The Transect Line – November 2011 Newsletter Archive
Coral Rehabilitation in Malaysia Bahia Magdalena Recertification
How do RC California Data Compare to Data from Academic Monitoring Programs? DR Fishermen Get Involved in Reef Conservation with Caribbean SEA
Reef Check California Update Reef Check Italia's Indonesian Adventure

Coral Rehabilitation in Malaysia
By Aaron Tam, Reef Check Malaysia

In November 2010, Reef Check Malaysia and YTL hotels embarked upon a coral transplantation method that has never been attempted before in Malaysia with the help of UKM scientist, Kee Alfian. The method involves collecting coral fragments and “planting” them in a nursery to allow them to stabilise and grow before final transplant. The key to our approach is to actively maintain the nurseries while the coral transplants are stabilising, keeping them free of silt and algae. In this way, mortality will be reduced, resulting in a more effective rehabilitation.

The impetus behind the project was to help rehabilitate the damaged reefs around Pangkor Island. For years, increasing tourist activity and ignorance on the part of tour operators have contributed significantly to the decline of coral reefs around Pangkor Island. The main attraction for tourists wanting to explore the marine environment around Pangkor is Coral Island, locally known as “Pulau Giam”. Ironically, there is hardly any coral left there. It is disappointing for the visitors and even more so for tour operators that depend on the Island for their livelihoods. Today, they have realised the importance of preserving their marine environment, albeit the hard way.

After almost a year, the nurseries are finally ready to be transported to their permanent site close to Pulau Giam. The local snorkelling guide community has taken up the initiative of setting up a Safe Snorkelling Zone (SSZ) to protect the nursery site. This is where the real work actually begins. A campaign will be launched in order to educate visitors and the local community. Because the SSZ is not actually a legally protected area, the campaign will also try to gain the cooperation of all the local stakeholders in order to efficiently preserve the site.

However, education can only bring us so far, whether or not this project will prove to be successful in the long run, will largely depend on the will of the local community.

This year, Reef Check Malaysia embarked upon another coral transplant project in Pulau Tioman, this time with support from the Department of Marine Parks Malaysia. The method is based on the project in Pulau Pangkor but this time around, on a much larger scale. Fuelled by the ongoing success of our current progress, Reef Check Malaysia will be hoping to embark on more coral rehabilitations in 2012. For more information, please visit

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How do RC California Data Compare to Data from Academic Monitoring Programs?

By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

Reef Check California has been training volunteers and collecting data on the communities of rocky reefs for almost six years now. We have developed a strong and dedicated group of divers, many of whom collect data year after year. Because of this commitment and our rigorous training and standardized protocol, RCCA has become an important and cost-effective part of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring in the state of California. As part of this monitoring and evaluation effort, RCCA is collaborating with academic and state monitoring programs towards the goal of establishing baselines of the ecosystem at the time MPAs are implemented. One question that is always raised when citizen scientists are involved in data collection is: how do the data they collect compare to the data collected by academic monitoring programs? To address this question, leading academic monitoring programs in California and RCCA got together and analyzed datasets to compare how well the data agree when they monitor the same habitats. The results of this analysis was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.

To compare the data collected by academic monitoring programs (in this case, the Cooperative Research and Assessment of Nearshore Ecosystems (CRANE) and the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) programs) and RCCA, we selected 13 sites in southern California that were sampled at approximately the same time in 2008 by RCCA and the PISCO/CRANE team. We chose benthic invertebrates and fish species and physical aspects of the rocky reef for comparison because they are sampled by both programs.

We found high agreement in most measures of invertebrate and particularly fish community description. The greatest similarities were for fish, somewhat lesser agreement for invertebrate community measures and least agreement in the habitat variables. Despite the fact that these sites overlapped there had not been any prior coordination between the programs so the actual locations within a reef area were not the same. Therefore, the differences in the habitat variables are most likely based on different approaches to the selection of sampling locations. RCCA targets rocky reefs and kelp forest communities and this is reflected in the high counts of high relief and reef in its data. These results suggest that RCCA data collected in the same habitat is comparable to data of other, academic or agency, subtidal monitoring programs. This study suggests that if sampling of a limited number of key species is desired, for example to design a cost-effective and geographically comprehensive sampling of indicator species, RCCA’s approach is effective and reliable in collecting these data and inform managers of changes in the marine environment. Further, these data can be combined with more comprehensive datasets (i.e. longer species lists) to supplement each other and to be integrated into California’s future adaptive marine management.

