The Transect Line – October 2010 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Reef Check Launches Business Membership Program Technical Question of the Month- RC California
Reef Check California Update Video Documents Koh Tao, Thailand Bleaching
Fourth Annual Sonoma County Survey Extravaganza! ?Volunteer? Documentary to Feature RC Fiji Experience
Reef Check Featured in Sea Voices Book New Report on La Caleta MPA in the Dominican Republic
Reef Check Launches Business Membership Program

We are pleased to announce our new Business Membership Program! Show your support for a great cause by making a donation and we’ll give your business valuable online exposure through our website. It’s a great way to show that your business cares about the environment, and membership starts from as little as $250 per year to have your company listed in our Business Member Directory. For $500 or more, sea-related businesses will be able to feature and promote their products on our online Sea Bazaar and potentially increase their online presence and sales. We welcome companies to partner with us in this symbiotic relationship. Follow  for more information.

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Reef Check California Update

By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

Over the last two months, our staff and volunteers have been busy surveying the reefs off our coast. With the tireless efforts of our volunteers we have completed the survey season in two of our regions. In central California we had our last surveys on October 23rd.  We had perfect conditions for this survey, with beautiful golden brown sea nettles, colonial salps and ocean sunfish in the upper water column and many juvenile rockfish on the reef.  Over the last few years this last survey of the year in this region has been our Halloween underwater costume competition and again we had great diving bees, pumpkins and skeletons. It was the perfect end to a successful survey season!

Further north we have completed our first field season of collaborative work of establishing the baseline data for the new marine protected areas (MPAs) along the North-Central study coast of California. For the last two months our North-Central coordinator, Narineh, has been diving with PISCO (The Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans) to complete abalone and urchin surveys at over 30 sites inside and outside of the new MPAs. In addition to this collaborative work, we had our annual Sonoma campout and extravaganza this month and finished most of our monitoring sites in this region. See Megan’s article and a recent newspaper article featuring this fun and productive annual Reef Check California event. 

In Southern California, we have finished 18 sites but our survey season is still in full swing since we can work later into the fall in this region. We have many surveys left to do and if you are interested in getting out to survey, check our Southern California forum

In September, for the 2010 California and the World Oceans conference in San Francisco, I organized a symposium called “Citizen Science Informing Marine Management in California” and presented a talk called “Reef Check California:  A citizen-science program to inform marine management and conservation.” Together with the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program, LIMPETS, Beach Watch and MPA Watch, we presented our approach to working with state resource managers to improve conservation and sustainable marine resource use in California. This conference was a huge success and besides having a great response to our presentation, we gleaned a lot of interesting information about the future of California’s ocean management from this event.

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Fourth Annual Sonoma County Survey Extravaganza!

By Reef Check California's North-Central Coast Regional Manager Megan Wehrenberg

The weekend of October 9-10 marked the 4th annual Sonoma County campout and survey extravaganza! During that time, volunteers from all over northern and central California flocked to the Sonoma coast to survey our five sites in this region and to just enjoy each others’ company. This is a favorite time of year for many, taking advantage of the good fall weather and diving conditions on one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the state. Twenty–four Reef Checkers joined our team camping at the Stillwater Cove Ranch, our base camp for the weekend. We rented the ‘Dairy Barn’ at the ranch with a large kitchen and cozy wood burning stove where we visited with one another and shared meals in the evenings. Some people came from as far north as Arcata and as far south as Monterey, though many were locals from Marin and Sonoma counties.

While we have been surveying these five sites since 2007, they are particularly important this year. A network of 21 marine protected areas (MPAs) was established in this region and went into effect on May 1st of this year. These areas range from no take ‘reserves’ to ‘conservation areas’ with varied commercial and recreational rules and regulations. Reef Check is part of a collaborative group of organizations and institutions tasked by the state with the initial baseline monitoring of these new areas and all of our existing sites in the region will be included in this research. Reef Check’s involvement in this important collaboration not only helps to ensure that the state has the data necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of these new protected areas but also gives citizens an avenue to support and play active roles in the science-based management of our coastal waters and rocky reefs.

