The Transect Line – March 2010 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Reef Check Malaysia Reaches Out Further Technical Question of the Month: Turf Algae
Reef Check SciGirls Episode To Air OceansWatch Gears Up For Busy Season
Reef Check California Update    
Reef Check Malaysia Reaches Out Further

By Reef Check Malaysia General Manager Julian Hyde

In 2007, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) was approached by the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia to develop an outreach programme for schools on the islands off the East coast of Peninsular Malaysia. These islands, all part of Marine Parks, have populations ranging from 1,500 to 3,000, and have at least one school. Little effort has been put into environmental education in these communities, and previous educational programmes on the islands have been “one-off” affairs, usually involving a simple one day activity. Continuity and sustainability were not part of the goals of these earlier programmes, and children were often left disappointed, with little or no follow up. RCM addressed these issues in designing its programme.

With funding from HSBC and BP, RCM launched a trial programme in 2007, targeted at children in the penultimate year of primary education (11 years old). The original format was based around a 2-day “Coral Reef Camp”, during which children from the schools on the islands learned about the ecosystems around them, how important they are and how they can help conserve them. A mixture of games, art sessions, competitions and lectures was designed to ensure interest levels remained high.

Based on the successful trial, RCM expanded the Camp into the “Rainforest to Reef” programme, with funding from Alstom Power. This was launched in 2009, as part of a three year programme. Sustainability was built-in and the programme was designed with two key concepts in mind:

– Multiple visits: the Rainforest to Reef programme incorporates three different activities throughout the year to build relationships among RCM, the sponsor, and the children in the schools. Trust is an important part of a successful programme.

– Long term: the initial three-year sponsorship arrangement was always viewed as a “starting point”, with RCM committed to making the programme sustainable in the long term. As part of this, staff from the sponsor company are being trained in how to deliver the programme, with the objective that by the end of the three years the sponsor will be able to continue with the programme themselves, at relatively low cost.

The programme incorporates two elements:

– Coral Reef Camp: the Camp remains the core of the programme, providing the main teaching opportunity. Extended to three days, children literally camp out on a beach or isolated part of the island, separate from their day to day lives. The Camp also includes a snorkelling trip, which was the highlight for many of the children, most of whom have not snorkelled before – despite living on the islands!

– Supporting Activities: two weekend activities including beach clean ups, art competitions, jungle walks and recycling workshops provide additional contact and learning opportunities.

RCM has received very high levels of support and input from the sponsor, with their staff involved in all aspects of the programme. Up to 15 staff at a time have participated in the activities on the islands, with nearly 100 participating in various activities during 2009!

In 2009, in a bid to extend the reach of their education activities to urban schools, RCM approached KPMG to fund a “Rainforest to Reef” programme for a school in Kuala Lumpur. While successful, the trial highlighted a number of problems with trying to take children from urban areas to tropical islands. Key among these was that the island environment is so “different” to urban kids that it was difficult to retain focus on the educational elements of the programme – they just wanted to have fun in the sea!

We are therefore in the process of modifying the “Rainforest to Reef” programme, to develop a curriculum and approach more appropriate for urban schools. This will retain the key concepts of multiple activities and sustainability, while being more relevant to the target group. We hope to launch this programme in the second quarter of this year.

If you would like more information on Reef Check Malaysia or to find out how to get involved, please send an email to

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Reef Check SciGirls Episode To Air

By Reef Check California Regional Manager Colleen Wisniewski

During August 2009, Reef Check (RC) was invited to be part of a groundbreaking new series on PBS called SciGirls. In this series, viewers follow teams of middle school girls and their mentors as they create their own inquiry-based investigations of the environment, technology, engineering, animal behavior and health. I was asked to be the mentor to two 13 & 14 year old sisters from Southern California named Meg and Elle, who are both snorkelers and scuba divers and have extensive experience on our local rocky reefs. The location for the shoot was Catalina Island Marine Institute at Toyon Bay (CIMI) as well as other dive sites on the island. CIMI hosted the girls and the film crew, and we spent three days exploring their laboratories and snorkeling and diving at various locations around the island, collecting data inside and outside a marine reserve. We developed a modified RC California protocol to allow the girls to collect data while snorkeling from the surface. Our focus was on 7 total indicator species instead of our usual 73 and the girls discovered that changes in the populations of indicator species are interconnected through predator/prey relationships on the reefs. 

