The Transect Line – September/October 2013 Newsletter Archive
Reef Check Honors Heroes of Marine Conservation at Annual Gala Reef Check France’s Green Campaign Takes the Pulse of South Indian Ocean Reefs
Reef Check California Expands its Baja Program True and False Black Corals of the Mediterranean Sea
Wear the World, Change the World with Serengetee Update From Reef Check Australia

Reef Check Honors Heroes of Marine Conservation at Annual Gala
Russ Lesser accepts Bob Meistrell's Reef Stewardship Award

Two of California’s marine conservation heroes were honored at Reef Check’s “Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans” Gala, September 19th at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica. Bob Meistrell was honored posthumously with the Reef Stewardship Award for his lifetime commitment to the sea and in celebration of his legacy and the 60th anniversary of his co-founding of Body Glove and California’s surf culture with his twin brother, Bill.

Russ Lesser, Reef Check Board Member and President of Body Glove, accepted the award after performing, accompanied by Sarah Ramsey-Duke, a special tribute song to Bob.

Dirk Burcham, a Reef Check California program diver since 2007, received the Citizen Scientist of the Year Award. For the past four years, Dirk has led all southern California Reef

Citizen Scientist of the Year Dirk Burcham with Reef Check Board Member Michael Schechter and Dr. Jan Freiwald, Reef Check California Program Director

Checkers in completing the most survey transects. Dirk also was a member of the Scientific Advisory Team that assisted in the development of the California survey protocol.

Thank you to all who attended, bid, donated, and volunteered- your efforts helped make the gala a big success! Special thanks to sponsors AES, Bluewater Photo, Body Glove, Gibson Dunn, Edison International, Houlihan Lokey, Miner Family Winery, Nova Ortho-Med, Oakley, VeeV and ViralBooth.

Click here for more photos from the gala.

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Reef Check California Expands its Baja Program
By Colleen Wisniewski, Reef Check California's SoCal Regional Manager

This past summer was a busy one as I spent 17 days in Baja California, Mexico working with two fishing cooperatives along the Pacific coast during their annual Reef Check California (RCCA) training and recertification. I was joined by Dan Abbott, a long-time RCCA volunteer diver and instructor. We worked with our long-time Mexican non-profit partner organization, Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) as well as with two fishing cooperatives, Buzos Y Pescadores De La Baja California Isla Natividad and Sociedad Cooperativa de Produccion Pesquera Pescadores Ensenada in El Rosario. It was a long but successful couple of weeks and both Dan and I had a great time working with all of the divers.

This was my fourth year working with the team at Isla Natividad. We spent about a week working with this large group, which gave us plenty of time to do our classroom and field training. We'd previously been working with a core group of about eight divers but this year was a bit different. This summer, we promoted the very experienced team of five returning divers to mentors and these divers took their roles quite seriously. They did an excellent job of guiding their protégées both in the classroom and in the field. With the help of our mentors, we were able to add 16 divers – both younger fishermen and a group of island women – to the team. These newer divers had completed their open water scuba certification with one of the COBI scuba instructors in the last year and they all did a spectacular job during the RCCA training. It was awesome to see each mentor walking around with their team of two or three divers, explaining the dive plan in exact detail or keeping an eye on their buddies underwater. And the new Reef Checkers were very keen to learn and could be found studying their species identification cards during breaks from the class and quizzing one another. And for the first time on the island, we had a representative from CONAP (Comision Nacional de Areas Naturales Protegidas), who works specifically in the local El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve, join our training and he was very excited to be part of the effort. We were lucky to have stellar diving conditions and warm topside weather to make our training very comfortable as we explored the beautiful underwater world around the island. All in all it was a very successful week!

Immediately following our time at Isla Natividad, we traveled several hours north to work with the divers from Sociedad Cooperativa de Produccion Pesquera Pescadores Ensenada in El Rosario. This is a new group for us but we felt very welcomed as everyone there was looking forward to working with us. When we arrived, we got a tour of their very impressive new processing facility that is currently under construction. During this inaugural training, we taught six very determined divers from the cooperative how to perform invertebrate, seaweed, substrate and fish surveys. Days were long – during a typical day, we'd meet at the office at 6:30am and we would arrive back at the cooperative office at around 4pm after doing two very chilly dives and driving to and from the harbor. We'd typically need to fit in a late lunch before returning to the cooperative office to have evening lecture and fill scuba tanks for the next day. Despite the lengthy days, it was fun to work with a different cooperative and to explore new areas along the Baja coastline. Our last dive site, in particular, was amazing, with the ocean floor jam packed with seaweed and invertebrates and rockfish I've never seen in all my days diving in Southern California. On the last evening, we had a little 'graduation' ceremony at the cooperative office and the divers grilled up some carne asada for us to celebrate our successes. It was so wonderful to meet a brand new team and see them progress from novice divers to citizen scientists in just a week. It was quite rewarding for me and Dan and I know we very much enjoyed working with the team.

