The Transect Line – July/August 2016 Newsletter Archive
ICRS 13 — Progress in the Midst of Tragedy Divers Tough Out Challenging Conditions on Big Sur EcoExpedition
Reef Check Eco-Tours Now Available in Marina del Rey Bleaching and Crown of Thorns Wreak Havoc on Maldives Reefs
Tickets Available for 20th Anniversary Gala Concordia International Creates Global Ambassadors
Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition Features New Reefscape Category Sponsored by Reef Check    

ICRS 13 — Progress in the Midst of Tragedy

By Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Executive Director

Reef Check helped to organize several important activities at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) in Honolulu in June. The meeting was huge, with over 90 different session topics, 5000 authors and 2500 individual presentations. Apparently the secret is out that coral reefs are rewarding to study. It was opened with a heartfelt speech by President Tommy Esang Remengesau, Jr. of the Republic of Palau who recognized early on the importance of conserving Palau’s coral reefs and took action to do so.

Given that this was the 10th ICRS I have attended, it was fascinating to see the continuing evolution of coral reef science at a time when the 3rd Global Bleaching Event had just killed off a big chunk of the Great Barrier Reef among many others around the world. Positive developments have included:

1. In the 1980s, many academics felt that ICRS should only focus on science and not “lowly” reef management. This has happily evolved such that almost half the Sessions were focused on coral reef management.
2. A paper I wrote in the early 90s on communicating science to the media/public was considered an oddity, but now scientists recognize that poor communication has blocked public support of science and conservation and whole sessions were devoted to communicating science.
3. Genetics used to be isolated and now has been well integrated into ecology.
4. Citizen science such as practiced by Reef Check is now recognized as an essential tool for both science and public interaction so merits its own session.
5. Many important coral reef nations are often poorly represented at reef meetings, so it was impressive to see a contingent of about 50 Filipino scientists – the legacy of Prof. Edgardo Gomez, who set up the Marine Sciences Institute at the University of the Philippines.

Reef Check helped the International Society for Reef Studies (Sue Wells and Rupert Ormond) to organize a Town Meeting focused on the 3rd Global Coral Reef Bleaching, and I co-chaired Bleaching sessions with Cindy Hunter that covered 2 days. Partners Mark Eakin of NOAA Coral Reef Watch, Richard Vevers of The Ocean Agency, Ove-Hoegh Guldberg of Queensland University and others provided sobering reports on the damage the bleaching has done. In my presentation I made the point that coral adaptation to higher temperatures is occurring and reefs are doing better than many of us thought back in 1998 after the first global bleaching. My conclusion is that we still have time to fix this problem before it is too late.

As always, it was great to meet so many Reef Check scientists and old friends from around the world and to enjoy our RC Happy Hour together at the jazz club.

Reef Check Eco-Tours Now Available in Marina del Rey
Matt WalshReef Check Eco-Tours are now being offered to the public in Marina del Rey, California every Wednesday-Friday from 10:00am-1:00pm and from 1:30pm-4:30pm. Each tour is a 3-hour highly interactive marine conservation program that gives guests the chance to become a Marine Biologist for the day aboard the 75ft “Matt Walsh” boat. The program aboard is focused on teaching people of all ages about marine ecosystems and how to carry out scientific investigations of the coastal waters surrounding Los Angeles. Through this program, we hope to raise awareness about the value of ocean resources, threats to ocean health, and solutions to these problems. We seek to create a new generation of people who understand these issues and will be willing to spread their knowledge throughout their communities.

What to expect
When you arrive, you will receive a set of illustrated cards to guide your marine science investigation aboard the boat. The program will last approximately 3 hours of which half the time will be spent learning about ocean science and half the time will be spent learning about and observing marine mammals.

The program will start with a 10-minute presentation/program introduction regarding general marine science and the role of the Reef Check Foundation. On the way to the outer harbor, you will be able to view and learn about marine mammals and sea birds. Once there, you will learn about ocean ecosystems at two to three different stations focusing on oceanography (waves and currents), water quality (pollution), and observing live fish, invertebrates and even microscopic plankton swimming.

After the tour, you’re invited to stop by Reef Check Foundation Headquarters to meet the team and learn more about what we do.

