The Transect Line – May 2011 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Swimming With the Stars ? Training the First Reef Check EcoDiver Team in Haiti Reef Check Fiji Update
An Asian-American Perspective on Shark Finning New EcoDiver Training in Philippines
Reef Check California Update Save the Date: Reef Check's Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala
Technical Question of the Month    
Swimming With the Stars – Training the First Reef Check EcoDiver Team in Haiti
By Reef Check Executive Director, Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Many people from developed countries who grew up swimming in pools, lakes or the ocean are surprised to learn that a high percentage of people living on small islands in developing countries do not know how to swim. Perhaps even more surprising is the number of fishermen who do not know how to swim. For this reason, when ferry boats sink in island nations like the Philippines, the death toll is high.

Beginning in March 2011, Reef Check's Haiti Coordinator, Erika Pierre-Louise, began recruiting university students from the three top universities to see if some would be interested in learning to swim, snorkel and scuba dive prior to being trained as EcoDivers. In all, some seventy students applied to join the course. Of those, we selected about 40 to attend. Although some of the applications were passionate (“I love the sea and always wanted to be a marine biologist”), what we didn't know is if anyone would actually show up for the course. The students had to take time off on Saturday or Sunday for three weeks and to pay for their own transportation to the training pool.

On the first day of class we were surprised and excited when almost all the students in the first group arrived – some quite early. For many, it was the first time they had been in the water. A few could swim a few feet. The professional swim instructor, Madame DePeste was very strict. After three weekends of training some students dropped out and some simply could not get the hang of it. But by the end of three sessions, we were left with 15 students who will now be trained as EcoDivers and will form the first survey team in Haiti.

In July, the selected students will learn to snorkel in the sea and begin their EcoDiver certification training. Reef Check is actively seeking donations of new snorkel and dive gear to equip the team.

The Reef Check surveys of the coral reefs of Haiti continue and another 50 km of coastline between Gonaives and Kaliko Beach was surveyed in April. With the new government in place in Haiti, there is a lot of excitement about the possibilities for establishing a network of marine protected areas in the country.

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An Asian-American Perspective on Shark Finning

By Sue Chen ? Chairperson, Board of Directors, Reef Check Foundation

I was born in Taiwan but grew up in Florida. As a Chinese-American I remember attending many banquets where shark fin soup was served. I never liked the taste or the texture and as a young girl, I would occasionally wonder..?what happened to the rest of the shark? I was also surprised to learn that since shark fins are cartilage, they don't really have much flavor ? so the chef has to add chicken powder or other ingredients to flavor the soup.

I learned to scuba dive as an adult, and I was lucky enough to see a shark on my very first dive. I was transformed by the beauty, grace and fragility of these amazing animals. I then learned that encounters like this were increasingly rare and sharks were quickly being exterminated throughout the world — all because of shark fin soup. It is estimated that 75 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. When I learned that many shark fins are cut off while the sharks are alive and the animals tossed back into the ocean to die, I felt horrified and ashamed. I vowed to never have shark fin soup again, and to make it my personal mission to do all I could to stop this senseless massacre of our sharks. At this rate, how long can shark species survive?

Traditional Asian culture emphasizes honor — doing what is right, and keeping our lives and planet in balance. We also want to make the world a better place for our children. I know that it is not the intention of my fellow Asians to wipe out the sharks of the world, and threaten the health of our oceans. They just need to get more information about the problem of shark overfishing and how this affects the marine ecosystem and our beloved seafood to make sustainable decisions.

Conserving sharks and keeping their populations healthy fits well with Asian culture and cuisine. Asian cuisine is rich in seafood?so many species of fish, scallops, kelp, crab ? and much more. I am not personally against eating seafood and at Reef Check we support sustainable fisheries management. Although Reef Check is best known for our volunteer citizen-science monitoring programs ? we also continue to work on the issue of sustainable reef fisheries in the US, Mexico and in several other countries. Unfortunately, shark finning has decimated shark populations worldwide and is not sustainable.

A serious issue with shark fishing is that sharks grow slowly, do not begin to reproduce for several years, and most bear only a handful of young sharks. These special features of shark biology make it particularly easy to overfish shark populations. As apex predators, sharks are vital to maintaining a healthy ocean ecosystem including other fish populations. If we continue to decimate shark populations, much of the seafood that we love ? our Asian cuisine and culture ? could be lost.