Following the training events, COBI led the data collection efforts in both locations with the newly trained citizen scientists. 2013 is the 8th year of data collection at Natividad and the 1st in El Rosario. Training in our third Baja location, Magdalena Bay, takes place in October. I want to send a huge thanks to both fishing cooperatives, COBI, Leo Vasquez and Arturo Hernandez (both from COBI) and Natalie Low (a graduate student at Stanford, doing field work in Baja). And I can't imagine how it would have been possible without Dan Abbott, who took considerable time off his full-time job and from his family to help me in Baja this year. I know we both had a very rewarding trip and I'm already looking forward to next year!

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Wear the World, Change the World with Serengetee
Buy some threads for our cause! 5% of the purchase of every Serengetee fabric associated with Reef Check goes back to saving our world's reefs.

There currently are three Indonesian fabrics earmarked for donations to Reef Check: Flores, Maluku and Semarang.

The idea for Serengetee came while three college friends were traveling the world on Semester at Sea, a floating campus study abroad program. They toured markets in over 15 countries picking out authentic fabrics and meeting amazing people in all corners of the globe.

Upon their return, they set out to create a new kind of clothing brand with a simple mission: to connect people to the globe through fabric while giving back to the communities that inspire their products. Serengetee was launched out of their dorm room in 2012 using every last penny in their pockets.

Since then, Serengetee has come to support 32 causes and has become one of the fastest growing clothing brands in the world.

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Reef Check France’s Green Campaign Takes the Pulse of South Indian Ocean Reefs
Submitted by Reef Check Reunion Coordinator Harold Cambert

With the support of the Quiksilver Foundation, Reef Check France was able to develop an ambitious program in the southwest Indian Ocean called The Green Campaign, which took place over three years from 2010 to 2012. Through this campaign, Quiksilver Foundation demonstrated its commitment to training new regional teams and supporting programs tracking reef health and restoration actions, as well as raising awareness.

Four Southwest Indian Ocean coral hot spots (Reunion, Madagascar, Mayotte and Mauritius) were studied at 30 Reef Check survey stations including 19 newly established monitoring sites. In all, 12,000 m2 of reefs were under surveillance, with more than 50 volunteers participating.

The results show that motivated teams with a project supported by all is a realistic solution for conservation, sustainable use of biodiversity, and is vital for the future of local natural resources. The final stage of the program will be the use and implementation of these results by managers and decision makers in future environmental management plans.

With its regional recognition in the Southwestern Indian Ocean, Reef Check France plans to sustain these cooperation initiatives in the coming years in several ways:

– Strategically, by relaying information from national observation networks to Reef Check France;
– Geographically, by spreading the formula to other ocean regions (e.g. Caribbean, Pacific);
– Specifically, by supporting projects that help transform the local economy and enhance non-interference with marine environments, as well as projects focusing on reef restoration.

Most importantly, the popularity and development of Reef Check in the Southwest Indian Ocean promises to introduce even more volunteers to our beautiful coral reefs.

For further information, check out and the RC France Facebook page. Click here for photos of Reef Check Reunion.

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True and False Black Corals of the Mediterranean Sea
Antipathella subpinnata, true black coral

Submitted by Reef Check Italy's Gianfranco Rossi
Photos by Luca Pucci

In recent years, the development of new diving technologies has made it possible to dive deeper in what is defined as the mesophotic area or “twilight zone”- the deeper half of the photic zone, namely the zone between where solar radiation still penetrates and the point at which it disappears.

The mesophotic zone of the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most interesting areas of research. Due to advances in technical diving which allow divers to stay at great depths for long periods of time, scientists and underwater photographers have made extraordinary discoveries.

Among the most well-known organisms accessible at such depths are the true and the false black corals. Both belong to the subclass Hexacorallia, with the only other common characteristic being the production of a hard layered proteinaceous skeleton of black color.

