January 27, 2010

Reef Check California January 2010 Update

By Reef Check California Director of Science Cyndi Dawson


The year 2010 came roaring in with a bang with some incredible weather up and down the state. It was quite a thing to see the arrival of El Niño conditions and we all saw the results over the last few weeks of January with a barrage of storms that lined up in the Pacific that came one after another. El Niño conditions occur when temperatures in the equatorial Pacific rise above average and persist at that level for 3 months or more. You can visit NOAA’s website to get detailed information on El Niño.

El Niño events in the past have been linked to lower ocean productivity off California because it limits the conditions that cause upwelling. Upwelling brings nutrient rich cooler water close to shore and is the corner stone of our vibrant kelp forest ecosystems off California. When there are fewer nutrients available in the water, this affects everything from plankton right on up the food chain to whales. As divers, we like the warm water that El Niño brings to central and northern California and in southern California, El Niño can bring increased reproductive success and output for warmer water species like lobster. It will be interesting to see if during this upcoming survey season we can pick up any decreases in rockfish and kelp recruitment (i.e. less baby rockfish and less dense kelp) in the upper half of the state as well as maybe an increase in small lobsters in southern California. Meteorologists are still unclear on the intensity of this El Niño but as you can see from the figure of the ENSO (El Niño/Southern Oscillation) Index below there is a wide range in intensities. The red sections in the graph represent El Niño events that are characterized by warm water and the blue sections represent the Southern Oscillation (a.k.a La Niña) events which are characterized by cold water. The most significant El Niño on record is the 1982-83 El Niño. I remember my dad catching albacore tuna off the beach in Bodega Bay in northern California during that one, and it will be interesting to see how this one progresses.


Starting on January 30, Reef Check will be part of an exhibit at the Pacific Coast Natural History Museum entitled the “World of Fishes.” This exhibit was organized by well known Ichthyologists Drs. Dave Greenfield and Gregor Cailliet. This exhibit highlights the anatomy, physiology, habitats, and on-going research being done by local researchers. It is a great opportunity to present Reef Check’s work alongside other scientific researchers and we are honored to take part. The opening reception will be held January 30 from 5 – 7 pm and all are invited to attend.

We are also continuing to get RCCA data out there to ensure it is getting used. You can now find RCCA data on the Hopkins Marine Station Marine Life Observatory. This site is administered by Stanford University from Hopkins Marine Station located on the Monterey Bay and makes available consistent long-term data for establishing a scientific baseline on which to evaluate the ecological health of the local marine ecosystem.

If you want the inside scoop on what is happening with RCCA you can follow me on Twitter. I will continue “tweeting” throughout the season to keep everyone updated on the RCCA program and my exploits as RCCA’s Director of Science. All relevant updates will also be posted on the Forum including daily blogs when I am on the road spreading the word about Reef Check.

We continue to be on the front lines of improving marine management in California and we need your continued support! Your donations to RCCA go directly to supporting the collection of the critical data needed to sustainably manage California’s marine resources. Please join us and help ensure the sustainability of reefs worldwide!