July 31, 2008

Press Release: First Statewide Underwater Survey of California Reefs by Citizen Scientists

Los Angeles – A network of over 200 volunteer divers from the Reef Check Foundation has completed a statewide scientific survey of California’s rocky reef ecosystems. Results of the first two years of the survey have been released in a 135-page report, Reef Check California 2006–2007: Citizen Monitoring to Improve Marine Conservation.” Initial results show differences in fish and invertebrate populations in various parts of the state. For example, divers found that abalone were still quite rare at the Southern California survey sites whereas, in northern California, noticeably smaller red abalone were found in shallow waters accessible to recreational fishing than found in deep waters. The report will provide baseline data for future comparisons on changing marine ecosystems. An executive summary, photos, and the full report can be accessed at www.reefcheck.org/rcca/2yr.php.
The Reef Check Foundation trains and certifies recreational scuba divers in scientific methods so they can carry out ecological monitoring. Working in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Reef Check’s California program (RCCA) formed teams of dedicated volunteers and surveyed 73 “indicator species,” such as spiny lobster and California sheephead fish, on 48 reefs located from Mendocino to San Diego. So far, these citizen scientists have counted over 80,000 organisms.
“Our goal is to train California divers who have the experience, local knowledge, and commitment to collect high quality scientific data on the vast areas of rocky reefs that are not being monitored,” said Cyndi Dawson, RCCA’s Science Director. “At the same time, we’re building an educated constituency supportive of science-based management throughout the state.  Reef Check adds eyes on the water and a new dimension to existing academic, state, and local monitoring work.” As California continues to move towards ecosystem-based management, comprehensive long-term monitoring will be crucial to track progress.
“This survey reinforces our need for real data instead of assumptions,” said Marija Vojkovich, DFG’s Marine Regional Manager. “Now we have information that will help us find out just how healthy or not some of our reefs are.” Last year, in cooperation with DFG, surveys were completed on the central coast shortly after Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) were established around Monterey and in preparation for new MPAs further north, expected later this year. The ability of RCCA’s survey teams to respond quickly to management needs and initiatives is a unique and invaluable feature of citizen science.
RCCA divers include a diverse group of ocean users such as recreational divers, commercial urchin fishermen, lifeguards, and college students. According to John Manos, a carpenter based in Newhall and one of RCCA’s first volunteers, “I’m here because I want to dive with a purpose. I’ve seen the changes in California’s ocean due to pollution, overfishing, and global warming. I’m really saddened and disturbed by this, and I want to make a difference.”

Founded in 1996, the Reef Check Foundation is an international non-profit organization dedicated to conservation of reef ecosystems worldwide. Based in Pacific Palisades and with volunteer teams in more than 80 countries, Reef Check works to create partnerships among community volunteers, government agencies, businesses, universities, and other non-profits. The goal is to educate the public about the value of reef ecosystems as well as to create a global network of trained volunteer diving teams who regularly monitor and report on reef status in support of science-based management. In 2008, the California survey is expanding to 60 sites from Eureka to Baja California and experienced divers can sign up for training at www.ReefCheck.org. Information on state marine management initiatives is at www.dfg.ca.gov/marine