The Transect Line – September/October 2015 Newsletter Archive
Reef Check Leads Response to 3rd Global Coral Bleaching Event Edison International Joins Forces with Reef Check to Monitor Recovery of Catalina Island Reef
Reef Check Recognizes Marine Conservation Heroes at Annual Gala No Bleaching and Lots of Teaching on Biosphere Expeditions’ Maldives Expedition
Amazing Conditions and Unique Sightings Highlight Channel Islands Expedition Buleleng Bali Dive Festival Promoting Conservation through Recreational Diving
Reef Check Invited to the White House to Discuss Citizen Science New EcoDivers Trained in Egypt

Reef Check Leads Response to 3rd Global Coral Bleaching Event
Many growth forms and species of corals, zooanthids and sea anemones were bleaching in Haiti during a survey on October 22, 2015. If corals remain bleached for more than about two weeks then they usually die. Photo: Gregor Hodgson

On September 9, 2015, Drs. Gregor Hodgson (Reef Check) and Mark Eakin of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA) organized a meeting in Washington, DC to bring together senior staff from international NGOs, government and funding agencies to present the evidence and to ask them to form a Coral Reef Coalition to oversee the emergency response to the third Global Coral Bleaching Event (GCBE3). The group agreed to work together on the following goals:

1. Seek additional funding for standard monitoring and checking accuracy of NOAA satellite model predictions quickly.
2. Use GCBE3 as a lever in climate change debate (COP21).
3. Track management success because resilience-based protections may be ineffectual.
4. Make data on bleaching and management immediately available via a rebranded/multi-branded Coalition Global Reef Tracker database now at:
5. Track coral/algal adaptation trajectory so that we know where adaptation is helping protect corals.
6. Increase PR on coral reef loss via all media.
7. Support the creation of an X-prize approach to test solutions to bleaching.

On October 8th, the Reef Check Foundation teamed up with NOAA, Catlin and University of Queensland to formally announce that the ongoing coral bleaching event was indeed global, and that immediate action was required by environmental groups worldwide. This announcement was picked up by hundreds of media throughout the world such as the Guardian in the UK and CNN.

Coral reefs endangered by bleaching in global event, researchers say

Beginning in 2014 and predicted to continue into mid-2016, the El Niño along with global warming has caused ocean temperatures to rise and “bleach” large portions of the world’s coral reefs. When the water heats up above the normal seasonal temperature range, coral bleaching occurs, which can eventually lead to coral death. If NOAA long-range predictions are correct, by the end of 2016, this bleaching event could result in the biggest loss of biodiversity in recorded history of reef ecosystems. It threatens icons such as the Great Barrier Reef of Australia.

Reef Check’s Dr. Hodgson also requested and helped to co-author a Consensus Statement from the International Society for Reef Studies, the distinguished scientific group comprised of coral reef scientists.

During the emergency meetings of the new Coral Reef Coalition, members from NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International and World Wildlife Fund have pledged to bring this emergency to the forefront of their respective organizations’ climate change agendas. It is integral that the public be aware of this ongoing and impending crisis, and that steps are taken to increase monitoring of reef health in order to assess damage as well as to seek potential solutions.

Reef Check, with 19 years of standardized global reef data, has offered to co-brand its Google Earth based Global Reef Tracker database to include data from other organizations.

Bleached coral in Haiti. Photo: Helen Brierley
Click here for video of the bleached corals in Haiti

The 3rd Global Coral Bleaching event since 1997 has already bleached and killed large areas of coral reef in many parts of the world, including Hawaii, American Samoa and Florida. Based on satellite data and climate models, NOAA’s Coral Watch Program predicts this to be the worst event in history. Parts of the Pacific and Caribbean are bleaching now and will experience peak bleaching in October/November. During the early parts of 2016, Australia and the Western Indian Ocean will be threatened with the hottest water on record.

“This is a global biodiversity emergency,” says Dr. Hodgson, “because coral reefs are the second most diverse ecosystem on earth after rainforests. They are found throughout the tropics and they are invaluable because they supply fish and shellfish, protect the coast from wave erosion, are a focus of coastal tourism, and have immense genetic diversity that has only just been tapped for drugs such as Ara-C, a potent drug used to fight childhood leukemia.”