Episodes of SciGirls are being broadcast around the U.S. on local PBS stations throughout 2010 – check the SciGirls website for details. SciGirls is airing in Los Angeles on KLCS at 4pm on Fridays and in San Francisco on KTEH at 10am Saturdays; our episode (number 109: Ocean Ecosystems) should air in April in those two cities. It will also be available online on April 9th. 

Once again, CIMI/Guided Discoveries has been an invaluable RC partner as they sponsored transportation, food, lodging, teaching space, snorkeling gear and staff. We are thrilled to welcome Elle and Meg as junior citizen scientists to the Reef Check California team! Perhaps one day in the future we will see them joining a regular scuba-based RCCA survey with some of our other volunteer divers.

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Reef Check California Update

By Reef Check California Director of Science Cyndi Dawson

To reflect on the Reef Check California Program's (RCCA) humble beginnings in late 2005, to my arrival with the program in May 2006 to jump on the train that Gregor Hodgson and Craig Shuman already had racing down the tracks, to where we are now- over 500 divers trained and 73 sites stretching from Eureka to San Diego- is really awe inspiring. It is in looking back with a sense of wonder and looking forward to the amazing things to come, that I have arrived at an incredibly hard decision: it is time for me to move on from Reef Check (RC). I have learned so much from all of you and one of the things I will miss the most is jumping in the water with you and being part of this movement to ensure healthier reefs in California through citizen science that we have all started together. In addition to the amazing connections I have made with so many of you, I also have been privileged to work with an incredibly dedicated, knowledgeable, and hard working staff that will all continue in their current positions with RC. Our Regional Managers, Colleen and Megan are the backbone of this Program, with support provided by our Associate Program Manager Geoff, who helps to keep us on track with our grants and funders. Our volunteer coordinators, student interns, and contract instructors also continue to look to support you and help facilitate trainings and surveys. They will all help to ensure a seamless transition and welcome RCCA's new program director.

I am incredibly excited to announce that the new Director of the RC California Program is Dr. Jan Freiwald. He recently finished his PhD in Mark Carr’s lab at UCSC and has a strong background in rocky reef ecology. He also worked closely with the PISCO subtidal monitoring program and is excited to work with you all to continue to get RCCA data used to inform and improve marine management in California. Please check out Jan’s message below to hear about his exciting plans for RCCA. I also want to officially welcome Laurel Fink to RCCA as the Southern California Volunteer Coordinator. She is looking forward to educating, inspiring and supporting your efforts.

I want to thank you all for your incredible effort and encourage you to keep it up. YOU are making a difference, our data are being used and this will only increase each year. I am extremely confident in Jan’s leadership and I can’t wait for all of you to meet him soon. He will be making a special effort this training season to try and attend as many recertifications as possible so he can jump in the water and meet all of you. To all the Reef Checkers out there, thank you once again for all that you do, you have inspired me more than you know. I will take all I have learned from you and RC to my future endeavors to continue doing good science that is helping to ensure healthier oceans. Don’t forget to sign up for a recertification to collect data in 2010 and spread the word to your dive buddies about the wonderful work that we all do!

So some of you may have noticed we upgraded to a new version of the Forum. We are still working out the bugs but you should all be receiving your digests and be able to follow and post topics. If you are having any issues please contact your regional managers so they can help trouble shoot with you. As you all know the Forum is the primary means of communication about RCCA events. So make sure you are signed up so you don’t miss any of the exciting opportunities to dive statewide this season!

We continue to be on the front lines of improving marine management in California and we need your continued support! Your donations to RCCA go directly to supporting the collection of the critical data needed to sustainably manage California’s marine resources. Please join us and help ensure the sustainability of reefs worldwide!

A Message from the New Reef Check California Director, Dr. Jan Freiwald

As Reef Check California (RCCA) moves into its 5th survey season and prepares to dive into this exciting time of year, I join the team as the new Director of Reef Check's California Program. My name is Jan Freiwald (pronounced “Yawn”), and I am coming to Reef Check (RC) from the University of California Santa Cruz where I completed my dissertation research on the ecology of temperate reef fishes. I used acoustic telemetry to investigate the movement of three kelp forest fishes – kelp greenling, kelp rockfish and blue rockfish. I investigated how large their home ranges are and how the size of these home ranges is influenced by factors such as habitat and population density.

