October 12, 2011

Reef Check California October 2011 Update

By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

The 2011 survey season has shown once again how committed RC volunteer citizen scientists are to our work. We have had full boats and large groups of divers on most surveys. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of the volunteers for putting us on a path to making this the most successful survey season yet, with a goal of 83 sites to be completed by the end of November!

In August, Reef Check started monitoring sites in southern California as part of the collaborative team of research groups charged with developing the baseline assessment of the Marine Protected Areas in this region. After a delay in the regulatory process, the California Fish and Game Commission has now shifted the implementation date for these MPAs to January 1st 2012. Nevertheless, RC and other groups are already out in the water monitoring the sites that will be protected to develop an understanding of the state of the ecosystem at the beginning of its protection. RC already had many sites in the study region and several years of data. Now we have started adding new locations and adjusting monitoring to accommodate the new protected areas that will be in effect next year. In September, the MPA Monitoring Enterprise brought together all collaborators from the south coast project to kick off the three year program and to discuss ways in which resources can be shared to create synergies and make this program more than the sum of its parts. This program provides an opportunity to generate a comprehensive two year snapshot of the region’s marine and coastal ecosystems and Reef Check’s long-term data will be used to evaluate the efficacy of the new MPAs in the future.

To inform the public about these MPAs, Reef Check has partnered with the Surfrider Foundation and will hold four public meetings throughout the south coast region in November (Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego). At these meetings we will display maps and regulations of the new MPAs, we will talk about ways to get involved and discuss ways in which these MPAs will be monitored and evaluated. Please see the following link for an announcement of the workshops and to find one near you: MPA community meetings.

Further north, RC has been monitoring the sites along the Sonoma and Mendocino coasts where MPAs were established in 2010. For the second year now, we are taking a two pronged approach to monitoring in this region. In addition to our community-based surveys with RC’s citizen scientists, we are also collaborating with PISCO, an academic research group based at the University of California Santa Cruz, to develop a detailed understanding of the abalone and urchin populations in the region. As part of this effort we have surveyed over 30 sites in this region. This monitoring was particularly timely this year as we have been witnessing an unprecedented die-off of invertebrates, including abalone, sea urchins and others species along this stretch of coast during the month of August. It is not yet clear what caused this very unusual event but it is likely to be the result of an intense red tide, which coincided with the invertebrate deaths (see article on abalone die-off).

Coincidentally our annual Sonoma Survey Extravaganza was planned for mid-September, just after the invertebrate die-off. Our volunteers were anxious to head to the area, not only because this is one of our favorite survey weekends of the year, but also to see first hand the effects of this event. We had an enthusiastic group of 18 and lofty goals to complete our 5 sites in the region. We used the charming and comfortable Stillwater Cove Ranch “dairy barn” as a home base for the weekend. The conditions were less than favorable with a large swell stirring things up and the remnants of the thick red tide reducing visibility. Nonetheless we were able to complete 1 ½ of our existing sites and were able to add two new strategically placed sites in the Point Arena area. All in all it was a fun, successful and interesting weekend. We all had a great time diving together. The volunteers returned to shore with very important data as well as qualitative reports of dead invertebrates seen along the seafloor including abalone, urchins, sunstars, and gumboot chitons. We plan to return to the area in the coming months to complete our surveys and to monitor the populations of affected species.

RCCA will be surveying for a couple more months this year, so if you are interested in joining us please visit our forum and sign up for a survey. We would love your help!

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