The Transect Line – November/December 2016 Newsletter Archive
2016 Year in Review Reef Check Hong Kong Celebrates 20 Years
First Reef Check Training Conducted on Príncipe Island 2017 Biosphere Expeditions Trip Dates Announced
Reef Check Carriacou Joins the Team Reef Check Italia EcoDivers Discover Coral Day 2016

2016 Year in Review
With your help, 2016 marked Reef Check’s 20th year of education, research and conservation. It has been wonderful to celebrate this anniversary with Reef Check teams from Hong Kong to the Dominican Republic.

Sadly, the loss of the northern third of the Great Barrier Reef this year, and perhaps 15% of reefs globally due to the 3rd Global Bleaching Event reminded us that our fight to save coral reefs is facing its most serious challenge yet. There is still time. But if this dramatic loss of the world’s most iconic reef is not a wake-up call, then I don’t know what is.

If we don’t reduce the blanket of greenhouse gases that trap heat on earth, many of our favorite tropical coral reefs will be killed off during the next two El Niños over the next 15 years. While we are pleased to have helped push a coral reef agenda at the COP21 climate change negotiations, let’s not wait for governments to solve this. Let’s all work hard to reduce our carbon footprints and save our reefs.

We would like to thank all of our supporters for contributing to Reef Check successes in 2016.

Tropical Program Highlights

♦ Reef Check is the only standardized method used to track the health of coral reefs at a global scale. Our teams tracked the Global Bleaching Event and damage due to hurricanes based on over 500 reef surveys.

♦ Certified 529 new EcoDivers and 32 new EcoDiver Trainers.

♦ Distributed emergency relief supplies to residents of the devastated southwest peninsula of Haiti in the wake of Hurricane Matthew.

♦ Co-organized a special Townhall Meeting on the 3rd Global Coral Reef Bleaching Event at the 13th International Coral Reef Symposium, and co-chaired the scientific sessions on bleaching.

♦ EcoExpeditions to Oman, the Maldives, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

♦ Training Workshops held around the world including the launch of Reef Check in São Tomé and Príncipe (in top 20 smallest countries) and the re-launch of Reef Check in Grenada, Taiwan, China and Iran.

♦ Co-organized a training program for new ocean conservation leaders in China at Beijing University.

California Program Successes
♦ Launched red abalone monitoring program with abalone divers in northern California.

♦ Designed intertidal monitoring program with Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo Native Americans.

♦ Launched the Student Ocean Scientist (SOS) STEM program for 500 Los Angeles middle school students with AltaSea and Los Angeles Maritime Institute tall ships.

♦ Trained and certified over 250 volunteer citizen scientists for California.

♦ Expanded Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring network joined state-funded long-term MPA monitoring program.

♦ Trained fishing collaborative in monitoring its MPAs in La Bocana, Baja California, Mexico.

♦ Completed MPA baseline monitoring in northern California.

Reef Check Goals for 2017
♦ Launch new climate-change monitoring program by equipping monitoring sites in California and globally with sensors to monitor physical and chemical indicators, especially temperature.

♦ Use our fish data to help manage low-data fish stocks.

♦ Expand our community, school and student outreach programs.

♦ Hold regional meetings to better collaborate in each region.

♦ Grow MPA monitoring network in northern California.

♦ Integrate kelp forest monitoring across the California-Mexico border.

Now more than ever we all need to do what we can to continue Reef Check’s global efforts to monitor, conserve, and educate. Your generous contributions make all that we do possible. Please consider ending 2016 on a positive, proactive note and make your tax-deductible contribution at: or by mailing in your donation to: Reef Check Foundation, 13723 Fiji Way Ste B2, Marina del Rey, CA 90292.

First Reef Check Training Conducted on Príncipe Island
By Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director Rita Bento and Reef Check EcoDiver An Bollen

Reef Check just conducted its first-ever training on the beautiful island of Príncipe, on the western equatorial coast of Africa. São Tomé and Príncipe is a small country, in the Gulf of Guinea, composed of two main islands: São Tomé, where the capital is located, and Príncipe, where the Reef Check training was conducted. Príncipe Island is a hidden treasure, with dense green virgin forests broken by dark imposing mountains and surrounded by intense blue waters. It is impossible to feel like anything more than a mere visitor to these purely natural 142 square kilometers, and as good guests we have to respect mother nature’s local rules.

With this in mind and with the aim to both conserve local biodiversity and support local livelihoods, the Fundação Príncipe Trust (FPT) was created over a year ago. This non-profit organization works on both marine and terrestrial conservation, agro-ecology, and sustainable forestry practices, as well as education and small-scale community development projects. In addition, the FPT also works in close collaboration with the Biosphere Management Unit to protect both the natural and cultural heritage of the island. The entire island of Príncipe was nominated as a UNESCO Biosphere in 2012. As for marine conservation, the Trust focuses on sea turtle conservation, working closely with community fishermen on promoting sustainable artisanal fishing practices, while also mapping the marine and coastal habitats and documenting their biodiversity. Raising awareness through environmental education campaigns is another aspect of their work, crucial to long-term changes in mentalities and bad practices.

