October 27, 2017

Reef Check California Completes Annual Channel Islands and Big Sur EcoExpeditions

Big Sur Expedition 2017 Survey Team

Reef Check California's annual expeditions to the remote coasts of the Northern Channel Islands and along Big Sur were a big success again this year. Combined, we surveyed 22 sites on these two trips. We were able to do this in large part because of the generous support we received during our Kickstarter campaign and through contributions of the volunteers who participated in these excursions. Thank you to all our supporters for making this possible! 

This year we expanded the length of our Big Sur trip to four days and completed more sites than in previous years while also having some time for some “fun dives” to explore the coast further . The Big Sur coast was particularly inaccessible this year. Strong rains last winter created huge mudslides and a collapsing bridge closed down Highway 1. Being on a boat off its coast thus felt even more remote than in previous years when you would see a string of cars along the famous highway. In addition to surveying the 11 Big Sur sites, we also installed temperature sensors as part of our statewide effort to collect information on the physical changes we are seeing in the ocean in a warming world. Later this year, we will return to the Big Sur coast and install additional sensors to measure indicators of ocean climate change such as acidification and dissolved oxygen. Next year, when we return on our 2018 expedition, we will collect these sensors and retrieve a year-long temperature record from these sites. We hope this will contribute to a clearer understanding of the dramatic changes we have seen over the last years along the California coast. Luckily, we have not seen the massive loss of kelp forests and the expansion of urchin barrens along this remote stretch of coast that we see in other regions of the state. 

Northern Channel Islands Expedition 2017 Survey Team

The Northern Channel Islands expedition was also extremely successful. In late August, 15 volunteers participated in a three-day trip aboard the Truth Aquatics boat, “Truth,” and completed 11 sites on three islands. Our team collected data on invertebrates, kelp, and fish at all of the sites sampled, as well as some urchin size data where sea urchins were abundant. This year we were able to survey several sites that had not been surveyed recently, making this trip a unique experience for many on board that had come out on previous expeditions.

We observed some beautiful healthy reefs as well as a few stark urchin barrens. The differences between sites and islands were notable. We observed many large red abalone and lots of kelp rockfish at Santa Rosa Island. At Santa Cruz Island, we saw several treefish, many surfperch and some octopuses, and at Anacapa Island a friendly sheephead and several sea lions came out to visit many of our divers.

Overall, Reef Check California has experienced an incredible season this year, and we are adding more multiday excursions to survey other Islands. We hope to keep this up in the coming years as we expand into more remote regions of the state. All of the efforts by our Reef Check citizen scientists enable us to collect this valuable information and make it available for researchers, managers, and the public to answer questions about the past and predict trends in the future.

White sea urchin using a shell fragment for camouflage. Santa Cruz Island. Photo: Selena McMillan Red and purple sea urchins in urchin barren. Anacapa Island. Photo: Selena McMillan Red abalone. Santa Rosa Island. Photo: Selena McMillan
Sunrise. Anacapa Island. Photo: Chris Glaeser Kelp rockfish “hanging” out. Santa Rosa Island. Photo: Chris Glaeser

Huge male sheephead. Anacapa Island. Photo: Zack Gold