There is an urgent need to improve field tracking of the 3rd Global Coral Bleaching Event and quickly deploy more teams and more frequently to measure the actual damage to the reefs. NOAA models predict more severe damage to coral reefs in many parts of the world during the remainder of 2015 and into 2016. The 1998 event killed at least 11% of the world’s coral reefs and in areas such as the Maldives, some 90% of the corals were killed. Many reefs in the Caribbean were damaged during a regional bleaching event in 2005 and over 70% of corals were killed on reefs in parts of Thailand during GCBE2 in 2010.

For more information about the Coalition or GCBE3 please contact: Elena Johannsen, Assistant Program Manager.

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Reef Check Recognizes Marine Conservation Heroes at Annual Gala
Russ and Charlotte Lesser receive the Reef Stewardship Award

On October 1st, Reef Check held our annual “Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans” gala on the sand at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica. With over two hundred guests in attendance, we honored this year’s conservation heroes for their outstanding environmental dedication and commitment, while also recognizing the 10th anniversary of the Reef Check California program.

Russ Lesser, the President of Body Glove and a long-standing member of Reef Check’s Board of Directors, and his wife of 50 years, Charlotte Lesser, accepted the Reef Stewardship Award for their roles as ocean advocates and steadfast supporters of Reef Check, and for their devotion to marine conservation as upstanding members of the South Bay community. The Lessers also received a number of proclamations from local government as Fourth District Senior Deputy Steve Napolitano was on hand to present them with a special commendation from the County of Los Angeles. Following the ceremony, Russ Lesser remained on stage to close the night with his band Thin Ice, accompanied by two of his granddaughters.

In celebration of ten years of the Reef Check California program, nine citizen scientist divers- Avrey Parsons-Field, Bill Field, Bryan & Dana Murray, Claudette Dorsey, John Manos, Peter Ottersbach, Rob Matteri and Ted Sharshan- were recognized with Citizen Scientist of the Decade awards for their participation in ten years of California rocky reef surveys. Reef Check California Founding Director Dr. Craig Shuman, along with former director Cyndi Dawson, joined current director Dr. Jan Freiwald on stage to present the divers with their awards.

Citizen Scientists of the Decade honorees

Coming back for a second year, auctioneer Tyler Durman once again entertained the crowd while raising critical funds for Reef Check programs during the live auction and fund-a-need.

We’d like to thank those who attended, bid, donated, and volunteered to make this event a success! Special thanks to our sponsors: Body Glove, Houlihan Lokey, Akanthos Capital Management LLC, Edison International, Beach Cities Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, Jennifer & Dave Caskey, Gary L. Justice, Mermaid Linden, and Pura Vida Tequila. Thank you also to FRYER and Thin Ice for providing music for the evening.

Click here for more photos from the gala

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Amazing Conditions and Unique Sightings Highlight Channel Islands Expedition
By Charleen Conlogue, Reef Check California Southern California Volunteer Coordinator

In July, Reef Check launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to survey the northern Channel Islands of California. After reaching full funding for our campaign, the survey expedition was held in September and visited Santa Rosa, Anacapa and Santa Cruz Islands. Our goal was to complete as many dive sites as we could and we definitely accomplished that. We had an excellent team of 25 citizen scientist divers on this expedition with a range of experience: a handful had volunteered with Reef Check California for ten years whereas others were finishing up their training on this trip. We were able to do an unprecedented eleven sites in three days! On behalf of the Reef Check Foundation, I would like to thank everyone who donated to our Kickstarter project, especially to the Lesser family, Michael Schechter and Channel Islands Scuba for their remarkable donations.

Details of the expedition follow.

I arrived at Ventura Harbor around 9:30pm on August 31st to board the Truth Aquatics liveaboard boat. Once I finished catching up with fellow Reef Checkers, I laid in bed trying to fall asleep. Around 3:30am, I woke up to the boat’s engines starting and water splashing on the side. I thought to myself, “Here we go!” With a smile on my face and excited little butterflies in my stomach, I tried falling asleep again. Waking up with a cup of coffee, watching the sunrise, feeling a crisp breeze on my face and looking at the Channel Island chain is a wonderful experience. I would recommend it to anyone who has any bit of wanderlust.