As the marine world is not yet very well known, the Trust decided to use Reef Check surveys to obtain insight into the biodiversity of Príncipe’s reefs, assess human impacts, and monitor both metrics across seasons, years and sites. This will then enable us to better target marine conservation actions.

From November 28 to December 3 eight people from FPT, including six marine guards, received Reef Check training in Portuguese by our long term United Arab Emirates trainer from Portugal, Rita Bento. For the first time these local staff, fishermen and freedivers were taught how to identify and distinguish the different organisms that they are accustomed to routinely seeing. Although already very familiar with all the different fish species, being able to look carefully at and identify each substrate and invertebrate, and to understand their roles in the marine environment, opened the trainees’ eyes to a different magical world. It was gratifying to see their eyes shining when they could describe each organism. Their passion for the protection of the marine environment grew even stronger, and their commitment to the project will guarantee the continuous collection of important local and regional data.

The underwater world of Príncipe Island is still mostly pristine. The coast around the island is characterized by rocky patchy reefs and the hard corals Montastraea and Tubastrea, surrounded by mats of zoanthids and many coralline algae. Uniquely characteristic to some of the sites are the vast beds of coralline red algae called rhodoliths, providing habitat for numerous associated species, such as different algae, invertebrates and burrowing fish, as well as providing important nursery grounds for diverse species. Different schools of fish joined in our dives, and parrotfish and grouper were a constant presence, although the latter were mostly smaller than 30 cm. There are some indirect signs of overfishing of demersal fish, as large fish species are either rare or very timid due to lots of spearfishing on several reefs. Although almost no bleaching or diseases were visible during the training, some direct human impacts could be seen, such as anchor damage and abandoned fish gear. Other concerns are the periodic harvest of sea cucumbers by São Tomé fishermen for international trade and the historical use of dynamite fishing, which has left its mark on several sites.

The reefs of Príncipe Island are home for most of the important food fish and shellfish for all local families, with local fish consumption per capita being one of the highest in the world. On such a small island, it is mandatory that these reefs are kept pristine, and that local fishermen are informed about best sustainable artisanal fishing practices. Reef Check together with FPT is working on achieving that. Seja lovadu Príncipe! (bless you Príncipe).

Reef Check Carriacou Joins the Team
Matt WalshBy Nikole Ordway-Heath, Reef Check Florida Coordinator & EcoDiver Course Director

Reef Check Florida EcoDiver Course Director Nikole Ordway-Heath traveled down to Carriacou, Grenada in the Caribbean for a Reef Check EcoDiver & Instructor training in November, at the request of the dive professionals at Deefer Diving and Caribbean Reef Buddy. Both groups offer dive professional certification packages and wanted to add Reef Check training to their menu, so that these divers can help survey the reefs in Carriacou and hopefully other areas around the Caribbean, as well. They already have a great program in place for lionfish removal in the area but wanted to add coral reef surveys. Carriacou currently has an established MPA in place that even contains some coral nursery projects.

The staff at Deefer Diving does a lot of outreach to the community on Carriacou, teaching them the importance of their fishing practices and of the reef to their island. A lot of tourist divers also come in on their private sailing vessels, so the staff likes to educate them on best practices of anchoring and where the MPA is located around the island.

The training went very smoothly; the four students did a great job identifying the indicator species of fish and invertebrates and the impacts to the coral reef, and they excelled at substrate recording. There is no doubt they will continue their Reef Check surveys and hopefully be able to work with scientists and government officials to do more for the reefs around their island. Great work, Reef Check Carriacou!

Reef Check Hong Kong Celebrates 20 Years
To mark the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong Reef Check, the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD) announced the results of Hong Kong Reef Check 2016 and presented specially designed commemorative trophies to participating teams and scientists at a December 3 ceremony, in recognition of their efforts and contributions to the success of the program.

The first Reef Check survey was carried out by the Hong Kong Reef Check Foundation in 1997. The AFCD began collaborating with the Foundation in conducting the survey in 2000.

The number of participating volunteer divers and teams has continued to increase over the years. This year, 68 dive teams comprising more than 750 volunteer divers from different sectors of the community took part in the Reef Check surveys.

Hong Kong Reef Check 2016, a four-month exercise that started in June, covered marine areas in the eastern part of Hong Kong extending from Tung Ping Chau in the north to the Ninepin Group in the south, including a number of sites of ecological importance. Among the 33 survey sites, nine were within the Hoi Ha Wan, Yan Chau Tong and Tung Ping Chau marine parks.

The results this year showed that local corals are generally in a healthy and stable condition and exhibit a rich diversity of fauna species. Coral coverage ranged from 9.3% to 82.8% among the survey sites. Nineteen sites recorded high coral coverage (above 50%). This is above the Indo-Pacific average! Among all sites, Sharp Island North recorded the highest coral coverage of 82.8%.

