The Transect Line – November/December 2012 Newsletter Archive
Thank You for Another Successful Year! Mega Malibu, Mega Fun for the Fifth Year!
Reef Check Concludes First Comprehensive Survey of Brunei Reefs Training of Trainers Scheduled for February in Thailand
Reef Check California Completes Seventh Year of Monitoring RC Thailand Takes Part in “Go Eco Phuket – Dive Against Debris” Event

Happy Holidays from Reef Check & Thank You for Another Successful Year!
By Reef Check's Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Thanks to your generous support, Reef Check volunteers in California and around the world have been working hard to save our rocky and coral reefs.

This year we worked with the small Asian country of Brunei to set up its first system of Marine Protected Areas that placed an unprecedented 90% of its coral reefs into no-take conservation areas. Although tiny, Brunei is biologically important because it is near the world center of marine biodiversity – more species of corals and fish than anywhere. Because of unique local conditions (high turbidity) that help block sunlight, Brunei’s reefs have been protected from the ravages of coral bleaching that have damaged reefs in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia. They form a genetic bank of species that will help to maintain coral reefs forever. You can read more about our work in Brunei in the story below.

Here in California, we trained over 200 new volunteer divers and our teams tracked the health of rocky reef ecosystems at over 80 sites following the completion of the new Marine Protected Area Network in our state. With your help, we will soon release a report on our first six years of monitoring California rocky reefs. The initial results are promising, with some good signs of progress in protecting the underwater world we love.

From one of the richest countries in the world in Brunei, to the poorest, Haiti, Reef Check tries to bring together governments, academics, businesses and other environmental groups to try to find solutions to marine and coastal conflicts. In Haiti, we are working with the government and USAID to set up the first Marine Protected Area in the country and to promote the potential of the reefs of Haiti to help save lives through fish and shellfish production. Thanks to your help, our first team of Haitian students has completed both their scuba and Reef Check EcoDiver certifications. Remember this is the group of university students who did not know how to swim one year ago. Some have already participated in a survey expedition along the south coast.

It is amazing – but Haitian kids don’t know how to swim let alone snorkel. We are trying to change this with our kids programs.

So many generous supporters like you came together this year with a shared sense of purpose and a common goal: to save our reefs and oceans. We could not be more grateful for your support or more proud of what we have accomplished together.

With your help, in 2012, our scientific data was used locally in dozens of countries to help manage coral reefs internationally and here in the US to help make important decisions regarding how to better manage both coral reefs in e.g. Hawaii and Florida and to track the status of newly declared Marine Protected Areas in California. We continue to assist the government of Mexico to establish sustainable fisheries across three regions of the country, but especially with a focus on our neighbor, Baja California. Our education efforts helped create “ocean awareness” for hundreds of children from tropical countries by showing them first hand – with a mask and snorkel – the beauty and importance of reefs.

We could not have done this important work without you!

Sadly, the threats facing our reefs and oceans continue. Please consider making a special year-end gift to help support our work both here in California and internationally. Your gift today, either by making a donation or becoming a Premium member of the Reef Check Foundation, will help support our efforts in conservation, education, and research. It doesn't cost a lot to make a real difference:

  • $25 can provide training materials for a Reef Check EcoDiver in Haiti.
  • $50 purchases survey materials for an entire reef monitoring team in the Caribbean.
  • $100 can cover the boat cost for 1 diver’s reef survey in California.
  • $250 covers the cost of a kids training in Southeast Asia.

This year we learned that even the Great Barrier Reef in Australia has lost 20% of its living coral due to avoidable human impacts. And yet we are having success in some areas. In the Philippines where dynamite fishing is rampant, we have helped to stop it in the central islands around Cebu. Now more than ever, we need your help. In the coming year, additional funding is needed to ensure we continue these successes. Remember, for every dollar donated, it is multiplied many times by thousands of volunteers in California and around the world.