Recently, several countries and Hawaii have signed laws to prohibit or limit shark finning. There is currently a bill (AB 376) in California to prohibit the possession and trade of shark fin. Please learn the facts about shark finning, and help conserve our remaining sharks.

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

Reef Check California's training and survey season is in full swing this month! We have conducted statewide trainings for new volunteers ranging from Fort Bragg in the north to Santa Barbara and Los Angeles in the south. Our community training in Fort Bragg was a new addition to our training locations this year and a great success. We trained community members with diverse backgrounds from recreational divers to commercial urchin fishermen. All of them are driven by their understanding that we need to work together to improve the health of our marine resources and support sound marine management in California. Our LA training is always a highlight of the early survey season ? the field section was taught on an overnight trip to the Channel Islands on the Peace dive boat out of Ventura harbor. Again, this year we had a full boat and not only trained new volunteers, but also recertified seasoned Reef Checkers and completed several surveys.

In addition to training new volunteers we recertified divers in San Diego and students from Humboldt State University (HSU). HSU's large team of divers camped out at Van Damme State Park to get recertified and survey in Mendocino County as they have done every year. We completed two surveys in this region and went scouting for new sites in the northern part of California to expand our monitoring network in this under-studied region.

Over the past several years, Reef Check has been working on marine management issues in Baja California, Mexico with the Mexican environmental group, Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI). In May, I led a workshop in La Paz on fisheries management for their staff and other NGOs. The workshop focused on simple computer models that can be used to evaluate rocky-reef fisheries at local scales and advise on sustainable catch levels. This will help COBI and the government to work with fishing cooperatives to further develop sustainable fisheries along the Pacific and Gulf coasts of the Baja Peninsula. On this trip, I had the chance to dive in one of the long established MPAs in the Gulf of California at Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park. The impressive schools of large fish present on this northernmost coral reef in the Gulf reminded me how much can be accomplished with sound marine management and protection.

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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 – Where do I place my transect line given a highly variable coral reef and then, how do I avoid bias introduced by variable amounts of soft seabed?

Many coral reefs are patchy or formed in shapes that follow the hard substrate. In these reefs, the intervening spaces are often dominated by bare sand or seagrass. Reef Check does not advocate the use of random sampling because it can result in a waste of resources when by chance, transects are clumped together in one area and spread very thinly in another; therefore, additional surveys are needed. But it should be recognized that by choosing the path of the transect line, this may introduce bias.

The goal of Reef Check is not to survey sand or seagrass beds. The goal is to survey areas of reef where hard or soft coral can grow ? mainly hard substrate. Therefore, great care should be taken when ensuring that the transect follows the reef. In most cases, the coral cover estimate obtained in this manner will be higher than what would be obtained if the transect passed over areas of sand or seagrass.

Thirty years ago in the Caribbean, staghorn coral or Acropora cervicornis, formed an entire zone that occupied soft sandy reef slopes. That zone no longer exists due to the rarity of this species. In the tropical Pacific, a number of coral species inhabit soft seabed and some can cover large areas. However, most coral is found growing on hard substrate ? typically the old reef rock. Therefore, the amount of hard substrate versus soft seabed on a reef can affect the percentage of coral calculated as given above, particularly in the Caribbean. For example, when surveying a “spur and groove” reef or small patch reefs, the transect will inevitably pass across some significant areas of bare sand between the spurs or patches. This could reduce the total possible coral cover when compared with a uniform reef with little soft seabed. As a rule of thumb, if the areas between reefs exceed 5m then consider restarting the transect where the reef starts again.

Reef Check data sheets are pre-programmed to calculate percentage of all substrate types including hard coral cover. The latter is calculated as the total number of hard coral “hits” recorded on the transect divided by the total number of sample points (160) per transect. Therefore, in cases where the percentage of hard substrate is variable, alternatives are to calculate the living coral as an index ? dividing living by living plus recently killed coral. To minimize bias from variable amounts of soft seabed, simply calculate the index as living coral divided by living plus recently killed coral and rock. This index represents the percentage of hard substrate covered by live coral. As usual, there are many different ways to present data. As long as a clear description is provided of the methods used, the reader will be able to understand the results.

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Reef Check Fiji Update

Submitted by Reef Check Fiji Coordinator, Helen Sykes

Coordinator Helen Sykes recently sent in an update on the three main programs that make up Reef Check Fiji:

1. Annual monitoring of sites across the country, and the creation of reports on Fiji’s long-term reef health feeding into global reports and government policy, supported by Fiji’s tourism dive operators
This annual monitoring is entirely supported by donations of time, accommodation and diving support from many organizations. We are midway in the annual monitoring, but early results suggest that the reef system in Fiji is continuing its upward trend of recovery. Fiji underwent a mass mortality from coral bleaching in 2000 and 2002, but Reef Check surveys revealed that coral cover has recovered to pre-bleaching levels after 5 years, and is currently higher than ever recorded.

