June 28, 2021

Reef Check Kelp Forest Program Expands into Oregon

By Dan Abbott, Reef Check California Central Coast Manager and Laura Tesler, Reef Check Volunteer

Oregon trainees

In April, after several weeks of studying protocols, practicing identification with flashcards, and weekly Zoom classes, seven intrepid divers slid into the cold Oregon water off Port Orford to practice conducting surveys and to become the first ever Reef Check citizen scientists in Oregon. These divers came from all over the state to take part in the training and do their part in protecting Oregon’s unique marine environment.

This class was the first step in launching the Reef Check Oregon program, which has the goal of monitoring the health of Oregon’s kelp forests. Reef Check is partnering with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to help monitor their impressive system of marine reserves  which strive to protect habitats and conserve biodiversity in Oregon’s nearshore environments. In addition, Reef Check is working with the Oregon Kelp Alliance in their efforts to restore kelp forest environments at five sites along the coast where kelp forest ecosystems have succumbed to the perfect storm and have become urchin barrens. Reef Check has hired Diana Hollingshead as the Reef Check Oregon Volunteer Coordinator to manage surveys and future trainings. A new training in Port Orford has just been added for this August.

Diana Hollingshead
Diana Hollingshead

Below is a first hand report from one of our new Oregon Reef Checkers, Laura Tesler:

“For years we have been hoping to get Reef Check to come up to Oregon and start a Reef Check team. This year in April that dream finally came true when Reef Check announced that they would start training the first habitat assessment team in Oregon. Within a week, seven people were signed up and the online class began where we learned about the scientific method, statistics, fish and invertebrate identification, laying transects, and how all the pieces would fit together.

Finally, after four weeks of classes and quizzes which made us all experts on identification and technique, the big weekend arrived that we all were looking forward to- the open water checkout weekend in Port Orford. We had to reschedule once already due to unfavorable wind conditions, so everyone was pretty determined to make these dates work.

The first day we did topside training on the Port Orford jetty, which really was helpful to understand the UPC part of the transect survey. At first this seemed strange but after we started rolling it began to make sense. Then it was at last time to load up our boat, The Black Pearl, and start our first transect.

Oregon training

In Oregon, most people dive dry suit, but since we do have some hardy wetsuit divers, those folks were paired up together and we proceeded to the site in Nellie’s Cove. As we were getting instructions from Data Captain Dan, gray whales started to surface around our boat and oystercatchers were surrounding us from the rocks close by. First Dan and I went in and laid the transect underwater at 30 feet, in about 10-foot visibility, and Dan did his reference survey for us to compare against later. Then the respective teams went in to start their surveys along the line. We did this for three dives and then returned to the harbor.

Then each team compared their results against Dan’s reference survey as far as numbers of urchins counted, UPC points, and invertebrates to see if we were correct in our identification and numbers. We were happy to note that most of us were within 10 numbers off! All that online training definitely came in handy.  

The next day we returned to the boat and tried to survey one of the few remaining places in Redfish Rocks that had a kelp patch, however the visibility here was absolutely zero and we knew this would be a futile effort. We returned back to another location close by Nellie’s Cove and set out another transect line. Viz was now down to about 5 feet, however all of us on the team are seasoned coastal divers and we were used to this type of visibility. More practice was good as at this time when we checked in with Dan, we all either matched or were within 5 individuals. We all felt we were ready for the next survey transect weekend and there are many more to do in Oregon!”

Oregon training
Oregon training