Dr. Gregor Hodgson
Reef Check Executive Director

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Reef Check Concludes First Comprehensive Survey of Brunei Reefs

By Reef Check Executive Director, Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Reef Check recently completed work on the baseline Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring in Brunei, a small nation located on the north coast of the island of Borneo, in Southeast Asia. Located at the edge of the Coral Triangle near the world center of marine biodiversity, the reefs exhibit a very high biodiversity. Reef Check was requested by the Brunei Department of Fisheries (DOF) to carry out a survey of its coral reefs, most of which were placed inside a new network of MPAs that was implemented January 1, 2012. Each of the reefs located within the MPAs is a no-take fishing area. The baseline survey will allow the DOF to track changes and hopefully improvements in the health of the country’s coral reefs over time.

A team of six scientists from Reef Check International (RC), Reef Check Malaysia and the National University of Malaysia surveyed 36 reef sites in April 2012 using the Reef Check protocol augmented with video, still photographs and roving swims to document fish families. An additional 7 sites were previously surveyed in October and November 2011. These 44 sites covered all major reefs in Brunei waters and included sites from the three MPA areas, as well as Champion Oil Field which is currently not included in the MPA network.

A second and more detailed round of surveys was carried out in October 2012 that added a great deal of new information about the condition of Brunei’s coral reefs and species living there. For this set of surveys more information was obtained on the distribution of coral genera and non-coral invertebrates that are not part of a standard Reef Check survey. In addition, fish surveys were carried out to determine the distribution and abundance of target species of interest to fishermen and biomass of populations of food fish was calculated.

The October surveys confirmed the April findings that Brunei’s reefs are all structurally similar with a very low vertical profile and low relief due to geology and present day influences of freshwater, turbidity, sedimentation and wave action which all negatively affect the ability of corals to reproduce and grow in Brunei. Large (5 – 10 m diameter) “bommies” comprised of individual Porites coral colonies are found sporadically at most sites and provide habitat for resident reef fish including high value commercial fish such as Sweetlips (Haemulidae) and Grouper (Serranidae).

Reef Check indicator fish populations are quite low and most food fish are immature, indicating over fishing of these reefs. Enforcement of the no-take zones will be an important goal that will allow the reef fish populations to repopulate naturally.

The coral cover ranged from a low of 9% at Otter Shoal to a high of 76% at Abana Rocks. The average coral cover of about 40% is consistent with reefs in the region. Nutrient Indicator Algae is low at most reefs but reached as high as 15% at some reefs, indicating a lack of herbivory. For no apparent reason, there are almost no sea urchins on Brunei reefs, exacerbating the lack of herbivorous fish. Coral consuming Crown-of-Thorns Sea Stars (Acanthaster) and the gastropod Drupella are present but not abundant. Two invertebrate indicators for food collection – spiny lobster and giant clams – were recorded in low numbers and most were small to medium size. The low numbers of small size classes of giant clams recorded indicates that there is little successful reproduction and recruitment occurring on Brunei reefs. Therefore it may be necessary to introduce aquacultured clams to build up the populations to the size where they can begin to reproduce naturally.

Little trash was observed on Brunei reefs, however, ghost nets were found on almost all. At the Champion Oil Field sites, quite a lot of construction debris was found on most reefs. The underwater visibility during the surveys ranged from 6 to 20 m, and the water colour was typically green or yellow indicating a high density of phytoplankton.

Prior to the baseline survey, very little was known about many of the reefs of Brunei and there had never been a comprehensive survey done. Annual re-surveys of the reefs are recommended so changes due to the implementation of the MPAs can be assessed.

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Reef Check California Completes Seventh Year of Monitoring

By Jan Freiwald, Reef Check California Director

Reef Check California has just finished its seventh year of surveying the rocky reefs along the California coast. 2012 has been very successful and the program has surveyed more sites than in any previous year. We conducted 15 volunteer trainings to get new divers involved and ready to survey California’s reefs. We also held 11 recertifications during which long-term volunteers recalibrated their skills and were tested before data collection began this year. We surveyed a total of 73 sites and completed 85 surveys at these sites. This enabled us to continue to monitor marine protected areas (MPAs) in the regions of the state where the baseline monitoring had been completed in previous years and allowed us to track the long-term development of the reserves. In southern California, RCCA just completed its second year of MPA baseline monitoring of the MPAs that were established in January 2012.