2. Community-based monitoring informing management of Fiji's Locally Managed Marine Protected Areas, (FLMMA network) specifically Waitabu Marine Park
Waitabu Marine Park is one of Fiji's longest standing locally-managed marine protected areas, and a founder member of the Fiji Locally Managed Marine Protected Areas network. In February 2011, the Waitabu village Reef Check team underwent retraining and took part in the annual monitoring of their marine park.

3. Internship programs involving students from local and international universities who carry out various research projects within the marine environment with topics ranging from the impacts of the marine aquarium trade and of coastal tourism to the development and design of marine protected areas (MPAs)
A series of students from the USA gave their time to take part in surveys designed to increase our knowledge of the effectiveness of MPAs. Reef Check surveys were carried out every 50 meters across and outside an MPA, in order to determine at what point protection becomes effective, and whether there are actual “spill-over” effects at the boundaries into the neighboring fishing grounds. Preliminary results are very interesting, and have implications for future management of MPAs. Two interns from the Netherlands are currently doing more work.

Reports and information can be downloaded from

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New EcoDiver Training in Philippines

Submitted by Nino Jacinto, Reef Check Philippines

Congratulations to the EcoDivers who completed the EcoDiver training course on February 6, 2011! The course was conducted over a 2-week period. It consisted of 4 classroom sessions held after office hours, 1 pool session in Metro Manila, and culminated with 2 days of field work in Anilao, Batangas, Philippines.

The photo shows the EcoDivers displaying the hand signals used underwater by Reef Check for identifying the substrate. It turns out that the hand signals are good for photo ops too!

In March 2011, EcoDiver training was also conducted for 6 partners of Conservation International ? Philippines (CIP). Three partners were from the Local Government of Occidental Mindoro in the Philippines and the other three were university partners of CIP. The group was joined by 2 trainees from the University of the Philippines' Marine Science Institute.

Dr. Wilfredo Licuana, EcoDiver Course Director of Reef Check Philippines, and Ms. Carina Escudero, Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer, conducted the training. The training venue was the Brother Alfred Shields Marine Station of De La Salle University in Sitio Matuod, Lian, Batangas.

In addition, students from the 10th grade of the International School Manila went on an Ecology Field Trip to De La Salle University's Brother Alfred Shields Marine Station in Sitio Matuod, Lian, Batangas, Philippines earlier this year. The 46 students were divided into 2 groups and each group stayed one night in the Marine Station.

On the field trip, the Reef Check Survey method was discussed and how it assists in monitoring impacts of human activities such as overfishing for food or for the aquarium trade, and destructive fishing practices on coral reefs and marine life.

The field trip participants learned how to identify certain species of fish and invertebrates. They also learned how to differentiate between hard and soft coral. For example, they learned that coral are colonies of thousands of tiny animals. Hard corals have tentacles that come in multiples of 6, while soft corals have multiples of 8 tentacles.

The first batch of students donned their snorkeling gear and did a Reef Check survey of the coral reef. The next morning, it was raining a bit, so the water was not as clear. Instead of snorkeling, the second batch of trainees explored mangrove forests and seagrass beds located nearby.

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Save the Date: Reef Check's Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala

On Friday, September 16, we will celebrate the important work of the Reef Check Foundation, on the sand, at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica, California. It will be a casual “toes in the sand” evening featuring never-before-seen footage from the world’s leading underwater filmmakers along with an opportunity to meet some of the thousands of volunteer divers who monitor these essential natural resources.

The evening will also recognize the contributions of three “Heroes of the Reef” each having demonstrated an exemplary commitment to ocean conservation. Marine artist Wyland, famous for his Whaling Walls, has long promoted the urgency of protecting and preserving the world’s oceans, waterways and marine life through his artwork and the work of the Wyland Foundation. Emmy Award-winning underwater filmmakers Michele and Howard Hall, best known for their underwater IMAX films, will be recognized for extraordinary achievement in film and photography inspiring millions around the world to appreciate and protect their oceans.

Sponsorship opportunities are available, please click here for more information. If you would like to donate an item for our silent auction, please download our auction donation form.