On Saturday, conditions were remarkably calm and sunny and we split into three groups to survey Stornetta Ranch, Stillwater Cove, and Ft. Ross. Each group had a very successful day, completing each survey. Many had stories of great dives through the forests of bull kelp with kelp greenlings and cabazons seeming to be around every corner. Our divers who aren't used to diving in central California are always amazed by the number of abalone (reds, flats, and pintos) covering every rock. They are right out in the open instead of tucked deeply into cracks, as we find them when diving around the Monterey peninsula.

We were met Sunday morning with a 10ft swell that came up overnight, earlier than predicted, making our two remaining sites undivable. Our volunteers, however, did not skip a beat and a group of them quickly made a plan to meet the following Saturday with North-Central Coast MLPA Baseline Coordinator, Narineh Nazarian, to survey our remaining sites. Many of us instead spent Sunday enjoying the sunny coast, hiking through the redwood trails adjacent to the ranch. Since then Reef Checkers have completed our Gerstle Cove site and have a plan to complete our last one of the season, Ocean Cove, in the coming weeks. Great job Reef Checkers! I’m already looking forward to next year’s extravaganza!

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Reef Check Featured in Sea Voices Book

September saw the release of a beautiful 192-page hardcover book by Duffy Healey and Elizabeth Laul Healey, “Sea Voices”. The book focuses on the current issues that face our world’s oceans and is written in a “Question & Answer” format, so much of what is said is unpredictable, and often times, even shocking. The Healey’s interviewed well over 100 people from over 25 countries to keep a global perspective. Reef Check’s Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson is featured in the book, along with interviews with other ocean experts (including Reef Check Honorary Co-Chair Dr. Sylvia Earle), musicians (Jack Johnson, Jason Mraz), athletes (Kelly Slater, Tony Hawk), environmentally conscious celebrities (Daryl Hannah, Pierce Brosnan), and even Royalty from Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, among many others.

“Sea Voices” is educational, inspirational, and captivating. It is also a call to arms. Although the book points out a lot of the things that are wrong with the ocean, it speaks about a lot of the great things about the ocean too, and why we need to protect it. The good news is that the ocean is very resilient, and if given a chance, it can recover.  

The “Sea Voices” book is available online at and will be available soon through the Reef Check Sea Store.

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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 California — How and why are urchin size frequency surveys performed?

Sea urchins are an important herbivore on rocky reefs and as such, three urchin species are Reef Check California indicators. RC divers count the numbers of red urchin (Strongylocentrotus franciscanus), purple urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus), and crowned urchin (Centrostephanus coronatus) on our invertebrate transect surveys. In addition to counting them on transects, once a year RC divers perform urchin size frequency surveys for two of these species, the red and purple urchins. These surveys are performed anywhere at a site and, unlike our other surveys, they are not associated with a transect. Because we have already estimated the urchin densities by counting them on transects, we do not need to measure the area over which we encounter the urchins we size.  It is more important to get a large enough number of individuals to be able to estimate their size distribution. Divers aim to get a representative sample of the urchins at the site. Divers size the first 100 urchins of each species they find using calipers to measure, to the nearest centimeter, the test (or body) diameter of all urchins they encounter. To minimize bias, divers can gently clear small plots of urchins if it is needed to ensure that they accurately count and measure all urchins in the immediate vicinity. 

Red urchins are commercially fished in California. The size distribution of urchins is an important parameter for their stock assessment and sustainable management. The size structure of a population can be affected by the level of exploitation and therefore can be an important indicator of the status of local populations. By counting the number of individuals in our invertebrate surveys, as well as calculating their size distribution throughout the site, we can use our data to describe the population density as well as size structure of these important detritivores in the rocky reef community. By identifying the size classes in a population we can understand if a population is comprised mostly of juveniles, adults or both. This information can be used to inform the management of the urchin fishery and help identify areas where fishing has to be regulated to maintain a sustainable use of this resource.

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Video Documents Koh Tao, Thailand Bleaching

By Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer Nathan Cook

This year has been a challenging year for the reefs of Koh Tao, Thailand. Marine ecosystems have been under a great deal of stress as a result of the 2009-2010 El Niño causing widespread bleaching across Koh Tao’s reefs.

It started in 2009 when our monsoon season, which usually produces lots of wind and rain and a general lowering of sea water temperatures, didn’t really eventuate. Temperatures stayed 1-2° Celsius higher than normal and 3-4° Celsius higher than the preceding year.