To grow our monitoring program, we formed several new partnerships with universities and research institutions. For the first time this year, we trained scientific divers from the California State University Monterey Bay, University of California Santa Cruz, and from NASA’s research facility in Mountain View, CA. We are excited to have formed these additional partnerships; they join our growing network of institutional partners throughout the state. We look forward to working with all our partner groups in the coming year to train more of their divers to conduct surveys, to collaborate on research projects and to provide our data to the many student projects that are using it.

In addition to the surveys our citizen scientists conducted, we worked on several collaborations in 2012 to put the data our dedicated volunteers collect year after year to good work. In the central coast region, where MPAs are coming up for their first five-year review after being established in 2007, we worked with the MPA Monitoring Enterprise and other researchers that conducted baseline monitoring of these MPAs. Through this collaboration, we are establishing a regional baseline of the status of reefs in central California as well as investigating early initial changes in the populations and communities inside the MPAs. This work is almost completed and the results of this first region wide review of MPAs established under the MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act) initiative will be presented at a public symposium in Monterey from February 27 to March 1st 2013. As a continuation of this work in the central coast, RCCA also began participating in a working group convened at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) to develop indicators of kelp forest ecosystem conditions or health for the region. This group of kelp forest ecologists is developing an expert judgment process that will be used to assess the conditions of kelp forests inside and outside of MPAs in order to be better able to inform adaptive management of these ecosystems in the future.

In southern California, RCCA is bringing its seven years of data to the table at the development of a new region wide effort, the 2013 Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program (Bight ‘13). This project, organized by the Southern California Coastal Research Project (SCCWRP) is a continuation of previous efforts to bring together researchers and agencies from the region to conduct an integrated assessment of the southern California Bight every five years. RCCA is participating in a working group focusing on MPAs and rocky reefs that will investigate the relative effects of pollution and fishing pressure on the conditions or health of rocky reefs in southern California. Just as in the central coast, this project will make good use of the data RCCA volunteers and staff have worked so hard to collect over the years.

Both of these collaborations are examples of how long-term datasets such as RCCA’s are being used more and more to inform our understanding of the ecosystems along our coast and to investigate the effects of human impacts to inform their future management. We would like to thank all of our volunteers and our supporters and funders for their continued work with us. We could not do this important work without your help and support! We look forward to another successful year in 2013 and wish everyone a restful holiday season and a happy and peaceful new year.

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Mega Malibu, Mega Fun for the Fifth Year!
By Colleen Wisniewski, Reef Check California's Southern California Manager

Saturday, October 20th, 2012 marked our fifth fall survey cruise to the beautiful coast of Malibu, California. Nicknamed “Mega Malibu”, this is a unique trip where we fill the boat with dedicated and hearty Reef Check California divers, head up the coast to the farthest site and do survey dive after survey dive as we work our way back to the harbor. Our goal this year was to start at Leo Carrillo, move on to Lechuza, proceed to Paradise Point/Little Dume and then end the day at our fourth and final site, Big Rock. Typically we just do the first three sites but this year we were trying to take advantage of our huge team so we could complete this additional survey.

Mega Malibu always draws a crowd, despite the fact that it's a very long day and the diving conditions typically aren't stellar. Usually we have some fairly surgy conditions along this stretch of coastline and I've rarely encountered amazing visibility at any of the locations. Despite all this, the sites are beautiful and each is very different from the next. This year we had a team of 16 divers on the boat, many of them having joined us on previous Mega Malibu expeditions, including Michelle Hoalton, who had this to say after all was said and done:

“We call our Malibu survey “Mega Malibu” for a reason as Mega Malibu = Mega Fun! There is such a wonderful diversity of marine life and underwater structure to explore that I always make attending this survey a priority. I have been fortunate to participate in this survey with Reef Check four out of the last five years. This is not a destination that is easily accessible for diving without a special boat charter. It’s an exceptional treat for us divers and it has been a pleasure to monitor these sites for the last several years.”