Pricing: Child (12 & under): $20.00 & Adult: $35.00

Visit our website to book your tour today:

Tickets Available for 20th Anniversary Gala
Purchase your tickets today to join Reef Check on Thursday, September 15th to celebrate the reefs, oceans and Reef Check’s 20th Anniversary! The 2016 Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala will be on the beach at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica. The evening will feature great music by DreamVacation, fabulous auction items including exotic dive trips, hotel stays and restaurant certificates, delicious food, complimentary Myers's Rum Platinum White cocktails, and an opportunity to meet our amazing honoree Heroes of the Reef:

Michael Weber
Poseidon Award
In appreciation of his dedication to marine science and conservation in California and around the world through his conservation books and work with the Resources Legacy Fund, Center for Marine Conservation and the California Fish and Game Commission

Matthias Hammer

Reef Stewardship Award
In appreciation of his founding of Biosphere Expeditions, which has inspired adventurers, including Reef Check divers, to protect and conserve the environment for over 15 years

Julian Hyde
Hero of the Reef Award
In honor of his founding and managing of Reef Check Malaysia for 10 years and his service as Reef Check Regional Coordinator for the Pacific

Ruben Torres
Hero of the Reef Award
In honor of his founding and managing of Reef Check Dominican Republic since 2004 and his service as Reef Check Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean

Keith Rootsaert
Citizen Scientist of the Year
In recognition of his dedication to marine conservation as a Reef Check California volunteer diver since 2010. A regular on surveys, Keith has made more than 180 survey dives for Reef Check.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit

Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition Features New Reefscape Category Sponsored by Reef Check

The Underwater Photography Guide is proud to announce that it is accepting entries for the 6th annual Ocean Art Underwater Photo Competition through November 22, 2016.

Ocean Art is one of the most prestigious underwater photo competitions in the world. A long list of prizes valued at over $75,000 also makes it one of the richest, attracting pro to amateur photographers across the globe. Sixteen categories ensure all photo disciplines and cameras compete fairly, while the 75+ winning images create a portfolio of the best underwater photos of the year.

New for 2016 is the Reefscapes category sponsored by Reef Check, offering the grand prize of a $1000 underwater photo gear shopping spree. Other categories include a Novice DSLR category, 3 compact camera categories and 3 mirrorless camera categories, giving underwater photographers of all levels a chance to win a great prize. Unique categories include Supermacro, Cold/Temperate Water and Nudibranchs, while the more traditional categories include Wide-Angle, Macro, Marine Life Portraits and Marine Life Behavior. The Pool/Conceptual category encourages creativity in post-processing.

Ocean Art prizes are provided by over 35 scuba diving resorts, liveaboard dive yachts, and underwater photo gear manufacturers. Grand prizes are a choice of dive trips to Indonesia, Cocos Island, Palau, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, or the Philippines, and a variety of gift certificates from Bluewater Photo.

Winners from each category will be able to rank the liveaboard, resort and gear prizes they would like to receive, making it more likely that winners will win the prize they really covet.

Judges include world-renowned underwater photographers Tony Wu, Martin Edge, Marty Snyderman and Scott Gietler. Martin Edge is the author of The Underwater Photographer, a top-selling book on underwater photography. Marty Snyderman is an Emmy winner with work appearing in top publications like National Geographic. Tony Wu is a renowned underwater photographer and author of Silent Symphony. Scott Gietler is the owner of Bluewater Photo, Bluewater Travel and the Underwater Photography Guide.

Photos must be submitted before the deadline of 23:59PM PST on November 22, 2016.

More information can be found on the Ocean Art Photo Competition page at

Divers Tough Out Challenging Conditions on Big Sur EcoExpedition

By Dan Abbott, Reef Check California Central Coast Manager

Left photo: Andrew Beahrs
Right Photo: Malcolm Hobbs






At 2:00 am on June 27, 2016, just one month after the successful completion of the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for this year’s Big Sur and Channel Islands EcoExpeditions, the MV Vision pulled away from the dock in Morro Bay, California. On board was a hardy team of 18 Reef Check California certified divers who over the next three days would collect data on over 70 indicator species at sites along the Big Sur Coast. Surveying along this stretch of coast is always challenging as ocean conditions can be unpredictable. At the beginning of the trip no one knew how much we would be able to accomplish.

