The Transect Line – June 2009
  Newsletter Highlights
Malibu Rum Powers Journalists to Reef Awareness; Launches Partnership With Reef Check Up to 40% Coral Bleaching Recorded in Bali
Less Shift of Coral Reef to Algal Dominated Ecosystem Than Expected Reef Check Joins Sinai Divers On Egyptian Safari
Reef Check Releases 2008 Annual Report Reef Check Malaysia Trains Local Dive Centers
Reef Check California Update Join Reef Check in Baja!
 Malibu Rum Powers Journalists to Reef Awareness; Launches Partnership With Reef Check

In June, seven U.S. journalists got their feet wet and more on a Reef Check expedition to the “Center of the Center” of global marine biodiversity – the Philippines.  As the first step in a dynamic partnership with Malibu®, the journalists were trained in our standard EcoDiver monitoring protocol and then thrown in the deep end – literally on the reefs of Puerto Galera, about three hours south of Manila.  Our guests were taught how to identify the Reef Check indicators for the IndoPacific – from giant clams to humphead wrasse and then donned mask, fins and snorkel – many for the first time.

Jumping into the water on any coral reef can be a mind-blowing experience but on the ultra-high diversity Philippine reefs – the WOW factor is immense.  According to blogger Andrew Phillips, “the reef check adventure was one of the most exciting, challenging, and rewarding trips I’ve ever taken.”  You can read about Andrew’s experiences in and out of the water at:

The Malibu/Reef Check partnership launched July 1 with the kick off of the ultimate beach internship, where 10 eligible individuals will have a chance to monitor coral reef health in Thailand, the Maldives, or the Philippines.  Applicants for the Malibu/Reef Check Internship will be invited to apply to get a PhD in SPF and help the environment along the way by spreading the word and enlisting others to raise awareness of coral reef health. They will be treated to a full Reef Check EcoDiver training, and those who pass their exams may participate in the largest citizen science project on earth — our annual global coral reef monitoring. Applications will be accepted from July 1, 2009, through August 31, 2009, and are available online at

“The Malibu Beach Internship provides a perfect opportunity to make saving the world just another day at the beach,” says Lisa McCann, Senior Brand Manager for Malibu. “We know that beaches and reefs are inextricably linked, so the partnership with Reef Check was a natural fit; the organization truly embodies the ideal of engaging the world in a fun and positive way while making a concerted difference.”

“What we love about the Malibu/Reef Check Partnership is that it is very real – with on-the-ground training in reef monitoring – the core of the Reef Check program,” said Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Founder and Executive Director of Reef Check. “With Malibu’s help we can reach out to so many thousands of young people and engage them in marine conservation.”

The “immersion learning” approach seems to have worked well, as several journalists did not want to get out of the water.  It was an “eye opening experience in the Philippines with Reef Check” commented Bryan Abrams, a free-lance journalist who writes for “I will be getting scuba certified very soon and can’t wait to get in the water again.”

For those who would like to learn more about the “center of the center” of global marine biodiversity and see one of the biggest schools of sweetlips (a Reef Check indicator fish) in the world, sign up for the October 11 to 18 Reef Check expedition to Puerto Galera at:

 Less Shift of Coral Reef to Algal Dominated Ecosystem Than Expected

A paper featured in the June 2009 issue of the online journal Ecology made good use of the Reef Check dataset, and concluded that fewer reefs than expected are dominated by algae.

John F. Bruno, Hugh Sweatman, William F. Precht, Elizabeth R. Selig, Virginia G. W. Schutte (2009) Assessing evidence of phase shifts from coral to macroalgal dominance on coral reefs. Ecology: Vol. 90, No. 6, pp. 1478-1484.

