Letter From the Director

Site Spotlight  – Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia

Reef Check Champion – Cipto Aji Gunawan

Reef Check News
– Meet Our New Staff Members
Huell Howser Dives In With Reef Check California

La Jolla Welcomes Reef Check For Reef Rescue 2005

California Corner

Mark Your Calendars
Reef Check Grand Cayman EcoExpedition: April 1-8, 2006

Reef Check Teams in Action
Reef Check ?audits? environmentally managed dive center in the Red Sea
– Reef Check Introduces EcoAction Program
– RC Thailand collaborates with local dive shops

– Final Report for the RC Eastern Caribbean project
– RC Indonesia offers Reef Check Specialty training
– News and Notes 
– Data Received since July 2005

Coral Reefs in the News
Special Report: Massive Coral Bleaching Event Hits Caribbean
– Tahitian coral reefs to determine climate history

What You Can Do To Help Coral Reefs

Support Reef Check

Letter From the Director

In 1996, I began to design a method to survey the world?s coral reefs using volunteer recreational divers. Like with any new idea, there were many scientists who said it would never work and couldn?t be done.  Since 1997, when we carried out the first global survey of coral reefs, the program has grown dramatically to hundreds of teams surveying reefs in over 80 of 101 coral reef countries. Our highly respected survey results have been used to move the science of coral reef conservation forward, and to pressure international organizations and national governments to allocate more resources for coral reef conservation.

The Reef Check Foundation was established in 2000 in California as a non-profit marine conservation organization. During the past five years, the Foundation has grown dramatically from a staff of two, to a staff of over 30 spread through offices in four other countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, Dominican Republic, and Australia).

Since our start, Reef Check focused on volunteer monitoring and has always been inundated with requests from all over the world to help set up Reef Check teams and implement local reef monitoring programs and conservation measures. After years of providing free training and supplies to individuals and teams that met the criteria, it became obvious that the only sustainable way to fulfill these requests would be to provide tools to the teams to support their own programs. Thus the Reef Check Eco Action Program was born.  You can read more about this unique self-sustaining business model and our exciting EcoExpeditions programs (see RC Teams in Action section) in this newsletter.

Unfortunately, 2005 has seen some dramatic impacts on coral reefs starting with the massive December earthquake and tsunami in Sumatra.  As part of a humane mission sponsored by our partner Quiksilver, Reef Check was one of the first scientific organizations at the scene to assess the damage near the epicenter, documenting huge stretches of reefs lifted completely out of the water and killed.  Recently we returned to Sumatra to complete a comprehensive survey that indicates that the reefs  remaining underwater were damaged far less by this dramatic natural event than first expected (See Site Spotlight).

On the other side of the world, a record number of hurricanes smashed Caribbean reefs from Florida to Cozumel, but worse was yet to come?2005 is now officially the hottest year on record, and a related coral ?bleaching? event is just ending in the Caribbean and may leave 30-50% of the affected corals dead in its wake (See Special Report). Unfortunately, as global warming steadily increases, these events are becoming more frequent and more damaging to reefs. Now it?s more important than ever to have our dedicated teams in the Caribbean surveying their local reefs to assess the global warming impact and protect the remaining reefs from other man-made threats. However, there are several locations in the Caribbean where we still don?t have active teams, so we are launching a campaign in 2006 to raise funds to get our survey teams to those affected areas.  You can help now by making a donation to Reef Check?s Caribbean Campaign.

While Reef Check continues to operate at the grassroots level with community-based monitoring and management, we also engage with governments and the United Nations. At the November International Coral Reef Initiative meetings in Palau, Reef Check helped to draft resolutions that: 1) will declare 2007 as the International Year of the Reef and 2) addressed the seriousness of the 2005 Caribbean bleaching event and requested all nations to help assess the damage. 

Finally, we were extremely pleased this year to launch our long-planned Reef Check California program (see California Corner). The problems facing California marine life are no different from those in tropical countries ? overfishing, coastal development and pollution. The new RC California program also offers a link between California ocean lovers and those overseas ? and provides a mechanism for everyone to become directly involved in saving reefs.