The ride north from Morro Bay was rough, and within minutes of leaving the protection of the harbor and striking out across the open ocean, everyone awoke in their bunks as the boat repeatedly heaved over waves only to come crashing down with a bang. No one was able to get much sleep that night, and it wasn’t until we pulled into the protection of Lopez Point, just south of our first survey site, that the boat calmed down and we were able to get out of our bunks and eat some breakfast. The plan for day one was to survey three sites around Big Creek Marine Protected Area.

Ocean conditions the first day were manageable with moderate wind and waves, and visibility right around 3 meters, our minimum for being able conduct fish surveys. Our tired but dedicated team of surveyors got in the 50°F water and began surveying the area. On last year’s trip, we counted more juvenile sunflower stars in this area than in any other region of the coast, a species that has recently all but disappeared due to Sea Star Wasting Disease. By the end of the day, we had surveyed two complete sites and partially completed a third, but had not seen a single sunflower star.

Day two we headed north to survey sites around the Point Sur Marine Protected Area. Our sites in this MPA were the most exposed of any on our trip. Upon reaching the survey coordinates, we assessed the conditions and called the dive off. The team was disappointed as not only did we fondly remember the beautiful kelp forest and abundant fish at these sites, but the water was crystal clear, just too rough to dive in. We headed south and completed two reference sites outside of the MPA, including a new site we had not previously surveyed, and finished our half-completed site from the day before.

The third and final day of our expedition was promising as we headed to the southern end of the region to our sites around the White Rocks MPA, where conditions were forecast to be calmer. Unfortunately, though calm on the surface, a deep southern swell had stirred up the bottom sediment reducing visibility to only around a meter, not enough for us to collect fish data. We collected information on invertebrate and kelp populations at one site and then headed further south to Point Buchon to complete our site there. Ultimately we were able to return to this area on a smaller boat out of Morro Bay to finish our other three sites in and around the White Rocks MPA.

In the end, our dedicated team of volunteers successfully completed nine surveys at sites clustered around the Point Sur, Big Creek, and White Rocks Marine Protected Areas. We found evidence that populations of recovering fish stocks were doing better inside the three Marine Protected Areas along the coast. But we also documented a decline in sea stars due to Sea Star Wasting Disease, especially sunflower stars which were completely absent at our nine sites. Purple urchins – voracious grazers of kelp forests and whose populations have boomed in some areas in the last year, turning previously lush kelp forest into desert-like “urchin barrens” – do not appear to be increasing along the Big Sur coast and were recorded in either similar or lower densities than last year. All of the data we collected on this expedition has been uploaded and is available for free on our Global Reef Tracker for scientists, marine managers and the general public to use.

A big thank you to everyone who backed our Kickstarter campaign and made this effort possible, and to all the hard working volunteers who worked to collect this data in less-than-ideal ocean conditions!

Bleaching and Crown of Thorns Wreak Havoc on Maldives Reefs

By Biosphere Expeditions

Biosphere Expeditions reflects on the status of Maldives reefs following this year’s EcoExpedition. 2017 expedition dates have just been announced- visit for details.

Both coral bleaching (where hot water stresses and may eventually kill corals) and Crown of Thorns starfish can be considered ‘natural’ events. But when these events happen often and with increased severity, reef survival is threatened, and therefore the very survival of coral reef nations such as the Maldives.

Recent dive surveys by an international and Maldivian team of divers from Biosphere Expeditions, the Marine Conservation Society and Maldivian partners have revealed a worrying reduction in the amount of live coral in the Maldives over the past year. Healthy coral cover has been reduced to below 10% in more sheltered inner atoll reefs by the recent El Niño that has also devastated much of the Great Barrier Reef. El Niño hit the Maldives in May this year with two weeks of 32 degrees centigrade waters – at least 2 degrees above the ‘normal’ upper limit of 30 degrees. Outer reefs that are flushed with deeper, cooler water on a more regular basis have fared better (with an average of 25% live coral cover).

Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, Biosphere Expeditions’ programme scientist from the Marine Conservation Society says: “Our surveys showed a clear pattern, with reefs inside atolls being the worst affected. Some of the reefs denuded by the warming have also been hit hard by Crown of Thorns starfish, which eat corals. Sadly, one of the reefs that was beautiful with more than 70% hard coral some four years ago have its remnant corals now being eaten by Crown of Thorns starfish. These coral-eating starfish have decimated the Great Barrier Reef through geological time, and have been affecting the Maldives for over two years now.”

Shaha Hashim, a Maldivian conservationist and linchpin for community-based survey and reef conservation efforts, also took part in the expedition and adds: “More stringent efforts to conserve and build up the resilience of these marine ecosystems are crucial for our survival as an island nation. Development planning and policies need to put a higher value on environmental impacts, which is the prerequisite for any social or economic harmony.”

Dr. Matthias Hammer, founder and executive director of Biosphere Expeditions, concludes: “We are very concerned for the people of the Maldives. Almost everything depends on healthy reefs: the economy, food, welfare, and tourism income. If reefs are threatened, so is the very existence of the country and its social cohesion. We hope the reefs will recover, and whilst coral bleaching cannot be locally managed, fisheries, litter and pollution can be. We urge the government to use some of the income from the heavily consumptive tourism industry to pay back – to invest in the very survival of their islands and nation. Without investment from this sector, we believe the reefs will struggle to return.”

But there is a silver lining too: “What gives us hope is that the last big bleaching event in 1998 was hotter, longer and more severe, and many reefs recovered good coral growth within seven years”, says Solandt. Hammer adds: “It is not all doom and gloom. Where officialdom is failing, civil society and committed Maldivians are thankfully stepping in. Ever since Biosphere Expeditions started running its annual research trip to the Maldives in 2011, it has educated and trained Maldivians in reef survey techniques as part of the Biosphere Expeditions' placement programme. This culminated in the first-ever all-Maldivian reef survey in November 2014 and other community-based conservation initiatives since then, the latest in March 2016. Shaha Hashim, for example, has taken part in several expeditions and is now training her compatriots in reef survey techniques and setting up community-based conservation programmes. So there is hope yet!”

Concordia International Creates Global Ambassadors
By Emersyn Lyon, Concordia International School Shanghai, Age 16

We live on a planet filled with crystal blue oceans, white sand beaches, and shallow coral reefs teeming with life. However, this reality will steadily fade into a memory as we perpetuate our careless habits. Mother Nature’s beauty will become nothing but pixels on a screen while the kiss of death knocks on her front door. As a fifth-year returnee on Concordia International School Shanghai’s Marine Ecology Program, I have witnessed the harrowing decay of coral reefs in Thailand. At sixteen years old, I’ve seen a single reef transform from one of spectacular corals and spritely fish to a depressingly damaged reef. Snorkelers thrash on the surface oblivious to the havoc they inflict under the waves whilst standing on the coral. Speedboats haphazardly plunge their anchors without regard for the life beneath. Furthermore, pollution and global warming continue to tear reefs apart.

While humans have a great capacity to destroy, we also have the ability to heal. Therefore, Concordia seeks to educate youth and adults globally through our Marine Ecology Program collecting data and documenting changes. Concordia hands over the torch of knowledge to us, the young; the torch that bears the sorrows of our world. Concordia’s program is the only one of its kind that conducts Reef Check in the exact same location for the duration of five years. This year marks the ninth year of Concordia’s participation in this program. This is the fourth year on Concordia’s second reef, which is off the east coast of Koh Phi Phi, Thailand. Our home away from home—the Manta Queen III—is filled to the brim with 23 students and 6 chaperones. The entire group did a total of 598 dives before Reef Check data collection began. Students collect data, analyze, and gain real world experience to a degree where it matters. Reef Check data is gathered over a span of 2 days with a total of 16 collection runs. Students were divided into four teams of six, and each team did two runs of data collection per day. These dives were so intensive that a single dive could take up to one hundred minutes!

With the Concordia Marine Ecology Program, students open their eyes and strive to create a better world. In fact, the data we collect is used in global conferences regarding reef health. Concordia offers the opportunity of a lifetime to step away from the screens we all hide behind and look to the world with hope for a better future. Our oceans are what we make of them; let’s make the seven seas blue again.

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