True black corals, order Antipatharia, are very common in tropical seas. Many scuba divers, who dived in such waters, even at shallow depths, have had the opportunity to observe real forests of this coral.

As for the Mediterranean black coral species, the situation is somewhat different for two main reasons: the lack of knowledge about their distribution and the deep depths at which they grow, usually at over 50 metres. There are just a few well known localities along the Italian coasts where you can find long stretches of black corals. The most well known are documented off the coasts of Calabria, lying between 50 and 100 metres.

Several species of black corals are known, the most common in the Mediterranean is Antipathella subpinnata.

Savalia savaglia, false black coral

Upon observing a colony of black coral, what is most evident is that its appearance contrasts sharply with its name. It is, in fact, white in color, due to the polyps and the material that produces the lining of the skeleton, both of whitish color. Just below the outer layer of the living tissue is a thorny skeleton of black color. It consists of a series of concentric laminar layers, based on a protein substance called antipathin. Counting the polyp’s tentacles, which are never able to retract completely, there are always six and arranged all along the branches.

Very different are the features of what is called false black coral, a Hexacorallian too, but with the number of tentacles being a multiple of six. Its name is Savalia savaglia and it belongs to the family Zoanthidae. The main similarity of S. savaglia with true black coral is only the color of the axial skeleton, in both cases black, while the density is different.

The possibility of confusing this species, though, increases greatly when compared with the yellow variety of the gorgonian Paramuricea clavata. The appearance is very similar, mainly because the lifeform is the same as the gorgonian, of which it’s a parasite. The polyps of S. savaglia attack ramified organisms, overlying them completely, and assuming their form.

A more careful observation, however, highlights that the gorgonian’s polyps are not only smaller, but counting tentacles it is easy to note that their number is always eight and they appear hairy as if they were feathers. S. savaglia's polyps, are instead much bigger and have around thirty tentacles which are not hairy looking. Very big colonies of S. savaglia, with an estimated age of more than 1000 years, have been found in some sites of the Tremiti Islands, from which these images come.

True and false black corals have both been heavily exploited in order to make jewellery. For this reason, they have been included on many lists of protected or endangered species.

S. savaglia is a species included in the CEM protocol of Reef Check Italy. Knowing its distribution- at the present moment, fragmented and uncertain- it’s important to better understand its biology and ecology, of which still very little is known.

Observations sent in by Reef Check Italy volunteers are contributing efficiently to this purpose. Thanks to them, anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of this species may use this essential source of information, found at

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Update From Reef Check Australia
Reef Check Australia sends us this update:

The South East Queensland survey season has officially started, and a few dedicated Reef Check Australia volunteers helped to kick it off with a trip to the Fraser Coast. It was the second year of surveys for the Woongarra and Hervey Bay sites, and the weather held up beautifully, allowing us all to see what these coastal areas have to offer. After flood events over the past few years, siltation was evident on many of these sites, but the area is brimming with a variety of coral species. It was great to see so much, so close to the shore! The team also conducted an underwater clean up off Big Woody Island, a popular fishing destination. This site was identified from last year’s surveys as being the most highly affected by marine debris.

Our teams of superstar volunteers will be surveying sites from the Sunshine Coast down to the Gold Coast for the rest of the year.

Last month, Reef Check Australia volunteers also took to the water to clean up popular snorkel, dive and fishing spots of Mooloolaba, on the Sunshine Coast as part of an annual “Team up to Clean Up” event held with Surfrider Foundation Sunshine Coast. Whilst the dive team scoured the ocean floors for items of debris, land-based teams tackled other popular tourist areas along the Mooloolaba/Kawana coastline. The results were interesting. Land based teams in Mooloolaba found half the amount of land based rubbish as last year, however teams searching the popular recreational site at Kawana site found 34kg of various rubbish items, including thongs, diapers and dog poop in bags. Yuck! The underwater crew found relatively low amounts of fishing debris, in addition to a very large, heavy length of metal ‘rope’ which has been left for professional recovery due to its weight. It was a great turn out, with over 50 volunteers lending a hand across the sites. Working with our amazing partners, our volunteers have removed more than 500kg of rubbish from our beaches and oceans in 2013. Our teams feel great about what we have accomplished, but we all look forward to a day when clean-ups are no longer needed!

Visit for more information and how you can get involved.

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