2010 was a special year- the hottest in recorded history on earth. Extreme temperatures, low tides and intense solar radiation for abnormally extended periods of time combined to place enormous pressure on this small island. These conditions led to extensive coral bleaching, with all reefs around the island affected. During the early part of summer, through April and May, there was little respite and large amounts of coral bleached. It was almost as if a blanket of snow had settled on the reef.

In the height of our summer months, with intense sunlight continuing, sea temperatures peaked at around 32° Celsius, almost a full 2 degrees above average. Even surface temperatures of up to 34° were recorded around Koh Tao.

To document the bleaching event, we put together a documentary to highlight the changes as part of an entry for a local film festival, but also to provide an educational tool for local centres like our Crystal Dive Resort to use when teaching about coral bleaching and its effects both globally and locally. Click here to watch the video.

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?Volunteer? Documentary to Feature RC Fiji Experience

Submitted by Mariah Wilson

Fiji is renowned for being the “soft coral capital of the world,” but even its reefs are showing signs of the disastrous effects of environmental change. Reef Check has been operating in Fiji since 1997. The Fiji Diving and Volunteer Conservation (FDVC) project is conducting baseline Reef Check surveys throughout the island nation, gathering scientific data about the reefs in an effort to monitor the health of these delicate ecosystems. The data gathered in this project is used by Fiji and Reef Check to study the impacts of everything from global warming to overfishing on our planet’s oceans and reefs.

In September of 2009 I went to Fiji to volunteer for two weeks with FDVC, and to film my experience for a feature length documentary I’m making about environmental volunteering. FDVC volunteers live with a family in a very remote Fijian village, seemingly a relic of another time. In between rounds of the mild narcotic drink kava with my host family, I was trained by Johnny Singh – resident marine biologist at the Vanua Levu Cousteau Resort – on how to perform Reef Check underwater diving surveys to assess the health and biodiversity of Fiji’s coral reefs.

The way Reef Check works is that first the volunteer(s) and instructor have to lay a 100 meter transect line, which is essentially a waterproof measuring tape along which you’ll do your fish count, invertebrate count (sea cucumbers, lobster, etc) and substrate ID (coral, rock, sand, silt, etc). After laying the transect, volunteers swim along the transect 3 times… one time for recording the fish species they see, and how many of each, then the same for invertebrates. The third time, volunteers record substrate types every half meter by dropping a small weight and writing what type it lands on. 

Despite being a fairly seasoned scuba diver, I quickly discovered that surveying these exotic waters wasn’t nearly as easy at it seemed. The fish identification was by far the most complex. Identifying the myriad of fish species of Fiji on paper is one thing, but when they’re darting and moving quickly underwater, it gets a lot tougher to identify them. And especially when starting out, doing a Reef Check survey requires time to do it properly. Johnny and I had to change tanks before we did the substrate count because the fish and invertebrate ID took us so long. To be fair, part of that was because I was juggling both the survey and the steep learning curve of mastering underwater video shooting… it’s not as easy as I thought to dive with a buoyant pocket of air encasing a camera! But with Johnny’s patience and excellent instruction, I eventually got the hang of doing Reef Check and filming the process, too. Affixing two 2 kg weights to the camera housing itself did the trick, in terms of regaining neutral buoyancy underwater. 

Now that my time in Fiji is over, I’m working on putting together my film ‘Volunteer’ in an attempt to educate others who might be interested in taking their own cross-continental conservation journey. If this story has inspired you, please consider eco-volunteering in your itinerary for your next vacation. It’s an incredibly fulfilling experience! For more about ‘Volunteer’, please check out our Kickstarter page:

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New Report on La Caleta MPA in the Dominican Republic

La Caleta National Marine Park is located 22 kilometers from Santo Domingo, next to the town of Boca Chica and just three kilometers from the Las Americas International Airport. The waters of this park are rich in coral reefs and reef fishes provide food and income for those who live in La Caleta and its vicinity.

For several years Reef Check Dominican Republic Foundation (RCDR) has been working at La Caleta National Marine Park hand in hand with the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources of the Dominican Republic under the auspices of the Environment and Natural Resources General Law (64-00). RCDR is taking action to turn this park into a role model of sustainable protected area management in order to replicate it in other similar areas of the Dominican Republic.

Last month, RCDR released a report on La Caleta, summarizing the accomplishments so far. “Community Sustainable Management of La Caleta National Marine Park” is available in English and Spanish.

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