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The Transect Line - January/February 2016 Newsletter Archive
Global Coral Reef Bleaching Event Update Ambitious Plans in Store for Reef Check Malaysia after Successful 2015
Reef Check National Coordinators Wanted No News is Good News - Bangka Reef Check Italia EcoExpedition 2015
Red Sea EcoDiver Course Scheduled for June Bangka EcoExpedition Participants Get Introduced to Soft Corals and Coral Farming

Global Coral Reef Bleaching Event Update
By Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Reef Check Executive Director
Photos: Reef Check France


The 3rd Global Bleaching Event is now working its way through the southern hemisphere with NOAA Coral Reef Watch showing "hotspots" in the Central and SW Pacific and the Indian Ocean from Indonesia over to Madagascar. Significant bleaching has been recorded by Reef Check teams in many areas including Fiji and New Caledonia in the Pacific, and Mayotte in the Indian Ocean. Sadly, Fiji was just hit by perhaps the most powerful cyclone in history, killing dozens of people. The strong wind and waves mixed the waters there, rapidly reducing surface temperatures so that the bleaching and fish kills stopped.

The 3-year El Niño is now the longest in history, and is now dissipating according to NOAA, to be followed by La Niña.

But so much heat has been built up in the ocean, hot water could continue to be a problem for corals into 2017. We are asking all Reef Check teams in affected areas to get in the water and track impacts so that we can assess the damage. The good news from the field is that compared to dire predictions in 2015, it appears that the corals that survived the previous two global bleaching events are now somewhat more resistant to hot water. The microscopic algae called zooxanthellae that live inside coral tissues reproduce very quickly allowing them to adapt even faster than the corals. This means that there is still time to save coral reefs by reducing our own personal carbon footprints. Eating one less hamburger a week is one of the easiest and most healthy solutions.




Reef Check National Coordinators Wanted
Reef Check is an international organization with a focus on citizen science as a pathway to coral reef conservation. While we have offices and volunteer teams in many places around the world, our goal is to set up training programs in each country and territory with reefs.

Reef Check is looking for volunteers to help coordinate training and monitoring, by either setting up a new Reef Check program where one doesn’t exist or by helping an established coordinator already running a program. We prefer candidates to either be full-time residents of the country they coordinate, or have multi-year plans in place to do biological work.

Reef Check provides support in the form of training materials and information on how to obtain funding.

If you are interested to set up a Reef Check program, please contact us at ecodiver@reefcheck.org.

For more information on our EcoDiver training program, please visit http://reefcheck.org/ecodiver/about-ecodiver/.


Red Sea EcoDiver Course Scheduled for June

Submitted by Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director Stephan Moldzio

Want to become a Reef Check citizen scientist? For the 8th year since starting its reef monitoring program in 2009, Red Sea Diving Safari has announced that it will be offering a 4-day Reef Check EcoDiver training course in Marsa Nakari, Egypt from June 17 -20. The course consists of 4 lectures, 8 dives, and testing. You will practice buoyancy, the Reef Check methodology and species identification skills. Following the course, you will participate in five surveys around Wadi Lahami and Marsa Shagra and the data collected will be submitted to Reef Check for inclusion in their Global Reef Tracker database.

The course fee is 250€ and also includes an underwater field guide and EcoDiver certificate.

Good buoyancy skills and a minimum of 30 logged dives are required for participation. It is also required that divers are equipped with dive computers (rental computers are available at the site).

For further information, click here to see the flyer or visit http://redsea-divingsafari.com/.

Click here for a photo report from EcoDiver Course Director Stephan Moldzio about the 2015 course and surveys.