None of this work could have been done without the thousands of supporters and volunteers who define Reef Check and the hard working staff who facilitate our conservation activities. Thank you and we look forward to your continuing support for coral reefs and California marine life in 2006.  For more information about our work and ways you can help, please visit our website.

Site Spotlight- Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia
Overturned table coral, Pulau Rondo            Photo: A. Hagan

The December 26, 2004 earthquake and tsunami precipitated one of the greatest humanitarian crises in history with an estimated 232,000 lives lost and 400,000 people left homeless. It was also feared that the giant tsunami waves, reaching as high as 20 meters in some areas, had damaged coral reefs. One of the most severely impacted regions was the west coast of Aceh Province, Sumatra, Indonesia. During the month of October, Reef Check joined forces with the Living Oceans Foundation and The World Conservation Union (IUCN) to assess the extent of damage done to coral reefs along over 660 kilometers of Aceh's Western coastline and near-shore islands. Despite high seas and tough weather, the efforts of the international team of researchers proved fruitful. In addition to observing corals overturned by the tsunami, the group also encountered tilted islands and raised reefs. Despite concentrated damage in some areas, the study?s findings suggest that sedimentation (exacerbated by the tsunami), overfishing, and damaging fishing methods have caused greater damage to Aceh's reef ecosystems than did the tsunami of 26 December, 2004. A complete report will be published in January. The following participants made this expedition possible:

– Cipto A. Gunawan (expedition coordinator)
– Dr. Annelise Hagan (Living Oceans Foundation)
– Nishan Perrera (IUCN)
– Dr. Onny Prabowo (hyperbaric doctor)
– Cerman Simamora (Metro TV)
– Hasan Nugraha (diving technician)
– RC scientists: Yunaldi Yahya, Yan Manuputty, Ivan Silaban, Ibnu Hazam, Robert Foster      

Aceh Expedition Team                                                    Photo: Chris
Reef Check Champion– Cipto Aji Gunawan

In all of the Indonesian Archipelago there is perhaps no individual as capable as coordinating a research expedition as Cipto, a Reef Check Indonesia volunteer and advisor. But our request put even his skills to the test: “Organize an expedition to Aceh from your base in Bali so that the underwater damage created by last year's earthquake and tsunami can be surveyed.” In a matter of weeks Cip, pronounced ?Chip?, procured a compressor, a spare compressor, and a boat registered to work in Aceh waters — where civil unrest was recently in progress.  He also took on the arduous tasks of navigating the Indonesian bureaucracy to obtain the required research permits and choosing from dozens of potential RC Indonesia scientists to assemble a team that could work during Ramadan.

Cipto was born and raised in Pekalongan, Central Java, and attended university in Jakarta.  After receiving a masters degree in engineering, Cipto?s passion for diving took him to Bali, where he has been an active member of the tourist diving industry and has demonstrated an intense commitment to coral reef conservation.  In addition to working as a course director at ADA (Air Diving Academy), Cip also works as a consultant to develop sustainable ecotourism opportunities throughout Indonesia.  His most recent project, “Adopt A Coral? has already demonstrated successes in northern Bali.  If this weren?t enough, Cipto is also well known for his underwater video work.  His latest documentary film ? on artisanal aquarium fisheries of Indonesia — was nominated as a finalist at Singapore?s 2005 ?Celebrate the Sea? film festival. Cipto?s successes in coordinating and organizing every detail of Reef Check?s Aceh Expedition are a true reflection of his many talents and his stalwart dedication to marine conservation.  We are extremely grateful for his help.  Thank you, Cipto!

Reef Check News

Meet Our New Staff Members

Dr. Craig ShumanDirector of Reef Check California

Craig comes to us with expertise in marine ecology and wetland restoration. He received a bachelors degree in Environmental Science from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1995, a Masters degree in biology from UCSB in1998, and a doctorate degree in Environmental Science and Engineering from UCLA in 2003. Dr. Shuman's academic research focused on a variety of topics including wetland restoration monitoring in Southern California, marine ecological monitoring in the California Channel Islands and Santa Barbara nearshore regions, evaluation of US EPA bioassay protocols, and the ecological impacts of the marine aquarium trade in Southeast Asia with an emphasis on sustainable management. Following extensive field research on coral reefs in numerous countries throughout the Indian Ocean and South Pacific, Dr. Shuman took a position at Heal the Bay to administer the design of the Malibu Lagoon restoration plan and work on marine conservation issues. Dr. Shuman is currently developing the Reef Check California Program to implement a volunteer sub-tidal rocky reef monitoring program in California.