This year we ran the trip a little differently than in the past – we boarded the Magician Dive Boat in San Pedro harbor the night before. We departed just after midnight and traveled through the night, awaking at our first site just as the day broke under very cloudy skies. Unfortunately, our lofty goal of surveying four Malibu sites was thwarted due to very poor underwater visibility at our first destination. We ended up aborting the dive at Leo Carrillo, but lucky for us, conditions improved as the day moved on, with better conditions at Lechuza and then the best conditions of the day at Paradise Point/Little Dume, my favorite of all the four sites. After I was done with my data collection at that site, I looked around and observed a plethora of kelp, fish and invertebrates, including sea stars, sea cucumbers, giant keyhole limpets, urchins, lobsters and even several abalone nestled in the shelf-like cracks along the bottom. And I believe everyone (except me!) spotted either a horn shark or a swell shark here. It's easy to get engrossed in following the cracks along the bottom, searching for all the critters at this site and then suddenly realize that you are farther from the boat than you thought – it happens to me every time at this site! Our last dive was at Big Rock, which was formerly a shore dive for our team, but after years of stumbling over large rocks in the surf zone, I think it will now officially be a boat dive. I look forward to exploring this interesting site more when the visibility is a bit better, but wow, what amazing rock formations underwater!

Our team has just recently completed all of our 2012 surveys and it was a very productive year for us in the field. While we are taking a brief break from our transects and slates, I think back fondly at all the smiling and enthusiastic divers who joined us for the challenging, but mega fun, Mega Malibu 2012. It's a huge effort and we couldn't possibly do it without all of them!

More photos of our divers working diligently on this trip can be found here:

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Training of Trainers Scheduled for February in Thailand

Thailand’s Eco Koh Tao, in conjunction with its conservation partner Crystal Dive Resort, is proud to offer its 2nd Reef Check Training of Trainers on Koh Tao, February 15 – 19th, 2013.

Following completion of the 5-day course participants will be certified to teach the Reef Check EcoDiver course to budding conservationists and concerned divers & snorkelers the world over.

Reef Check Instructor Training
February 15 – 19th, 2013
Price: 16,500 thb
Prerequisites: You must be a certified Reef Check EcoDiver and have participated in at least 2 surveys.

Not a Reef Check EcoDiver yet?

Reef Check EcoDiver Course & Instructor Training Preparation
February 11 – 14th, 2013
Price 8,900 thb

Special Offer for Koh Tao EMP (Ecological Monitoring Program) Instructors
If you have completed your Koh Tao EMP Instructor Training but have not completed your Reef Check certification, you will already be well versed in relevant monitoring protocols. For those who fall into this category we are offering a special price of 20,000 thb for the Reef Check EcoDiver Course & Instructor Training Preparation and the Reef Check Instructor Training. Because of your prerequisites, it is not required to participate in the full 4 days of the preparatory Reef Check EcoDiver course, but you are welcome to do so.

February 13 – 19th, 2013
Price: 20,000 thb

For further information please email or visit

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Reef Check Thailand Takes Part in “Go Eco Phuket – Dive Against Debris” Event

By Reef Check Thailand Coordinator, Dr. Suchana Apple Chavanich

On September 30, 2012, Reef Check Thailand was proud to be part of the biggest diving event in Phuket – “Go Eco Phuket – Dive Against Debris”. The event was organized by PADI Project Aware with the support from several Thai government offices, PADI dive shops, PADI professionals, PADI divers as well as universities and volunteers. More than 500 divers and 200 volunteers participated in this event. In addition, 14 vessels were generously donated and sponsored by the dive shops for use during the event. Reef Check Thailand generously sponsored one of the Scuba Cat Diving boats. Go-Eco Phuket’s goals were to safely remove debris from the reefs and beaches of Phuket and other surrounding islands, and to build a network of eco divers to raise awareness and find solutions to local problems. At the end of the underwater cleanup, about 15 tons of debris was removed.

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