The Transect Line – October 2012 Newsletter Archive
Reef Check Spotlight: A New Fish on Catalina Island OceansWatch Continues its Marine Conservation Work in the Solomon Islands with an Expanded RC Program
Reef Check Malaysia Hosts Regional Coral Reef Management Workshop First Jordanian EcoDiver Team Certified
Biosphere Expeditions Shows Remarkable Coral Reef Recovery in the Maldives    

Reef Check Spotlight: A New Fish on Catalina Island
By Reef Check California Director, Dr. Jan Freiwald

In October, a fish species never-before recorded in California waters was observed off Catalina Island. Ken Kurtis, a diver from the Los Angeles area, was shooting some underwater photos in the shallow waters off Catalina when he noticed a fish that did not quite belong. What he saw was a small blue damselfish (same family as the garibaldi – Pomacentridae), with a patch of greenish-yellow extending from its head onto the forward part of its dorsal fin and a translucent white tail. He took video of the fish and reported it to other divers at one of Reef Check’s partner organizations, the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific. The individual was quickly identified as a juvenile whitetail damselfish (Stegastes leucorus) by several experts.

To confirm Ken’s first observation of the species in California, Dr. Bill Bushing went out diving to capture more video. He located the individual and corroborated the identity of the species. Dr. Giacomo Bernardi, a Molecular Ecologist at UC Santa Cruz who has collected genetic samples of this and its two closely related sister species from their native range, and has studied their population distributions extensively, states that the three species form the whitetail damselfish species complex that partition between islands. They are interesting because they demonstrate a pattern of speciation (i.e. evolution of new species) first discovered by Darwin in the Galapagos, but rarely found in fishes. Stegastes beebei (named after William Beebe, the author of World's End, his narrative of an epic trip to Galapagos) is found in the Galapagos Islands and adjacent areas, Stegastes baldwini is restricted to Clipperton Island, a small island due south of Baja California, and then this species Stegastes leucorus, that is found at the Revillagigedo Islands, mainland Mexico, Guadalupe Island, and now Catalina!

According to Bernardi, the closest location that this individual could have come from would be Guadalupe Island off the coast of Baja California – a 300 mile journey through the open ocean. Reef fish, such as this damselfish, go through a larval phase after they hatch, during which the tiny organisms swim in the open ocean before returning to settle on a near-shore reef. The whitetail damselfish typically spends about 20 days as pelagic larvae in the open ocean before it needs to find a reef to grow up on. Once it settles onto a reef, a whitetail damselfish may grow to lengths of about 14 centimeters and live up to 19 years. Dr. Bernardi may try to collect a (non-lethal) genetic sample of this individual. He would then compare this to his database of genetic samples from the fish’s native range to positively identify where the individual came from. In any case, this fish had to have travelled a great distance, and it is unlikely that only one individual would make this long and unusual journey. Although this is the first known recording of a whitetail damselfish in California waters, we may be seeing more of them around Catalina in the future.

This find demonstrates how the presence of well-trained divers who are familiar with the local species can lead to new discoveries, and how they help keep an eye on our local marine environments and the ways they continuously change. This has been a great find Ken!

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Reef Check Malaysia Hosts Regional Coral Reef Management Workshop

By Reef Check Malaysia

On September 12-14, 2012, Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) hosted its first regional Coral Reef Management Workshop at the Vistana Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

The 3-day Workshop included selected Reef Check representatives, scientists and coral reef managers from around the region, all of whom are doing work related to coral reef management and conservation. Participants included representatives from Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

The workshop was meant to be a practical working meeting for a small group of about 30 participants selected based on what they had to share relating to coral reef management.

The goals of the workshop were to:
– Improve networking between Reef Check groups in South East Asia and others engaged in coral reef science and management;
– Learn from each other, focusing on approaches that have worked – and also those that have not;
– Improve ways in which managers work with scientists to use the scientific data available.

The workshop was structured into four themes:
– Monitoring and data sharing within South East Asia;
– Major impacts on coral reefs (e.g. overfishing, destructive fishing, bleaching, diver damage) and ways in which these issues have been addressed;
– Success and failure stories of different coral reef management approaches;
– Fundraising strategies at the local, national and regional levels.

The workshop was successful in many ways. It allowed Reef Check Coordinators and supporters from academia, government and the private sector to interact and learn about fundraising, discuss technical issues, and exchange information on lessons learned. Exchanges were made regarding blast fishing to kids training programs. The group endorsed the idea of pursuing regional level strategies for conservation particularly through simultaneous activities in multiple countries and data sharing. Participants felt that regular regional meetings should be held to help coordination and cooperation.

Thank you for everyone who participated and helped to make the workshop a success!

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Biosphere Expeditions Shows Remarkable Coral Reef Recovery in the Maldives
By Biosphere Expeditions & Reef Check Maldives Coordinator, Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt

Scientists who have been surveying reefs around the Maldives in the Indian Ocean say the level of recovery in recent years has left some reefs with more live coral cover than before a catastrophic bleaching event in 1998.

Last month, Biosphere Expeditions, an international conservation non-profit organization and long-time Reef Check partner, sent scientists from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and the Maldives Marine Research Centre to the islands to examine previously bleached coral.