The first day of the expedition was spent surveying four different dive sites on Santa Rosa Island- East Point, Elk Ridge, Johnson Lee and South Point. Of these, Elk Ridge was definitely one of my favorite sites of the whole expedition; it is a beautiful rocky reef. With gorgeous kelp forests, there were numerous surf perch and rockfish swimming over our transects, and an amazing number of invertebrates including colorful nudibranchs and a wrestling octopus that wanted to take my transect line. I was laughing so much I probably used a third of my air having that tug-of-war! South Point was an amazing dive as well, with clusters of Red Abalone, some measuring to 27cm, and fish like Kelp Greenlings and Lingcod. Exhausted from a wonderful first day, everyone settled into their bunks and got some much needed rest.

Anacapa Island was gorgeous the next day! We had pristine conditions; the sun was out, the water was about 69° F and the visibility averaged 40 feet at our dive sites. We surveyed four locations again- Landing Cove, Cathedral Cove, Cathedral Wall and Goldfish Bowl. For our second dive day, Landing Cove was pretty stellar with iconic California kelp forests and sea lions swimming around us. Goldfish Bowl gave everyone something to celebrate; some of our scientific divers saw a Giant Black Sea Bass and others saw a green sea turtle, which are very unusual for this area. I am pretty sure everyone came up from the dive with smiles on their faces and pictures of the amazing sea creatures we saw.

That night we stayed in Scorpion Bay. A handful of divers did a fun night dive while others played dominos and watched sea lions feeding on squid and flying fish.

Our final day on Santa Cruz Island treated us well. We performed surveys at three dive sites: Scorpion Anchorage, Pelican Anchorage and Cueva Valdez. Scorpion Anchorage was an amazing dive. It was a very pleasant surprise. I counted every Southern California fish during this dive, which was incredible. Even though conditions were amazing, most of our team performed four dives a day which is definitely admirable. Doing that many dives a day consecutively is exhausting and they did it with smiles on their faces. On the trip home, the ocean rewarded us with 8-10 blue whales during the channel crossing. Thank you again for your support of this project, there is no way we could have done it without you!

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Reef Check Invited to the White House to Discuss Citizen Science
From Left: Alex Dehgan, Conservation X Labs; Kristen Honey, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy; Dr. Sylvia Earle; Daniel Pauly, Fisheries Centre, University of British Columbia; Kyle Cavanagh, UCLA; Dr. Jan Freiwald, Reef Check California

By Dr. Jan Freiwald, Reef Check California Director

On September 30, 2015 the White House Office hosted a Citizen Science Forum entitled “Open Science and Innovation: Of the People, By the People, For the People”. This event brought together scientists, government agencies and citizen science programs to highlight the contributions of citizen science and to discuss how to scale up citizen science in the future. Dr. Jan Freiwald, Director of Reef Check California, was invited to participate in this event and represent Reef Check as an example of a successful, long-running marine citizen science program.

During a forum in the morning, participants of citizen science programs ranging from social justice projects to developers of innovative technology to marine programs, such as Reef Check, presented their approaches. At the forum, the White House Office of Science and Technology Director Dr. John P. Holdren encouraged federal agencies to properly utilize citizen science projects and released a memorandum to federal agencies addressing how to facilitate the use of citizen sciences: Addressing Societal and Scientific Challenges through Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing. The National Science Foundation Director Dr. France Cordova announced that citizen science and crowdsourcing will be part of a new NSF priority goal for public participation in STEM research in the coming year and Senator Chris Coon from Delaware introduced a bill called the Crowdsourcing and Citizen Science Act of 2015 to remove any ambiguity about whether federal agencies can use citizen science.

In the afternoon, participants split into several working groups to discuss how to address challenges and create opportunities for scaling up citizen science and developing closer collaboration between federal agencies and citizen science programs. Having people come together at the White House to discuss and further citizen science at this level is an exciting development and validation of the approach Reef Check has taken to marine conservation issues for almost 20 years.
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Edison International Joins Forces with Reef Check to Monitor Recovery of Catalina Island Reef
As part of Edison International's “Adopt a Reef” partnership with Reef Check, volunteers from Edison recently joined a team of Reef Check California divers to monitor Casino Point Reef at Catalina Island. The reef was battered by storms last year and Reef Check has been tracking its recovery.

Click here to watch a video from the day's event.