Many marine scientists have concluded that coral reefs are moving toward or are locked into a seaweed-dominated state. However, because there have been no regional- or global-scale analyses of such coral reef “phase shifts,” the magnitude of this phenomenon was unknown. We analyzed 3581 quantitative surveys of 1851 reefs performed between 1996 and 2006 to determine the frequency, geographical extent, and degree of macroalgal dominance of coral reefs and of coral to macroalgal phase shifts around the world. Our results indicate that the replacement of corals by macroalgae as the dominant benthic functional group is less common and less geographically extensive than assumed. Although we found evidence of moderate local increases in macroalgal cover, particularly in the Caribbean, only 4% of reefs were dominated by macroalgae (i.e., >50% cover). Across the Indo-Pacific, where regional averages of macroalgal cover were 9–12%, macroalgae only dominated 1% of the surveyed reefs. Between 1996 and 2006, phase shift severity decreased in the Caribbean, did not change in the Florida Keys and Indo-Pacific, and increased slightly on the Great Barrier Reef due to moderate coral loss. Coral reef ecosystems appear to be more resistant to macroalgal blooms than assumed, which has important implications for reef management.

Click here to read the full paper.

 Reef Check Releases 2008 Annual Report
The Reef Check Foundation released its 2008 Annual Report earlier this month. Thank you to everyone who contributed to our efforts in reef research, education, and conservation! Click here to download a PDF copy of the report.
  Reef Check California Update
By Reef Check California Director of Science Cyndi Dawson

Summer has begun to roll along and Reef Check California (RCCA) divers have been beating the heat by starting to crank out the surveys. As of the end of June RCCA has completed 18 surveys!! RCCA also took part in some great education and outreach events like the Long Beach Scuba Show (photos here) letting divers and others know about how RCCA is improving marine mangement in California.

The Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process has arrived in southern California and public workshops began this month.  You can find more details on the MLPA meetings in Southern California at RCCA is providing the MLPA Science Advisory Team and Stakeholder Group with data that will better inform their decisions about the placement of MPAs in the southern California Bight.

We have also added a few new items to the Reef Check SeaStore. The store features everything you need to gear up for the survey season including slates, transect lines, and the Aqua Pencil. Brush up on your California organism identification with a set of Reef Check California Indicator Organism Flashcards!

Check out the forum to get more details on RCCA Team Members in action:

  Reef Check Teams in Action
Up to 40% Coral Bleaching Recorded in Bali
By Reef Check Indonesia

In early June, after receiving a report from local fishermen in Tejakula, on the north coast of Bali,  Reef Check Foundation Indonesia (RCFI) conducted a rapid assessment along the coast from Pemuteran to the Amed area (approximately 120 km of shore line). The survey showed that Amed had the highest hard coral bleaching percentage, a total of 40% of hard coral in the area. The lowest level of bleaching was found at Tulamben, with 10% of hard coral bleached. The bleaching affected the following corals:  Acropora (tabulate and branching), Pocillopora, Stylophora, Montipora (submassive and encrusting), Porites, Pavona, Hydnophora, Favites, Galaxea, Fungia, Ctenactis, Sandolitha, Astreopora, Symphyllia, Platygyra, Diploastrea, Heliopora, Lobophyllia, Millepora, Goniastrea, and Pectinia.

The hard coral species more susceptible to bleaching, such as Seriotopora, Pocillopora, Stylophora, and Pavona, experienced severe bleaching, while the more resistant hard corals, such as Porites, were partially bleached, or not bleached at all. The soft corals Sarcophyton and Sinularia, anemones,and zooanthids were also bleached.

The water temperature ranged from 29 to 30°C during the surveys – a somewhat moderate temperature elevation, which may explain why the bleaching was not so severe.

The last coral bleaching event in Bali was recorded in 2005, near the Ngurah Rai Airport. The survey showed that 75% of hard corals bleached, including all foliose Montipora. A survey conducted in the same area a year later showed no more soft coral, possibly a victim of the bleaching.