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

We are almost at the end of another successful survey season in California. This month we will complete our sixth year of surveys and will have expanded our monitoring network to over 80 sites statewide. In October, we completed our sites in Central California where we did 22 surveys and monitored every established site and added a site in San Luis Obispo. This remarkable task was only possible due to our committed team of volunteers in this region, including the long-time volunteers that have taken leadership and surveyed all of our shore-based sites in Monterey without the need for RCCA staff to be present at the surveys. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our volunteer leaders for this amazing feat! With their initiative we will be able to grow the program in the years to come.

This year also marks a remarkable success in volunteer retention for RCCA. For the first time, we have recertified more previously trained citizen scientists than trained new ones this year. This demonstrates how our body of volunteers is maturing and how more and more divers stay involved over the years. For a program such as RCCA that requires intensive training, it is of critical importance to retain skilled volunteers. Long-term involvement will not only lead to a more cohesive team that will get more surveys done but will also increase the quality of the data we collect (see article on recent paper about RCCA data). I would like to thank all of our volunteers for the commitment and hard work. Just in the last few weeks we have joined forces with two more academic diving programs in the central California region. The University of California Santa Cruz and California State University Monterey Bay will start to train their scientific divers in RCCA survey methods and we would like to welcome these programs into our network of partners and collaborators.

In southern California, RCCA’s survey season is still in full swing. Here we typically survey into the month of November and this year is no exception. We still have teams of volunteers and staff surveying the Channel Islands and mainland sites in this region. Through the MPA baseline monitoring program we have added additional sites in the San Diego region and around Santa Barbara and are planning on completing all of this year’s surveys before Thanksgiving. With the season soon coming to a close we also have to report that our long-time Volunteer Coordinator, Laurel Fink, is leaving Reef Check this month. Laurel will stay involved in the subtidal monitoring in southern California as she is moving on to a new position with one of our collaborators in the MPA baseline monitoring in southern California. We would like to thank Laurel for everything she has done and for helping to grow and solidify the program in southern California. We wish her all the best for her new position and look forward to collaborating with her on the monitoring of southern California’s MPAs in the future.

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Bahia Magdalena Recertification
By Megan Wehrenberg, Reef Check California North-Central Coast Manager

The first week of October marked Reef Check’s second year of training members of the commercial fishing cooperative of Isla Magdalena in Baja California Sur, Mexico. In 2010, with the help of the Mexican non-profit Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI), the cooperative set up a no-take marine protected area (MPA) within their fishing territory in response to population declines of their fished species. Since then a selected group of cooperative members are working with Reef Check to learn to scientifically monitor sites inside and outside of the MPA to measure how well it’s working.

Reef Check’s Mexico program manager Mary Luna and I traveled along with a few COBI staff to the remote town on Isla Magdalena, a peaceful community in a wild setting, free from the bustle of roads and electricity. The purpose of our trip was to spend a week conducting a scuba refresher and a recertification for the group to recalibrate their survey skills after almost a year hiatus from surveying. When we arrived in Bahia Magdalena we were met by a warm, sunny day, calm water, and a group of fishermen anxious to get in the water. A few of the guys regularly spend time underwater collecting invertebrates using hookah, however, most of them only dive during this annual training and monitoring so they were excited to get wet and refresh their skills. Even though the guys have very few dives under their belts they are all competent on and underwater, so we flew through the scuba refresher without a problem.

We spent the next three days in the classroom and in the water practicing species identification and our four types of transects: fish, invertebrate, seaweed, and substrate characterization. It is always a treat to practice in the waters just outside Bahia Magdalena. They are full of life, and a fascinating mix of organisms ranging from those found in the temperate waters of California to others from the tropical waters of mainland Mexico. We swam amongst green sea turtles, large groupers, several species of lobster, abalone, angelfishes, sheephead, and garibaldis. Our trainees did extremely well with all aspects of the training and readied themselves for the two weeks of surveys that would ensue once we left. These data will prove to be very important as future decisions are made about the MPA size and longevity.

It is always a pleasure to spend time in the quiet and friendly town on Isla Magdalena. We thoroughly enjoyed the diving and even managed to sneak in a couple hikes across the island among the coyotes and rattlesnakes to watch the sun set over the Pacific. We thank the Cooperative of Magdalena Bay and COBI for their support during this training.

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DR Fishermen Get Involved in Reef Conservation with Caribbean SEA
By Mary Beth Sutton, Caribbean SEA

EGE Haina, the largest electricity generating company in the Dominican Republic, recently inaugurated the Los Cocos Wind Park in the remote southwest area of country between the communities of Enriquillo and Juancho. Much of this region is semi-arid and many of the people live in extreme poverty. Haina had the foresight to recognize that they were about to alter these communities, but could not employ many people. For that reason, Haina’s leaders decided to invest in sustainable development in these small communities, helping them to help themselves through investments in education, health and job creation.