A notable decrease in coral coverage was observed at Moon Island, Hoi Ha Wan, while minor coral bleaching was noted at a few sites, but the impact was localized. “In view of the situation of the coral community at Moon Island, the department has commissioned coral experts of the University of Hong Kong to study the cause of the incident and to conduct a research study on restoration of corals,” reported an AFCD spokesman.

Reef Check 2016 also assessed the condition of corals at eight sites using the Coral Watch tool. By measuring the color intensity of the coral using a specially designed Coral Health Monitoring Chart, the health condition of corals can then be determined. The average health index of the sites was 4.11 (ranging from 3.65 to 4.67), which was similar to last year’s figure (4.23). The average health index is well above the general average value (3), indicating the corals are in a healthy and stable condition.

Most of the survey sites were found to have a high species diversity. All of the 20 assigned indicator species were recorded in the survey sites, with wrasses, groupers, butterfly fish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers and cowries commonly found.

For more information on Hong Kong Reef Check, please visit:

2017 Biosphere Expeditions Trip Dates Announced
2017 dates for Reef Check/Biosphere Expeditions EcoExpeditions are now available. This year, a second week has been added to the Maldives trip exclusively for divers certified as Reef Check EcoDivers for the Indo-Pacific. Sign up today!

Reef Check/Biosphere Expeditions EcoExpedition: Maldives
July 15-21 and July 22-29, 2017

This marine volunteering expedition with SCUBA diving will take you to the beautiful 26 coral atolls that make up the Republic of Maldives. Based on a very luxurious and modern liveaboard yacht, you will help marine biologists study and protect the Maldives’ spectacular coral reefs and resident whale shark population. All this because the Maldives government identified a need for further research and monitoring work as far back as 1997. Biosphere Expeditions is addressing this need with your help and will train you as a Reef Check EcoDiver. With this qualification you will then gather important reef and whale shark data. The July 15-21 group is open to all divers and Reef Check training is included as part of the expedition. The July 22-29 group is only open to certified Reef Check EcoDivers for the Indo-Pacific.

For more information about the Maldives EcoExpedition and how to sign up, please visit:

Reef Check/Biosphere Expeditions EcoExpedition: Malaysia
August 15-22, 2017

This SCUBA diving expedition will take you to Tioman, the Malaysian island named by Time Magazine as one of the world’s most beautiful. Working in a small group of fellow divers and volunteers in Malaysia, and based on a very comfortable and modern liveaboard yacht, you will assist the local researcher to study and protect the local Marine Park’s beautiful but fragile coral reefs. Diving two to four times a day, the expedition includes training as a Reef Check EcoDiver.

For more information about the Malaysia EcoExpedition and how to sign up, please visit:

Reef Check/Biosphere Expeditions EcoExpedition: Musandam, Oman
September 24-30, 2017

This SCUBA diving citizen science expedition will take you to the United Arab Emirates and from there to the remote and mountainous Musandam peninsula of Oman. Based on a comfortable and modern liveboard yacht, you will study the diverse coral reefs fringing the areas where the spectacular mountains plunge into the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. These reefs boast a rich mixture of beautiful corals and a multitude of fish and other animals. This pioneering study to map this unique underwater environment has already led to the creation of two protected areas. But more data on the biological status of the reefs and of population levels of key indicator species are needed for educational purposes and to be able to put forward further ideas for more and larger marine protection areas. Data will also be used to make informed management and conservation decisions within the area. The expedition includes training as a Reef Check EcoDiver.

For more information about the Oman EcoExpedition and how to sign up, please visit:

For more information on these and all the EcoExpeditions Reef Check offers, please visit

Reef Check Italia EcoDivers Discover Coral Day 2016
Story and photos by Alessandra Polo, Reef Check EcoDiver

Indonesia’s Bangka Island, north of Sulawesi, sits along the Indo-Pacific’s “Coral Triangle,” which is second only to the Amazon rainforest in biodiversity. This is what makes me, part of a Reef Check Italia EcoExpedition, and thousands of other divers come here in the first place. Many people who inhabit these rather pristine coral reef islands, though, don’t appreciate what they have. Here is where the action starts, and Coral Day begins! For this big event, organized two to three times a year, owners of local resorts, environmental NGOs, and schoolchildren join together for one main goal: to raise awareness of the need to preserve such a unique ecosystem. Popular practices such as blast fishing not only decimate the fish population indiscriminately but also destroy the coral structure that lies beneath, which is home to thousands of different species that build up the trophic chain. It is thanks to the united resistance of such local organizations that the illegal mining of iron ores on Bangka Island by a Chinese company was recently suspended.

The impact of the event was overwhelming! Children sang and danced in front of a huge coral-shaped heart saying “no coral – no life”. Water was served in bamboo cups, reminding people of the need to stop disposable plastic waste. Finding myself suddenly in the middle of it, all by chance, without knowing what I was going to experience, made me feel thrilled and at the same time blessed. Bring the noise, Bangka!

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