The biggest bleaching event in Bali occurred during 1997- 1998, as part of the global mass bleaching phenomenon. At that time, Indonesia saw 50% or more hard coral bleaching. In Bali Barat National Park the bleaching hit 100% of coral cover, while in Lombok, Gili Island the bleaching affected 90% of the area. Other areas with bleaching were Seribu National Park, East Kalimantan and Karimunjawa. At that time, the mortality level of the bleaching coral in Karimunjawa was up to 50-60% (Irdez et al, 1998).

According to an analysis by economist Dr. Herman Cesar, a severe coral bleaching event in the next 50 years in South East Asia would cause financial losses due to reduced products and services from fisheries and tourism, as well as biodiversity degradation of up to US$38.3 billion (Cesar et all, 2003).

“Coral reefs in Bali are bleaching; this condition needs a collaborative effort from various parties to manage the impact,” says Naneng Setiasih, the Chairwoman of Reef Check Indonesia Foundation.

The first thing to do at the local level is to preserve coral reefs by reducing other threats. Coral reefs with lower threats will have a better ability to deal with bleaching. Some steps you can take to help coral reefs include:

1. Improve management of existing marine conservation areas
2. Stop overfishing and destructive methods of fishing such as blast and cyanide fishing
3. Reduce fishing of herbivorous fish (dead coral covered by algae needs to be grazed by those fishes, so that the area can be populated by corals).

If you would like to help monitor the bleaching in Indonesia, contact Jensi Sartin at Thank you to the following partners for their help in conducting this rapid assessment: Reefseen Aquatic, Spicedive Lovina, Gaia Oasis, Puri Mada Tulamben, Emerald Tulamben Hotel and Spa, and Bayu Cottages Amed.

Editors note: this report from Indonesia is a perfect example of the value of Reef Check teams. Teams of staff and volunteers are able to spring into action at short notice to track impacts on coral reefs. An area of hot water in the Indian Ocean is causing bleaching from Indonesia to New Georgia, but is expected to slowly dissipate.

Reef Check Joins Sinai Divers On Egyptian Safari
by Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director Christian Alter

On the 21st of May it finally happened – 11 enthusiastic divers and 2 Reef Check scientists boarded Sinai Divers' Ghazala I, the legend of the Red Sea. These included our happy guide Sylvia, Peter, a journalist from a German TV Channel, and Mark, a professional underwater video and photographer from Sharm el Sheikh. As in former years, our principal objective was to survey the health status of the coral reefs around the southern part of the Sinai.

After an introduction by marine biologists Christian Alter and Victoria von Mach about which indicator species are counted and the methods of Reef Check, one Reef Check dive was conducted every day. Even though unexpected currents sometimes made our surveys difficult, we were able to successfully collect data at 4 out of the 5 planned dive sites. The selected reefs were either “Hot Spots” (dive sites with more than 5 to 10 diving boats a day), or relatively unused dive sites. The Reef Check species recorded are all relevant to the ecology and health status of coral reefs, including Parrotfishes, Napoleons, Butterflyfishes, Sea Urchins, Giant Clams, and Crown-of-Thorns. The percentage of hard and soft coral cover and recently killed corals were also estimated by our Holiday-scientists. Here, we would like to mention a special thank you to Melanie and Friedhelm, who joined the Reef Check Safari for the 5th consecutive year!

A first glimpse of our data reveals that fish famous for everyday consumption, like Groupers, Parrotfishes and Napoleons, were quite often counted. The rich cover of hard and soft corals also suggests a good condition of the popular dive sites. Even the outbreak of the Crown-of-Thorns at Gordon reef in the late 1990s seems to be diminishing from year to year.

Of course, the fun dives weren´t to be missed! In the daily company of Napoleons, giant morays and often sea turtles, everyone had the chance to admire the special and natural beauty of the visited reefs. Some of us even had encounters with grey reef sharks. The presence of 2 marine biologists was fully exploited, with repeated lively discussions about reef conservation in the Red Sea and worldwide. During the fun dives, dive sites were viewed critically by the participants and rated as healthy or damaged.