I am excited to become a part of RCCA and contribute to its efforts to inform the management of our unique marine environments and to work towards healthier reefs along our coast. RC’s statewide program is a unique opportunity for Californians to get involved in the science that is needed to understand the status of biological communities on the rocky reefs along our coast. I am looking forward to growing the RCCA program this summer by expanding our statewide network of survey sites along the north/central coast from Point Arena to Pigeon Point, where new marine protected areas (MPAs) will be established this year.

To ensure a smooth transition, Cyndi and I have been working side by side over the last few weeks while I become familiar with all aspects of the program. I attended the annual RCCA retreat on Catalina this year where I met staff and many of our instructors. Over the next months I will be traveling throughout the state to participate in recertifications, trainings, and surveys to meet the volunteers that make this program possible. I look forward to meeting the many dedicated volunteers that make RCCA such a unique and successful program, and I am committed to ensuring that data collected through their efforts will be used to improve the health of rocky reefs and kelp forests along our coast.

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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 Tropical — Why are turf algae not counted in Reef Check surveys?

Algae (also known as seaweed) are a normal component of healthy coral reefs. Turf algae are cropped algae only a few centimeters in height, typically growing on rock, rubble or sand. They are important ecological indicators because they indicate a healthy population of algae-consuming fish and invertebrates, the herbivores, therefore many ecologists include turf algae in coral reef surveys. So why isn’t this important indicator part of Reef Check surveys?

Although Reef Check is an ecological survey protocol, it is primarily designed to track human impacts. If turf algae are allowed to grow, due to a combination of high nutrients (fertilizer) and low herbivory (algae eating), then the algae can become an important indicator of human impacts – mainly sewage pollution and runoff from agriculture. It is the unbalanced ecological condition of unchecked algal growth that is of interest to Reef Check, because this is the indicator of human impacts. So rather than monitoring the normal balanced condition of turf algae – Reef Check tracks out-of-control algal growth – which we call Nutrient Indicator Algae (NIA). In other words, presence of turf algae is the normal condition so is not counted. When it grows above 2.5 cm then it is counted to indicate the above problems (NIA). As such, it is an indicator of high inputs of the nutrients phosphorus and nitrogen and low numbers of herbivores.

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OceansWatch Gears up for Busy Reef Check Season in Melanesia

By OceansWatch's Jane Pares

OceansWatch has now successfully completed two seasons in the SW Pacific and is getting ready for its third since the founding of the charity at the end of 2007.

OceansWatch originally teamed up with Reef Check back in early 2008 when Reef Check Australia’s Jos Hill ran a training programme for ten members and trustees in the Ha’apai Islands of Tonga. Since then OceansWatch teams have run Reef Check transects in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea.

OceansWatch has been building relationships with coastal communities in these countries and working together with them to create sustainable livelihoods. The teams arrive in the islands by yacht which immediately gives them and the villagers a shared connection with the sea. The marine life in their surrounding seas is a vital source of protein for these communities, many of whom are keen to manage their fishing activities so that their food stocks remain abundant. 

In consultation with locals, OW teams have been conducting Reef Check surveys and sharing the results with the villagers. This has inspired some of the communities to create Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). At Tehakatu’u on Rennell Island in the Solomons, OceansWatch helped the community set up a 40ha MPA which is currently before the Solomon Islands Fisheries Department for approval. 

They have also been able to introduce quite a number of locals to the RC survey techniques, as well as training some in SCUBA.

During the 2009 season (June – October) the following Reef Check surveys were completed:
Vanuatu – 35
Papua New Guinea – 19
Solomon Islands – 3

People introduced to Reef Check survey techniques:
Vanuatu – 48
Papua New Guinea – 14
Solomon Islands – 4

MPAs created:
Papua New Guinea – 3
Solomon Islands – 1

Looking ahead to the 2010 season, OceansWatch will be heading back to Vanuatu, PNG and the Solomon Islands where they will be continuing their Reef Check surveys with local communities as well as training locals in SCUBA.

Moksha” a Hanse 540 has very kindly been loaned to OceansWatch for the coming season. She will be the OceansWatch lead boat for PNG and the Solomons. She joins Magic Roundabout (MR), a 34ft Sweden, who is on long term loan and our dearly loved flagship! MR will be leading projects in Vanuatu.

In addition to Moksha and MR there will be a variety of OW members’ yachts joining projects throughout the season.

You are welcome to follow the projects and read in more detail about OceansWatch through our website

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