Scott Sheckman – Director of PR and Development

A native of the East Coast, Scott has always lived close to an ocean. His childhood fascination with marine life led him to become the youngest salt-water tank manager at Philadelphia's largest merchant aquarium. While graduating Temple University in 1990 with a Communications degree, he became SCUBA certified and has dived tropical and temperate reefs around the globe. Relocating to Los Angeles in 1991 to pursue a career in Hollywood, he helped produce five seasons of the hit TV show “Baywatch” and served five years as a business affairs specialist at NBC. Scott has volunteered for many local marine conservation organizations and left the entertainment industry three years ago to devote his skills to help save the world's threatened oceans, starting as Communication Director for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. He is looking forward to making Reef Check a household name.

Robert Foster? Program Manager

Bob received his undergraduate degree from Reed College in 1999 and an MSc in Biodiversity, Conservation, and Management from Oxford University in 2004. During the course of his masters work Bob led an expedition to the never-before-surveyed reef ecosystems of Southeastern Cuba, where he studied the impacts of human stressors on local reef habitats and worked with local managers, fishermen, and scientists to initiate a long-term monitoring program. Prior to joining the staff at Reef Check HQ, Bob spent seven months at sea as RC?s resident marine scientist aboard Quiksilver's Indies Trader. When not at the office Bob is usually in the ocean or plugging away on a book about his two-year, 23,000 kilometer, around-the-world bicycle odyssey. 

Huell Howser Dives In With Reef Check California

Bob Meistrell discusses California marine life with Huell Howser and Gregor Hodgson

Upon learning about Reef Check's vanguard California rocky reef monitoring program launched this summer, PBS legend Huell Howser (host of the long running syndicated show “California Gold”) was excited to film our Los Angeles-based team in action for his new environmental program, “California Green”. In September, Body Glove co-founder, Bob Meistrell, generously donated his 75-foot yacht and excellent captain skills for a special Reef Check expedition off the coast of Palos Verdes in search of both healthy and unhealthy kelp reefs to show Huell. To get up close and personal with the divers, Huell donned a Body Glove wetsuit and braved the cold water to perform “sea-level” interviews with Dr.Craig Shuman.  From 60 feet below, divers brought up a few of the kelp-munching purple & red urchins that are devouring the kelp at a rapid pace.

The team gets ready to dive near the Body Glove boat

Back on deck, Huell talked at length with staff about the serious issues facing reefs in California and worldwide, such as global warming and overfishing – one of the reasons why urchins have been able to retain a destructive foothold in California. An ocean lover and pioneer scuba diver since the 1950's, Bob Meistrell shared old photos of giant sea bass and abalone that exemplified the shifting baselines in the region – these animals are now very difficult to find in Southern California mainly due to overfishing and habitat destruction. Despite the persistent Red Tide (tremendous algae bloom) that severely limited underwater visibility and hampered the dive, the shoot was a success and Huell may join us again in the Spring for a follow-up dive to film Reef Check in action underwater. Many thanks to Huell Howser, Bob Meistrell, Christine Braun, Body Glove, and the volunteer dive support from Jason Qunclair of Sherwood Scuba, Mike Segda of ScubaHaus and Sarah Townsend. The air date will be listed on our website as soon as it's available.