Ambitious Plans in Store for Reef Check Malaysia after Successful 2015
Submitted by Reef Check Malaysia

While Reef Check celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, 2016 also marks the 10th year of operations since Reef Check Malaysia (RCM) was registered in 2007, and they have come a long way in their efforts to protect the coral reefs of Malaysia. RCM sends in this summary of their successes in 2015 and plans for 2016:

In 2015, RCM successfully trained 55 new EcoDivers and 5 new EcoDiver trainers! We always look forward to having more people come aboard as EcoDivers and we hope to see you on our upcoming surveys. For those interested to become EcoDivers, please feel free to contact us at ecodiver@reefcheck.org.my or visit our website at www.reefcheck.org.my.

In total, we conducted 242 surveys across Malaysia in 2015, our biggest programme to date. The aggregated results from these surveys show that there are no significant changes to the health of coral reefs in Malaysia, good news overall. However, individual reef areas do need action to reduce impacts, and these will be discussed with reef managers and local stakeholders over the coming months.

Our Cintai Tioman community programme is now entering its third year! The recycling programme with the villagers was a huge success in 2015. All in all, we collected 1612.5kg of plastic, 1,421kg of tin and 130kg of batteries. We also conducted trainings for members of the local population in areas such as computer skills, Rescue Diver and Emergency First Responder (First Aid), Reef Check surveys and reef rehabilitation as well as Medic First Aid training for licensed boat operators. As a result of the reef rehabilitation training, some of the trainees are now working on reviving our reef rehabilitation efforts in Monkey Bay. A composting workshop was also organised with students from SMK Tekek, and as of 2015, we have 20 individuals participating in our composting programme. We hope that the recycling and composting efforts will continue to help reduce the waste management problem on the island.

RCM's work on Mantanani Island continued in 2015 with the expansion of reef rehabilitation sites and more education efforts with the local primary school and community. We are still testing different approaches there, due to challenging water conditions around the island. But more importantly, the project allows us to continue to work with the local community to promote the idea of improving management of the islands’ reefs, in particular combating fish bombing.

Throughout 2015, as part of efforts to improve management of Malaysia’s coral reefs, RCM has been working with Department of Marine Parks Malaysia (DMPM) to identify local impacts to coral reefs, and develop Action Plans to reduce or eliminate those impacts.

Our focus this year will be very much on improving management of Malaysia’s coral reefs, with the inclusion of all stakeholders. The programme is ambitious, but one which we hope will successfully demonstrate novel approaches to managing marine ecosystems.

We will be working closely with DMPM and other agencies to implement the local impact Action Plans, as part of which we hope to increase the involvement of local communities in decision making. This is already happening in Tioman, where we are training a group of islanders to provide services to the Marine Park, as well as working to revitalize the Community Consultative Committee. We are hoping to replicate some of those activities in Perhentian.

In Mantanani, we hope to hold the first round of formal community consultations on the concept of managed areas around the islands’ reefs – a process which will take some time to complete but which will eventually involve all stakeholders working together to the common goal of sustainable reef management. Similar projects are on-going in Perak and Johor, and we are hoping that in each location we will be able to demonstrate different approaches to reef management, all with the relevant local communities deeply involved.

Finally, we could be dealing with another mass bleaching episode this year. Predictions from NOAA, based on satellite tracking of sea surface temperatures, indicate potential catastrophic bleaching in South East Asia by April/May, though it is worst in the south of the region. If necessary, the Malaysia Bleaching Response Plan will be activated. This defines a number of management actions in response to different levels of bleaching, ranging from simple monitoring to site closures. We will work closely with DMPM and all local stakeholders and involve them in decision making as far as possible.

For more information on Reef Check Malaysia and how to get involved, please visit http://reefcheck.org.my.


No News is Good News - Bangka Reef Check Italia EcoExpedition 2015
By Reef Check Italia's Gianfranco Rossi

In the year in which researchers of a consortium, established by NOAA, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, The University of Queensland (Australia) and Reef Check, announced the third global coral bleaching event ever, the coral reefs of Bangka Island in North Sulawesi, Indonesia look like they are not affected at all by this phenomenon. These are the evaluations that come from the recent expedition that Reef Check Italia has carried out, for the fifth year, at the Coral Eye Outpost in Bangka.