One investment was to establish a fishermen’s cooperative in the village of Juancho. The prevailing sea currents around Hispaniola come from Santo Domingo, the capital of the D.R. and hit the peninsula where Juancho is located. The amount of plastic garbage which is carried by these currents is enormous and in Juancho, it gets enmeshed in the roots of the magnificent mangroves which line the bay. Haina employed the fishermen during a critical part of the lobster breeding season to deep clean the mangroves. They removed hundreds of bags of plastic bottles. Caribbean SEA gave the fishermen marine and coastal ecology lessons while in the mangrove during their lunch breaks! The fishermen did not realize that corals were alive and how much better they could protect them by not anchoring to or standing on the brain coral or leaving their nets on the massive elkhorn coral. They were really amazed and ready to protect their reefs! Now these fishermen are establishing ecotours so they can show others the treasures of their home and teach others to protect the water, the mangroves and the coral reefs.

Because establishing the fishermen’s cooperative should lead to healthier coral reef habitat, we also wanted to establish a baseline of reef health through Reef Check procedures and volunteer SCUBA divers. Lucy Kreiling, of Columbia SCUBA in South Carolina, had told me several times that her divers like to go above and beyond recreational diving to really do something to help the reefs they love to dive. She put together a crew who paid their way to the Dominican Republic as well as for Reef Check certification from Angel Luis Franco, formerly part of Reef Check D.R. The fishermen took us in their small fishing boats out to the reefs they designated as the best reefs. The fishermen are on a steep learning curve and interacting with a group of divers who care about their reefs and their fish really made an impression on them. However, when we got out to the reef to begin the transects, Tropical Storm Emily started whipping up big swells. Only half of us could complete even the first transect, while the rest of us were feeding the fish as we lost our breakfast! Thankfully, the fishermen introduced us to the amazing healing power of coconut water and we all felt better quickly. The storm arrived the next day and ruined our plans for the survey, but we did engage the divers in a scientific eco tour where they analyzed water samples and observed bird and marine life in the very sheltered mangrove bay of Juancho. They also were able to observe the mountains of marine debris washing in on the waves, wave after wave bringing plastic bottles into the mangrove. The divers from Columbia SCUBA didn’t quite get the dive trip they had hoped for and Juancho didn’t get the Reef Check surveys completed, but these groups taught each other so much about culture, coral reefs, and about good people helping good people to protect our coral reefs. As a result, two of the fishermen are eager to learn to SCUBA dive and be certified as Reef Check EcoDivers so they can keep track of reef health from within their community.

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Reef Check Italia's Indonesian Adventure
By Gianfranco Rossi, Reef Check Italia Onlus

Pulau Bangka is an island in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Not more than a thousand years ago Bangka was lying over a thousand meters deep in the sea. This young island is located in the center of marine biodiversity of the planet, the Coral Triangle, where there is a maximum number of reef building coral species. Situated between the well-known Bunaken Marine Park and the renowned Lembeh, Bangka showcases the characteristics of both locations, with dive sites marked by large coral formations alternating with stretches of black sand typically populated by the highly sought after critters of the nearby Strait of Lembeh.

As in many other parts of Indonesia, the pressure exerted by humans here is very high, particularly because of the many fisheries which still include the use of techniques such as dynamite and cyanide, characterized by highly destructive impacts. The exploitation of the territories by large mining companies, in particular from Australia, Brazil and China, in search of mineral resources, has already caused in various parts of Sulawesi serious damage to the local tropical forests. This exploitation has caused widespread flooding and landslides with serious consequences for the fragile coral reef and mangrove ecosystems.

So it is Pulau Bangka where four Italian guys have decided to realize one of their dreams of running an ambitious project with the aim of accommodating researchers and students studying in the field. In September, this project was successfully tested during an expedition organized by Reef Check Italia Onlus and the Polytechnic University of Marche. The expedition provided a group of students with the opportunity to study firsthand the marine biodiversity of coral reefs along with issues such as bleaching, coral disease and ocean acidification. The Reef Check protocol allowed the students to learn the main techniques of coral reef monitoring with daily dives to assess substrate cover and to take a visual census of fishes and invertebrates.

These surveys are the first and only assessments available to date concerning the health of coral reefs of Bangka, a “baseline” that will be particularly useful if in the future the activities undertaken in this area will continue. It is hoped that survey teams can continue to provide information useful for the sustainable management of this area. Many thanks to the staff of the Coral Eye Research Center for their impeccable organization during this trip.

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