The Transect Line – May/June 2015 Newsletter Archive
Indiegogo Campaign to Fund Touch Tanks for Ocean Education Renaissance of Reef Check French Polynesia
Santa Barbara Oil Spill Response Missed the Boat RC Dominican Republic Announces its Environmental Marine Gastronomic Certification
New Hats Added to Sea Store RC Egypt Completes 19th Survey of Northern Red Sea
RC Malaysia and SSI Announce Collaboration to Promote Coral Reef Awareness Join Us October 1 to Honor Our Heroes of the Reef

Indiegogo Campaign to Fund Touch Tanks for Ocean Education
Reef Check recently launched a new campaign to raise $20,000 in 40 days to fund touch tanks for ocean education.

It is shocking that just like in Haiti, 50% of school children in Los Angeles have never put a toe in the ocean, even though it's our city's “backyard.” How can we expect future generations to preserve something that they know nothing about?

We intend to expand our education program by reaching out to underserved students in the Los Angeles Unified School District, bringing thousands of these kids to our new headquarters in Fisherman’s Village in Marina del Rey to learn about California and tropical marine life through touch tanks and interactive learning.

Visit the campaign page at for more details and to contribute.

Together we can provide Hands-On Ocean Education for Underserved School Kids in Los Angeles!

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Santa Barbara Oil Spill Response Missed the Boat
By Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Foundation Executive Director

The recent oil spill at Refugio Beach north of Santa Barbara, California was a drop-in-the-bucket compared to the huge blowouts and repeated spills in Santa Barbara in 1969 – a reported 100,000 gallons this time versus 200 million then. Given that almost half a century has passed, and we have had several monster spills since 1969, one would expect that we would be well prepared to deal with such disasters.

Unfortunately, the response to the Refugio spill missed the boat in one important area. Clean-up crews were dispatched to clean up oil on the water surface using boats and booms, and by hand on the beach and rocks. Oiled birds were captured, treated and released. But the authorities were apparently unprepared for an on-shore gusher that would enter the sea in shallow water endangering near-shore marine ecosystems. More seriously, there was no system in place to allow government or non-government divers or ROVs to quickly examine the damage to the most sensitive ecosystem lying just beneath the water surface. Worse, non-government marine biologists who have the most experience at the site were barred from diving in the area for several weeks.

After the spill, Federal authorities quickly took over, but ignored the rocky reef and kelp ecosystems beneath the waves, despite repeated requests from both the State and experienced non-government dive teams to be allowed to carry out surveys.

Santa Barbara oil is only slightly less dense than seawater, and with the help of wave action, some oil from a surface slick can reach the reefs just a few feet below, while other fractions evaporate or dissolve in seawater where they can be highly toxic to marine larvae. Spring and early summer are peak reproductive seasons for many reef organisms. Whether dissolved or intact, some oil is likely to have reached Refugio’s famed kelp forest and rocky reef ecosystems potentially endangering some life stages of the many species of fish and shellfish there. Some marine organisms such as lobster and octopus washed up dead. By Friday, four days after the spill, our helicopter and drone surveys indicated that 95% of the surface oil slick had been washed out of the site by strong wind, waves and currents, with small patches of oil still attached to floating kelp at the surface. But what was going on underwater is now a mystery. Two weeks later, the reefs were still closed to divers, a serious mistake. Divers could have determined if visible blobs of oil were in direct contact with the reef and could have collected water samples next to the reefs that could have been tested for oil components. This could have all been documented with photos and video. Without this information it is more difficult to determine what really happened to the reef ecosystem immediately following the impact.

Reef Check is staffed by professional marine biologists who train divers to become “citizen scientists” so that they can carry out standard scientific surveys of rocky reef ecosystems in California (and coral reefs in 90 countries). All of our high quality data are publicly available on a Google Ocean database at

We survey over 80 California sites per year from the Oregon border to Mexico. Our teams of citizen scientists, led by professional marine biologists, have been monitoring the Refugio reefs every year since 2006, providing the only standardized dataset available for this 9-year period. The data, photos, videos and personal observations will be used to assess the damage and monitor the recovery of those reefs.