Below is the article written by Debbie Fellman and published by Edison International:

There are many ways to experience California’s beauty: a hike in the mountains, a stroll along the beach. Or, if you’re willing to squeeze into a wet suit, a dive underwater. There, you can explore the colorful ecosystems of rocky reefs and kelp forests.

Like coral reefs worldwide, California’s rocky reefs have been diminished by human activity and oceanic events. Add the effects of last year’s winter windstorms and Catalina Island’s Casino Point Reef isn’t in the best of health. Enter Reef Check, a nonprofit dedicated to saving reefs worldwide, and a longtime partner of Edison International.

“The storm’s impact on the Casino Point Reef was massive,” says Dr. Jan Freiwald, director of Reef Check California. Through the Adopt-a-Reef partnership, Edison International and Reef Check are together monitoring recovery of Casino Point Reef. “By regularly monitoring the reef and its marine life, along with our 10 years of historical data from before the storm, we are able to track and evaluate the reef’s recovery.”

Recently, volunteers from Edison International, parent company of Southern California Edison (SCE), suited up in scuba gear to participate in the last of four marine life surveys at Casino Point Reef this year.

Underwater, with their waterproof clipboards, they counted members of key species such as Garibaldi, the official state marine fish of California, kelp bass, black surfperch, California sheephead, sea cucumbers and marine snails.

Photo: Dan McGanty

Most of the 21 Edison International volunteers at the Casino Point event were experienced divers and participated in the event as members of EcoIQ, one of SCE’s 14 employee resource groups, and the sponsor of the dive event.

“This dive helped me gain a deeper understanding of the situation affecting reefs, and how important it is to document their well-being with consistent data collection,” said Catherine Leland, an SCE senior project manager and the volunteer leader of EcoIQ, who organized the event.

Other recent EcoIQ events included restoring hiking trails that were damaged by the deadly Station Fire in 2009 and tending to urban vegetable gardens at the urban Earthworks Farm & Community Garden.

Reef Check’s work spans the globe, and its scientific methods produce data from reefs worldwide. This data is used to document reef health and preserve and sustain reef ecosystems.

Edison International has a long history of giving back to help marine life flourish along the Southern California coast. Near Del Mar, the San Dieguito Wetlands Restoration Project revitalized 150-plus acres of coastal wetlands, creating a fish nursery and a refuge for migratory waterfowl and endangered species.

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No Bleaching and Lots of Teaching on Biosphere Expeditions’ Maldives Expedition
By Biosphere Expeditions

If you have ever visited the Maldives, you will have seen fleets of luxury liveaboards motoring around the atolls taking their guests to well-known dive sites to experience the underwater beauty that the Maldives is famous for. This September, one of those liveaboards, the MV Carpe Diem, housed a rather different clientele – the honeymooners and adventure divers were replaced with studious environmentalists embarking on a training course to learn the monitoring techniques necessary to collect reef health data – Reef Check.

From five different countries, 10 participants, two of whom were Maldivian, came together to learn the Reef Check methodology on an annual research expedition organized by nonprofit conservation organization Biosphere Expeditions. Biosphere Expeditions recognizes the importance of training local Maldivians, alongside citizen scientists from around the world. Once the expedition is over, and most participants have returned to their temperate homes, the Maldivians have continued access to their reef and, with their newly acquired knowledge, can support Biosphere Expeditions’ work with additional Reef Checks, amongst them the first such all-Maldivian survey in 2014.

So, with the lounge of the Carpe Diem transformed into a classroom and its dhoni (dive boat) now a research vessel, the ten newly qualified Reef Check divers set out on a survey route previously visited in 2011 and 2013. “We revisit the same sites to get a clearer idea of what’s going on,” says Catherine Edsell, expedition leader and Reef Check trainer, “much can be gleaned from repetitive datasets – they help us to see what is changing, especially when it comes to the issue of bleaching.”

With a global El Niño event and documented sea surface temperatures rising, the team was on high alert for signs of coral bleaching. Bleaching occurs when corals are stressed, resulting in expulsion of the symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae), which not only give them their color, but provide them with food via photosynthesis. Without their zooxanthellae, corals appear bright white or luminous yellow and it was this sign that the team was on the look-out for.