Coral bleaching – where corals lose their color and are left white or ‘bleached’ – can lead to weakened and dead corals. Bleaching is thought to be the result of increased water temperature, leading to coral ‘stress’.

Biosphere Expeditions set up a research project on the islands, enlisting the expertise of Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, MCS Biodiversity Officer, as the project’s lead scientist. This year the focus was on undertaking repeat Reef Check surveys at areas first surveyed before and during the bleaching in 1998 that killed most shallow water corals completely.

The project found that unlike the results recently published from The Great Barrier Reef, which found that coral cover there had been reduced by over 50% in the last 27 years, the more isolated, offshore and clean waters of the Maldives appear to offer better conditions for coral recovery.

The Great Barrier Reef report highlighted three main causes of coral death: outbreaks of coral-eating starfish, mass bleaching of corals, and major storms. However, the Maldives has been different in terms of the number and severity of impacts. The Reef Check surveys this September, carried out by volunteers from all over the world, show that many reefs have recovered to populations in excess of 60% live coral, and that at one site the coral cover is greater now than in 1997.

Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt said, “Although our surveys aren’t as comprehensive in scale and number as those from the Great Barrier Reef, we have witnessed a promising recovery in the reefs we’ve visited. The number of chronic impacts to the reefs of the Maldives are fewer than those to the Great Barrier Reef, and that has probably resulted in this more positive response to the initial bleaching event die-off in the sites we visited in Ari Atoll.”

However, Dr. Solandt warns conservationists and local managers in the Maldives that they cannot be complacent.

“There is overfishing of large predatory fish and further ocean warming events on the horizon, and some of the reefs nearer to Male’ appear not to have recovered as extensively as those further afield.”

Dr. Matthias Hammer, Founder and Executive Director of Biosphere Expeditions, says that whatever the state of the Maldives reefs are now, it’s the outlook that’s important. “Even though the Maldives reefs are generally in waters of excellent purity from man-made pollutants and are seldom hit by coral-damaging storms or attacks by coral eating starfish, the consistently high sea temperatures [averaging 29 degrees Celsius] around the Maldives could lead to bleaching once again if temperatures reach over 30 degrees for any length of time. Without wanting to spread doom and gloom, the prospects of sea-level rise and ocean acidification have the power to remove the Maldives from the map.”

Further surveys will be carried out in 2013. Volunteer divers, who do not need any special skills to help with this research, can find out more via

As part of this year’s expedition, MCS completed the training of 12 new Maldivian Reef Check surveyors, including two who were awarded the highly sought-after scholarship to be aboard the MV Carpe Diem on the trip. The collaboration consisted of four key partners: MCS provided the scientific training; Biosphere Expeditions, who organized the expedition and recruited international volunteers to join; Maldives Marine Research Centre (MRC), who provided the in-country trainees; and Soneva, a conservation-aware local resort who funded the two scholarship awards. At the conclusion of the trip, two individuals from MRC were certified as Reef Check trainers, thus ensuring that the legacy of Reef Check remains strong in the country.

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OceansWatch Continues its Marine Conservation Work in the Solomon Islands with an Expanded RC Program

By Glenn Edney, Reef Check Solomon Islands

OceansWatch, a long-time Reef Check partner and non-profit organization committed to marine conservation and sustainable livelihoods for island coastal communities, has just completed its third expedition to the remote Reef Islands, in the Temotu region of the Solomon Islands. OceansWatch is working with several local communities in the Reef Islands, helping them establish a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) within their customary marine areas.

The Reef Islanders have recognised that the establishment of MPAs, in conjunction with traditional management strategies and other fishing restrictions, are the best way for them to move forward in addressing the declining health of their marine ecosystems. OceansWatch was invited by these communities to assist them in setting up the MPAs, and to develop appropriate monitoring programmes to help them evaluate the effectiveness of their conservation initiatives.

This year, the OceansWatch marine science team was able to build on last year’s work by establishing six Reef Check monitoring sites within the MPAs, as well as another four sites outside the MPAs that will provide reliable scientific feedback on the effectiveness of protection measures. The team managed to complete three full replicates at each site, providing the first comprehensive information on reef health from this area. In addition, the team surveyed potential sites for the establishment of further protected areas, as part of the strategy towards developing a network approach to marine protection.

The communities of the Reef Islands rely almost exclusively on their marine environment for survival and as the foundation of their local economy, and are thus very motivated in their efforts to re-establish the sustainable use of marine resources. OceansWatch has developed the ‘Reef Guardian’ programme, incorporating aspects of the Reef Check protocol as well as qualitative assessment tools, to help such local communities monitor progress for themselves. The Reef Guardian programme combines aspects of traditional ecological knowledge with modern scientific knowledge to produce a unique monitoring programme appropriate to each community. The OceansWatch marine science team will continue to complement this local assessment with ongoing Reef Check surveys on a yearly basis. For more information about the work of OceansWatch visit

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First Jordanian EcoDiver Team Certified

Dr. Mohammed Kotb, a coordinator for Reef Check Egypt, recently finished an EcoDiver training program in Aqaba, Jordan in which three members of the Aqaba Marine Park Rangers were certified as Reef Check EcoDivers. The Rangers had previously participated in surveys in the Red Sea with Dr. Kotb, but have now officially become the first EcoDiver team in Jordan and will be able to conduct surveys on their own. Congratulations to the new team!

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