The unique and complex role that currents play in all the Indonesian Archipelago has brought this year, in this area, cold waters that have kept the water temperature below the seasonal average, saving this zone from the widespread bleaching phenomena that are affecting other parts of the planet. On the contrary, a great drought is devastating many land areas of Indonesia, especially with the aggravating circumstance of palm oil companies that are responsible for forest fires, with a practice of forest clearance known as slash and burn, where land is set on fire as a cheaper way to clear it for new planting.

For the first time, volunteers from other countries, like Hong Kong and the USA, have joined our expedition. The result has been excellent and we hope others will join future trips. In addition to monitoring the reefs, participants also had the opportunity to improve their knowledge of hard corals in the global center of biodiversity, an area with more than 500 species of coral reef builders. Thanks to the presence of the Coral Eye Museum, participants were able to observe samples of more than 50 genera of hard corals in the laboratory and then find the same genera alive in the water. Furthermore, a new training session dedicated to soft coral and coral farming (see article below) has enriched an already intensive program.

As documented in the previous five years of surveys, anthropogenic (manmade) impacts are the main problem that plagues the reefs of Bangka Island: mainly pollution and, in particular, overfishing which is characterized by the use of highly destructive techniques.

The most dangerous occurrence, that in these five years of monitoring has mainly threatened the integrity of the reefs of the Island, is still the start of mining activity. Now the Indonesian Supreme Court of Jakarta has confirmed the verdict that requires the Chinese company MMP to remove all the heavy machinery from the island, but this doesn’t mean that the Island has definitively resolved its problems. Continual and careful monitoring will be always necessary.

While the current global bleaching event which has triggered the alarm for many reefs around the world seems to have spared the Island of Bangka, it does not mean they will be immune to bleaching in the future. The final agreement that nearly 200 governments have subscribed to at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris is a very important decision and could be scientifically robust in the aim of reducing the impact of anthropogenic global warming on coral reefs. Decreasing the overall warming well below 2°C could guarantee the survival of coral reefs for future generations globally, but we are still very far from these targets so it will be fundamental that everyone of us play a role in the achievement of these objectives.


Bangka EcoExpedition Participants Get Introduced to Soft Corals and Coral Farming
By Reef Check Italia's Filippo Bargnesi

In 2015, Reef Check Italia organized its EcoExpedition to the wonderful Bangka Island (North Sulawesi, Indonesia) surrounded by the huge biodiversity of the Celebes Sea. Held October 26 to November 2, participants received courses on coral identification and coral reef monitoring, including, for the first time, a specific class on soft corals.

Activities with the students were conducted in three steps. After an introduction on soft coral biology and ecology, some organisms belonging to the most common taxonomic families were collected and maintained in aquaria for some days to see the main morphological characteristics of the different genera. At the end, polyp morphology was analyzed under a stereomicroscope and sclerites (a species-specific calcium carbonate structure made by these organisms) were extracted and analyzed under an optical microscope for better classification.

Soft corals are very interesting for monitoring the health of a coral reef because they are pioneer organisms in the secondary colonization of destroyed and degraded reefs, due to their high growth rate and high resistance to adverse conditions. They also are valued for reef restoration due to this high growth rate and the fact that they can easily be grown on submerged farms which can provide organisms that can be transplanted on impacted reefs.

When you consider conservation and people’s awareness of environmental sustainability, it is also interesting to note that these organisms are in demand in the aquarium trade. Growing them at specific sites could potentially decrease wild harvesting of soft corals and could also give to local economies an alternative to destructive practices like bomb and poison fishing.

In the end, we would like to thank the Coral Eye management for giving us the opportunity to use the facilities of their Indonesian outpost, such as the wet laboratory (with nine 15l tanks and sea flowing water) and the dry lab, where we made use of microscopes, stereomicroscopes and reagents.


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