Initial training dives around Baros Resort’s house reef revealed no such incidence, but Mariyam Shidha Afzal, this year’s expedition scientist and a previous Maldivian recipient of Biosphere Expeditions’ training programme said, “Bleaching can be quite localized, so we may find when we travel south that things are different.” Fortunately this was not the case and there was minimal bleaching at all survey sites. Storm damage, on the other hand, was quite severe, especially at Bathalaa Maaga and Holiday Thilla, and it was easy to see why, as throughout the expedition, monsoon storms battered the more exposed atolls, causing one of the surveys to be aborted.

“Understanding the factors that are affecting the health of the Maldives’ reefs is the ambition of the programme”, says Dr Jean-Luc Solandt of the Marine Conservation Society and Reef Check co-coordinator for the Maldives. “It is never a simple story – when we put our heads underwater at each site, we have a basic understanding of what‘s likely to be affecting the reef, but Reef Check allows us to nail this down further with data on a wide variety of factors. At the same time we are able to train Maldivians and conservationists from other countries to do the same, so we are delighted with the long-term results of the trainings and collaborations we are forging in the Maldives.”

Biosphere Expeditions’ placements this year, kindly supported by the Rufford Foundation, were Mohammed Ryan Thoyyib, currently working for LaMer (Land and Marine Environmental Resource group – a local environmental consultancy), and Irthisham Hassan Zareer from the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme. Both organizations have an ongoing relationship with Biosphere Expeditions and offer up their most promising candidates to become Reef Checkers. “I feel extremely lucky to be part of such an expedition that brings people together from different corners of the world for the same goals, to try and conserve the beautiful reefs that we are blessed with,” says Irthrisham, “I am hoping to get in contact with some of the other Reef Check trainers from the Maldives and with the help of some more dedicated divers, carry out more surveys at the end of the year.”

Click here for information on how you can join the 2016 expedition

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Buleleng Bali Dive Festival Promoting Conservation through Recreational Diving
Submitted by Reef Check Indonesia

Buleleng of North Bali held its 1st Buleleng Bali Dive Festival (BBDF) event in Pemuteran Bay on October 23 – 26, focusing on promoting diving tourism and various conservation activities in North Bali. Buleleng reserved its marine areas as Marine Management Areas in 2011.

In recent decades, diving tourism has become a popular recreational activity. Through diving, everyone is able to see the beauty of underwater life such as colorful coral, fish and other marine life. More recently, with the advancement of photography equipment, underwater life has become an interesting subject for photographers. Buleleng, in particular, has such magnificent underwater beauty from abundant coral reefs, nudibranchs, the unique sea-dragon, garden eels, the schooling of bumphead parrotfish, and many more.

Besides recreational diving, Buleleng is famous for its rapid conservation movement. Previously known as a cyanide fishing area, Buleleng has transformed itself into a leading district in marine conservation. For instance, a number of conservation programs have been awarded with various international and national awards for their efforts.

Thus, through the festival, divers got to be involved and learn more about the ongoing conservation programs in Buleleng. Several monitoring and education programs were conducted to support management of the Marine Management Area network, which is divided into three regions, including East Buleleng (Kec.Tejakula), Central Buleleng (Lovina and surrounding) and West Buleleng (Pemuteran Bay). Marine and Fisheries Agency of Buleleng facilitated the monitoring and opened activities to all divers who wanted to participate, providing extensive and valuable information for the further management of the marine areas.

Coral reef monitoring was conducted on October 23 & 24, accompanied by local guide divers from Reef Check Indonesia network communities, which provided training for divers on reef monitoring techniques. Over 40 Reef Checkers joined the monitoring, coming from various backgrounds such as students, dive guides, hobbyist divers, and local residents.

For more information on how to get involved with Reef Check Indonesia, visit

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New EcoDivers Trained in Egypt
Submitted by Reef Check Egypt Coordinator Dr. Mohammed Kotb

Reef Check Egypt Coordinator Dr. Mohammed Kotb recently shared this photo of the latest trainees in Egypt. In October, he finished an EcoDiver training program in Sharm El-Sheikh in which three members of the Ras Mohamed Park Rangers and two Marine Science Researchers were certified as Reef Check EcoDivers. All members had previously participated in surveys in the Egyptian Red Sea with Dr. Kotb, but have now officially become EcoDivers. Congratulations to the new team!

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