La Jolla Welcomes Reef Check for Reef Rescue 2005

The Foster-Hammond Estate: our beautiful venue for the night

As Reef Check expands its new California monitoring program up and down the Golden State, people from far and wide are eager to learn about our mission and show their support. On a picture-perfect Saturday afternoon in November, over 80 people from the San Diego area joined Reef Check at a lovely La Jolla estate to meet our local scientists and staff for an intimate Reef Rescue 2005. While being entertained by the live music of international recording artist Daize Shayne (also a two time longboard champion) and her guitarist/manager Ken Tamplin, guests enjoyed the fine food kindly donated by Hamilton Meats & Provisions (deliciously prepared at the scene by Chef Chris Mesa), the Bare Back Grill, and the amazing dessert options offered by the Chocolate Monkey. Everyone toasted the classic California sunset with a variety of spirits including Rodnik Vodka and local favorite Stone Brewing Co. Reef Check expresses our sincere gratitude to Dr. Virginia Foster and Rev. Arthur Hammons who kindly opened their beautiful home for the event, and San Diego Event Chairperson Mary Ellen Bloomingdale. 

Special thanks to everyone that helped make the event a success on all levels, especially Dovi Kacev, Leslie Abelow-Sheckman, Eric Lane, and Pat Zabrocki. More fabulous fundraising and awareness events are being planned in California and around the world for 2006 -please check the RC website and upcoming newsletters for announcements! 

California Corner
Photo by Dale Sheckler

Our new California rocky reef monitoring program is out of the gates and off to a great start.  Thanks to the help of our scientific review team and dedicated volunteers, the California survey methodology and species lists have been reviewed and field tested at several locations throughout the central coast.  To date, we have been in the water with experts from the California Department of Fish and Game, Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Santa Monica Baykeeper, UCLA, UCSB, and UCSC. We have also conducted three orientations in Monterey to introduce local divers to the program.  These activities have provided us with valuable feedback to help ensure our scientific and educational objectives are met.

Our most recent training was completed at a sheltered spot at Santa Cruz Island that provided great conditions despite the large northwest swell. We introduced volunteers Gery Cox, Andrew Harmer, Shelly Peters and Elise Watson (pictured below) to the Reef Check California methods. They are professional marine biologists who work for Tenera Environmental, an environmental consulting firm in San Luis Obispo, and are well on their way to being our first official Reef Check California team.  Our first ?official? survey was completed by Reef Check staff with the assistance of volunteer Dan Abbott at Whaler?s Cove in the Pt. Lobos State Reserve.

We are currently developing our training materials to enable participants to become certified to perform Reef Check California surveys and get involved with our regional monitoring efforts. The final protocol and training dates are now available online. Visit our website today to download the protocol and sign up for a training before they fill up! If you are interested in volunteering, send us an email with your name, address, phone number, dive experience, and any other comments.

Mark Your Calendars
Reef Check Grand Cayman EcoExpedition
April 1-8, 2006; Cost $2995

Sunset House

Looking to get more involved with Reef Check and still have a fun and relaxing dive vacation? Then join us for the first Reef Check EcoExpedition of 2006 to Grand Cayman Island. We're running this trip in conjunction with our friends at Reef Seekers in Beverly Hills, so this will combine recreational diving with actual scientific data collection at one of the most popular dive spots in the world. Prior to the trip, we?ll have a complete Reef Check training in Los Angeles where you?ll learn fish ID and monitoring techniques to survey the ocean life around Grand Cayman. Once we reach our accommodations at the world-famous Sunset House, the general plan will be for two recreational boat dives each day to some of Cayman's best spots: Eden Rock, Bonnie's Arch, Hepp's Pipeline, Eagle Ray Pass, Ghost Mountain, and – of course – Stingray City. In the afternoon, we'll be back at Sunset House, the ultimate diver destination, where we can have lunch and then do a research dive on the house reef. After that, there will be time to do another day dive or even a night dive, to see how the reef changes once the sun goes down. This trip includes airfare, diving and accommodations, daily breakfast , crew tip, and airport transfers. It also includes pre-trip training in Reef Check EcoMonitoring techniques. Plus, we'll conduct daily seminars while in Cayman so you can learn more about what's really happening on the reef right before your very eyes. It's going to be a great trip that you don't want to miss.

Photo: Ruben Torres

Sign up today by contacting Reef Seekers at 310-652-4990 or by e-mail

Keep checking our EcoExpedition page for more information on these upcoming trips!

Reef Check Teams in Action