish an effective, real time monitoring of Brazilian reefs.

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