Our data show that Refugio reefs support a relatively dense kelp forest compared to other sites along the Santa Barbara coast and northern Channel Islands. The rocky seafloor is covered in an understory of four species of brown algae that provide habitat for dozens of fish species such as cabezon, sheephead, surf perch and kelp bass. Red sea urchins, bat stars and red abalone are some of the invertebrates found at this site. Reef Check classified the biological community living on the Refugio reef as unique in southern California. Only one of the more than 30 southern California sites that we monitor along the mainland coast has a similar ecological community….

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New Hats Added to Sea Store
We have added two new hats to our online Sea Store. Both styles feature an embroidered Reef Check California program logo and an adjustable Velcro strap.

Click on the links below to order yours today!

Blue & White:
All Blue:

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Reef Check Malaysia and SSI Announce Collaboration to Promote Coral Reef Awareness
By Reef Check Malaysia

Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) and Scuba Schools International (SSI) have announced a collaboration to raise awareness of coral reef conservation issues among student divers.

A five point Action Plan has been established to provide a framework for the collaboration. The focus of the Plan is to help instructors and dive schools to efficiently deliver specific information on good conservation habits to student divers. Dive instructors will be provided with easy-to-use tools designed to encourage reef-sensitive behavior.

Julian Hyde, General Manager of RCM said: “Divers are natural ambassadors for coral reefs. However, dive training currently focuses on technical skills and meeting performance requirements. Our goal is to improve the content of conservation-related materials at the initial training stage, to ensure that divers start off with the right attitude to reef conservation. We are hoping that this new approach will introduce a missing element: respect for the marine environment.”

Given that the materials will be used at the initial training stage, the SSI approach to training is ideal. According to Nick Khoo, SSI Director of Operations – Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei: “SSI encourages instructors to be creative and use additional materials to deliver appropriate messages. So this new collaboration fits with the existing training philosophy, increasing the chances of success.”

But it doesn’t end there. According to Hyde: “There are lots of certified divers out there who didn’t receive much information about reefs and conservation issues when they completed their training, so many are unaware of the impact – both positive and negative – that they can have. These new materials will therefore have the dual purpose of promoting better habits among certified divers, too.”

The Plan also provides for new initiatives in the future, such as RCM and SSI working to encourage divers to move beyond just entry level “conservation-related specialties”. Nick Khoo says: “SSI has an Ocean Ranger specialty course; we are hoping that once their interest is aroused, we can encourage divers to move on to the more detailed Reef Check EcoDiver course, to learn how to participate in reef monitoring and really make a difference.”

And according to Hyde, it doesn’t have to end with diving. “Why not encourage people to apply the same conservation and sustainability lessons to the rest of their lives? All of us can do more to reduce our personal impacts, whether it means leaving Nemo in peace while diving, or reducing water and electricity consumption in the home. Every little bit counts.”

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Renaissance of Reef Check French Polynesia
Historically, Reef Check has been a major program in the French Overseas Territories with French Polynesia being a major focus. Some of our best and most active Team Scientists, Trainers and Instructors have been based in these far-flung locations such as Reunion, a small island near Madagascar in the Western Indian Ocean, and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean. Recently Dr. Jean Pascal Quod has pushed to reinvigorate the programs throughout French-speaking countries and territories.

In late May, an initial Training of Trainers workshop was held in Moorea hosted by the new Reef Check French Polynesia Coordinator, an NGO called “Te Mana o Te Moana,” in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and CRIOBE. The primary RC Instructor was Harold Cambert, who is also from Reunion and has developed French language materials. The trainees were from the Moorea-Maiao municipality, Te Mana and CRIOBE, the local French marine lab. The newly trained Reef Checkers will be carrying out surveys of Moorea to start and then the plan is to expand their existing prize-winning student education programs to include high school students with a focus on Reef Check.

We would like to thank all the sponsors and supporters of the program and especially Dr. Cécile Gaspar, Présidente of Te Mana o Te Moana, Research and Conservation Coordinator, Matthieu Petit, the local government, IFRECOR, Ministry of Environment, Harold Cambert, Dr. JP Quod, Air Tahiti Nui and the InterContinental Moorea Resort and spa.

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Reef Check Dominican Republic Announces its Environmental Marine Gastronomic Certification
By Reef Check Dominican Republic

In May, Reef Check Dominican Republic presented the details of “Aqua Check,” its innovative Environmental Marine Gastronomic Certification program. It was created this year so that businesses associated with the selling of fish and shellfish could employ sustainable and environmentally responsible practices and actions, and at the same time comply with existing national regulations like seasonal bans on capture of marine species.