On behalf of Reef Check, we would like to thank Sinai Divers, Sylvia, the whole boat crew and our participants: Friedhelm, Melanie, Dani, Michi, Jesper, Mohamed, Uli, Synthia, Pritesh (Rasheedi), Monika and Peter!

For more information on Reef Check Egypt, please contact Christian Alter.

Reef Check Malaysia Trains Local Dive Centers
By Reef Check Malaysia

Reef Check Malaysia Bhd (RCM) recently teamed up with a number of dive operators in East Malaysia to conduct the first Reef Check EcoDiver training courses for local dive centres.

Coral reefs are a valuable ecological and economic resource in Malaysia worth, according to one estimate, some US$635 million per year, mainly from tourism and fisheries revenues. Seventy five percent of Malaysia’s reefs are found in the waters around Sabah, which is part of the Coral Triangle.

Despite this, little is known about the status of coral reefs in Sabah. Julian Hyde, General Manager of Reef Check Malaysia said that “at a recent meeting it became clear that, although various groups are doing coral reef surveys around Sabah, there is no sharing of data. So we don’t have a clear picture of the condition of coral reefs here.”

Although there is a regular monitoring programme covering the islands off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia, there is no similar programme for Sabah. “We need to establish such a programme here,” said Helen Brunt, a Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer and Sabah Coordinator for the Semporna Islands Project. “We have been monitoring the reefs in the Tun Sakaran Marine Park for over 10 years, and we can see how they have changed. We need to have similar data for more coral reefs around Sabah. Without this monitoring information it is difficult to make decisions on how to protect coral reefs.”

From May 14-17, a Reef Check training course for Piasau Boat Club dive centre in Miri, Sarawak, saw 2 EcoDiver Trainers being certified, along with 3 EcoDivers.

Following that, from May 21-24, a group of 6 staff members of the Mari Mari Dive Lodge completed the EcoDiver course. Mari Mari Dive Lodge is on Mantanani Island, a small island off the coast of Kota Kinabalu, the capital of Sabah.

In early June, a course was held for the staff of Reef Guardian in Lankayan Island. Three staff members were certified and a number of surveys conducted. Reef Guardian is the private sector manager of the Sugud Islands Marine Conservation Area, tasked with patrolling and protecting an area of some 143 km2.

RCM hopes to continue to work with these groups to help them to establish regular survey programmes. Please contact to find out how you can get involved.

  Mark Your Calendars
Liveaboard EcoExpedition to Isla Natividad, Baja California
Rediscover the Kelp Forest while living the Experience of a Lifetime!

Dates: October 29 – November 5, 2009 (8 days / 7 nights)
Departure point: H&M Landing, 2803 Emerson St. San Diego, CA 92106
Price per Reef Check California certified diver: $3000 USD
Price per non-RCCA certified passenger: $3200 USD

Take your diving to the next level during this scientific, cross-cultural liveaboard expedition! Dive and snorkel in one of the best preserved kelp forest ecosystems in the California Current, witness the Natividad's fishers' progressive management techniques, and invest in preserving Baja’s natural capital.

You can join this trip of a lifetime as a trained Reef Check California (RCCA) Diver or a guest. As an RCCA diver, you will dive your way down the Baja Peninsula to Isla Natividad, conducting scientific monitoring and helping Mexican governmental agencies, fishing cooperatives, international academics and NGOs collect key data on rocky reef sites. Superb diving abounds around Natividad; RCCA divers and guests will have plenty of time to enjoy recreational dives in the amazing kelp forests and take in some of the many exciting species at sea and ashore, including rays, lobster, sheephead, bottom dwelling sharks, sea bass, whitefish, yellowtail, the endangered black vented sheerwater and the cutest mouse you will ever see!

For more information, please contact Reef Check's Mexico Program Manager, Mary Luna or visit