December 5, 2012

Reef Check California Completes Seventh Year of Monitoring

By Jan Freiwald, Reef Check California Director

Reef Check California has just finished its seventh year of surveying the rocky reefs along the California coast. 2012 has been very successful and the program has surveyed more sites than in any previous year. We conducted 15 volunteer trainings to get new divers involved and ready to survey California’s reefs. We also held 11 recertifications during which long-term volunteers recalibrated their skills and were tested before data collection began this year. We surveyed a total of 73 sites and completed 85 surveys at these sites. This enabled us to continue to monitor marine protected areas (MPAs) in the regions of the state where the baseline monitoring had been completed in previous years and allowed us to track the long-term development of the reserves. In southern California, RCCA just completed its second year of MPA baseline monitoring of the MPAs that were established in January 2012.

To grow our monitoring program, we formed several new partnerships with universities and research institutions. For the first time this year, we trained scientific divers from the California State University Monterey Bay, University of California Santa Cruz, and from NASA’s research facility in Mountain View, CA. We are excited to have formed these additional partnerships; they join our growing network of institutional partners throughout the state. We look forward to working with all our partner groups in the coming year to train more of their divers to conduct surveys, to collaborate on research projects and to provide our data to the many student projects that are using it.

In addition to the surveys our citizen scientists conducted, we worked on several collaborations in 2012 to put the data our dedicated volunteers collect year after year to good work. In the central coast region, where MPAs are coming up for their first five-year review after being established in 2007, we worked with the MPA Monitoring Enterprise and other researchers that conducted baseline monitoring of these MPAs. Through this collaboration, we are establishing a regional baseline of the status of reefs in central California as well as investigating early initial changes in the populations and communities inside the MPAs. This work is almost completed and the results of this first region wide review of MPAs established under the MLPA (Marine Life Protection Act) initiative will be presented at a public symposium in Monterey from February 27 to March 1st 2013. As a continuation of this work in the central coast, RCCA also began participating in a working group convened at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) to develop indicators of kelp forest ecosystem conditions or health for the region. This group of kelp forest ecologists is developing an expert judgment process that will be used to assess the conditions of kelp forests inside and outside of MPAs in order to be better able to inform adaptive management of these ecosystems in the future.

In southern California, RCCA is bringing its seven years of data to the table at the development of a new region wide effort, the 2013 Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program (Bight ‘13). This project, organized by the Southern California Coastal Research Project (SCCWRP) is a continuation of previous efforts to bring together researchers and agencies from the region to conduct an integrated assessment of the southern California Bight every five years. RCCA is participating in a working group focusing on MPAs and rocky reefs that will investigate the relative effects of pollution and fishing pressure on the conditions or health of rocky reefs in southern California. Just as in the central coast, this project will make good use of the data RCCA volunteers and staff have worked so hard to collect over the years.

Both of these collaborations are examples of how long-term datasets such as RCCA’s are being used more and more to inform our understanding of the ecosystems along our coast and to investigate the effects of human impacts to inform their future management. We would like to thank all of our volunteers and our supporters and funders for their continued work with us. We could not do this important work without your help and support! We look forward to another successful year in 2013 and wish everyone a restful holiday season and a happy and peaceful new year.