February 27, 2014

Three Kelp Communities Discovered

Reef Check California trainers and staff on Catalina Island

By Dr. Jan Freiwald, Director of the Reef Check California Program

Reef Check California kicked off the 2014 training and survey season with the annual trainer and staff retreat on Catalina Island in February. For three days, we reviewed our 2013 accomplishments, made plans for 2014, and dove together to recalibrate our survey skills.

In 2013, we conducted 22 trainings and recertifications statewide and certified over 240 divers as Reef Check citizen scientists. These divers completed 70 rocky reef surveys from as far north as Trinidad in Humboldt County to San Diego in the south. The data collected during these surveys is now used to help manage marine protected areas (MPAs) along the entire California coast.

For example, Reef Check’s report on the MPA baseline monitoring in the north central coast region was recently released by Sea Grant. Some of the key findings were the identification of three distinct kelp forest communities in the study

Practicing fish sizing

region. Communities in the shallow and protected coves along the Sonoma County coast are different from communities around Point Arena, Mendocino. Physical aspects of reef substrate, the depths of the sites and the height of the relief mostly drive these differences. Community differences are especially apparent for species such as sea urchin, black or blue rockfish and striped perch. The detection of distinct communities suggests that long-term monitoring has to insure that MPAs in all respective communities are monitored because ecological processes and management actions might work differently in different communities.

Further, the data collected in collaboration with the monitoring program PISCO (Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans), showed that red urchins declined by 1.5 cm in mean size between 2010 and 2011. This is the time period during which a major invertebrate die-off occurred along the Sonoma County coast. Additionally, Reef Check’s long-term data showed a red urchin population decline from 2007 to 2012 across all five monitoring sites in Sonoma County. The full report can be downloaded here.

Recently, Reef Check was awarded a grant to help monitor baseline conditions of the MPAs in northern California, the last region where MPAs were implemented. We are currently accepting applications for a new North Coast Regional Manager position. For more on Reef Check’s baseline project and the other baseline monitoring teams, see Sea Grant’s webpage at: http://caseagrantnews.org/2013/12/17/new-projects-to-take-snapshot-of-north-coasts-mpas/

Our work in this region will focus on Mendocino County where we will establish new monitoring sites in and around at least five of the new MPAs. Beginning on May 3rd we will hold a Reef Check training in Fort Bragg to get local divers involved in the baseline monitoring project. The schedule for this and all other California trainings and recertifications can be found at: https://reefdpd.wpengine.com/rcca/training_schedule.php

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Trainer and staff retreat on Catalina Island