“Aqua Check” encourages sustainability in business and the use or selling of prime marine products. The program will provide education and training for employees of involved businesses. It will also monitor and maintain environmental practices through both regular audits by capable verifiers and surprise inspections by undercover clients/buyers, all of whom will have been trained by Reef Check DR.

Rubén Torres, president of the Reef Check Foundation Dominican Republic is excited about “Aqua Check” because it will spawn greater levels of knowledge and respect for marine species as they go through different stages of reproduction, as well as help expedite the compliance and enforcement of national and international regulations.

For further information regarding “Aqua Check,” please write to or call 809-227-4409.

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Reef Check Egypt Completes 19th Survey of Northern Red Sea
By the Reef Check EcoDiver Participants; Photo: Sandra Bracun

From February to April 2015, the Red Sea Environmental Center in Dahab, Egypt welcomed and trained more than 10 volunteers to carry out the nineteenth global survey of coral reefs in the northern Red Sea. German, Austrian, Spanish, Dutch and Swiss volunteers joined this project in order to get involved in the protection of the breathtaking underwater world. In collaboration with the Sinai Divers Backpackers and under the scientific supervision of Nina Milton, the multinational team collected data at six dive sites in the Dahab area at different depths (5 and 10 meters).

The Dahab Reef Monitoring Project began with a few presentations and lessons on Reef Check indicators. Additional indicators and impacts specific to the South Sinai region and the northern Red Sea were included. Twice a day, our team carried out underwater identification exercises to become familiar with the relevant fishes, invertebrates, and substrate types and to learn to recognize signs of coral disease, predation and breakages. After some buoyancy training and calibration dives, we were prepared to conduct the surveys. It was a great experience to observe and recognize so many things underwater that we normally wouldn’t even notice. We were very lucky on our dives; we saw turtles, nudibranchs, napoleons, giant morays, barracudas, various rays, and much more. However, the most amazing experience occurred during a survey at the Blue Hole when we saw a baby whale shark swimming peacefully along the reef!

All in all, the results show that most fish indicators, except for butterflyfish and surgeonfish, are absent or in low numbers. Few invertebrates were recorded, except for long spined sea urchins and giant clams. However, most of the giant clams measured were small in size. Few bleached corals were observed, but at some sites, damage to coral was frequent. It was very interesting to compare dive sites with low to high levels of anthropogenic impacts. At one of the favorite dive spots of our team, Abu Helal, the hard coral cover exceeded 50%, which is relatively high in comparison to the rest of the sites in this area. The absence of infrastructure, restaurants, or hotels in proximity to this site could be one of the reasons for the healthy condition of the reef. In contrast, the heavily dived site of Moray Garden, which only has 22% hard coral cover, suffers from a significant amount of coral damage (breakage and abrasion). Before carrying out the surveys, we tried to predict the situation we would find underwater by observations on land. It was surprising to discover that our expectations didn't always match reality. For this reason, we realized how important it is to keep conducting Reef Check surveys!

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Join Us October 1 to Honor Our Heroes of the Reef
Please join the Reef Check Foundation on Thursday, October 1st to celebrate the reefs and oceans! Reef Check's 2015 Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans Gala will be on the beach at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica. The evening will feature fun music, unique auction items, delicious food, and an opportunity to meet our amazing honorees and some of the thousands of volunteer Reef Check EcoDivers who monitor Californian and tropical reefs as part of the Reef Check Foundation's citizen scientist programs.

We will recognize the contributions of our “Heroes of the Reef” each having demonstrated an exemplary commitment to ocean conservation. This year, we honor Russ and Charlotte Lesser, ocean advocates and long-time supporters of Reef Check. Russ, the President of Body Glove and a long-standing member of Reef Check’s Board of Directors, and his wife of 50 years, Charlotte, are an extraordinary couple devoted to their family, friends, community – and marine conservation. Click here to read more about the Lessers’ remarkable achievements.

We also will be recognizing 10 Reef Check California divers who have been surveying rocky reefs with us for 10 years.

For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit

Sponsorship opportunities are available. We are also looking for donated items for our auction. Please contact or 1-310-305-4622 for information on how to participate.

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