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The Transect Line - June 2010 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Oil Spill Update From Florida Technical Question of the Month
Capacity Planning for Sharm El Sheikh Economic Valuation Report on Dominican Republic Coral Reefs
Florida 5th Grade Class Raises $1000 for Reef Check 1st Solomon Islands EcoDiver Training Workshop
Reef Check California Update    
Oil Spill Update From Florida

By Allison Lloyd, Owner/Editor of Sponge Magazine, South Florida

On April 25, 2010, just five days after the BP Deep Horizon oil rig exploded, Reef Check, The Perry Institute for Marine Science and Ocean Rehab Initiative Inc. responded to protect threatened critical wetland ecosystems. 

Collaboratively, these institutions of marine research and conservation developed the Pre-Oil Volunteer Survey, whose methodology is now widely used across the Gulf of Mexico and Greater Caribbean by groups including USGS, USCG, NOAA, EPA, DEP, The Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation and others.

Scientists agreed that the survey methodology must be easy to teach and understand, be at little or no cost to perform, and provide real and significant results for science. In fact, you may even own most of the equipment needed for the survey, like a camera, GPS, tape measure, magic marker and plastic cards.

To date, hundreds of volunteers have surveyed critical habitats for oil-threatened species in their native wetlands (estuaries, sea grasses, mangroves, lagoons, rivers, inlets, reefs and beaches) along South Florida, from the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary to Indian River County. Just this week, teams surveyed reefs in Palm Beach and Martin County, and were pleased to discover a healthy reef system.

Residents up and down the coast have volunteered their time to aid during the largest environmental catastrophe in U.S. history. Current and future volunteers are not only divers, but come from all backgrounds: children, elderly, activists, government employees, retired and working citizens.

To support conservation efforts and learn more about the methodology and volunteer opportunities in Florida, contact William via email at www.oceanrehab.org or call 561-308-8848.

Click here for some great video footage from pre-oil surveys.

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Capacity Planning for Sharm El Sheikh

By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

A team of eight Reef Check scientists surveyed 50 reefs in the vicinity of Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt in May 2010 to determine what condition the reefs were in with respect to ecological health and carrying capacity. Carrying capacity has been defined in a couple of ways: ecological and social. Ecological carrying capacity is exceeded when additional visits by divers damage the ecology of the reefs whereas social carrying capacity is exceeded when additional visits by divers produce a reduced quality of the experience for the visitors to an area.

This area of the Red Sea has been high on the list of “must see” diving sites since the 1970s. At that time, Sharm was advertized with a “money-back” guarantee to see a shark on every dive. But the demographic has shifted from a few thousand highly trained scuba divers in those early years to over 3 million sun and fun snorkelers and inexperienced divers in 2009. Almost 400 dive boats carrying up to 60 passengers each target about 40 official dive sites. Over ten years ago, scientists familiar with the area predicted serious damage to the reefs as tourism ramped up. But based on the Reef Check surveys, other than sharks and most large predatory fish missing in action, the reefs are healthy. In fact, Sharm is one of the few places in the world where a Napoleon (Humphead) Wrasse – a key Reef Check indicator species – can be seen on almost every dive. The clear water, colorful corals and walls that drop down 100s of meters are sensational. Given the lack of predators, the populations of brilliant red-orange Anthias are probably the highest in the world. The low populations of large giant clams were a puzzle until a local biologist pointed out that they are a favored target of free diving Bedouin tribes who still live along the coast (Fig 1).

As it turns out, the homogeneous structure and composition of the reefs of Sharm El-Sheikh provide some natural protection that is not found elsewhere and that has allowed a huge flow of tourist swimmers, snorkelers and divers to coexist with the reefs without destroying them. Three main features explain this:

  1. The shallow reef flats are so shallow that snorkelers realize that they are likely to be “scraping bottom” if they try to squeeze in over the reef (Fig 2).
  2. The reef flat ends in a 90 degree drop off that is covered in branching Millepora fire coral so snorkelers who bump up against it get a nasty sting if they are not completely covered (Fig 3).
  3. The drop off is typically so steep and covered with sharp appearing corals, that snorkelers and divers can maneuver to avoid it.

Aside from some occasional broken corals and the lack of large predators due to regular fishing, the reefs are still in amazingly good condition when one considers that some individual reefs are visited by more than 1000 people per day. Reef Check will be continuing to work with the authorities in Sharm El Sheikh to come up with plans to help spread some of these impacts and reduce the number of visitors to some reefs and control fishing. But at a time of lots of bad environmental news, the situation in Sharm was a pleasant surprise. Reef Check would like to thank biologists Christian Alter of Red Sea Environmental Centre, Dahab, Melanie Koch, Nina Milton,  Dr. Moshira Hassan, Pascal Kriwy, and Anna Roik, as well as Petra Röglin and Rolf Schmidt of Sinai Divers, the crew of the Ghazala boats and to Stephan for photos during the successful survey week.

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Florida 5th Grade Class Raises $1000 for Reef Check

The Fifth Grade Class at Embassy Creek Elementary in Cooper City, Florida recently donated $1000 to Reef Check. One hundred and fifty students researched environmental and social service organizations and presented persuasive essays to their classmates. The students then voted on the recipients of the contribution, raised through a candy sale. Reef Check was chosen for the environmental category, while the OC Foundation was the social service category nomination.

Reef Check representative, William Djubin of Ocean Rehab Initiative Inc., accepted the donation on Reef Check’s behalf at the awards ceremony on June 8th.

Many thanks go out to all the students at Embassy Creek Elementary for their generous support! Click here to see a copy of the winning essay.

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Reef Check California Update

By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

Reef Check California’s (RCCA) summer survey season is in full swing. We have conducted trainings and recertifications of RCCA divers from San Diego in the south to Mendocino in the north. Numerous new divers have joined us in our effort to survey the rocky reefs along the California coast this year and many RCCA veterans have returned this year to continue their important work and help to improve marine management in their state. Now with this great group of volunteers ready to go we have started surveying our sites. Highlights of this year’s surveys so far have been the sightings of sevengill sharks in southern California and of a sturgeon by one of our volunteers surveying off Mendocino.

In addition to surveying the sites of our extensive network along the California coast, RCCA has become part of a team of academic and non-profit organizations that has begun the monitoring of marine protected areas (MPAs) that were newly established on May 1st along the north central coast under the MLPA initiative. As part of this project, RCCA is working on establishing a baseline dataset of the rocky reef communities inside and outside of these new MPAs. This data will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the new MPAs. In this region, we will continue to monitor sites that we established before the MPAs were put into place and add new monitoring sites. In addition to these RCCA surveys, we will be working with the Partnership of Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) to monitor the density and size distribution of two important invertebrates in this region: sea urchins and abalone.

To coordinate RCCA’s work in this study region and to foster collaborations within this research group, we have hired a coordinator for the MPA baseline monitoring. It is a pleasure to introduce Narineh Nazarian who joined Reef Check California last month. Narineh moved across the country to return to this region that she has come to love during her time at Humboldt State University, where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Scientific Diving. Narineh has hit the ground running:  she has already completed the Reef Check training in Monterey, the scientific diver training with the Department of Fish and Game on Catalina and is working with PISCO to coordinate our surveying efforts. Narineh is located in the Santa Rosa area to be near the study region that stretches from Point Arena to Bodega Bay.  We are very excited to have her on board as our newest staff member. Her background in the marine biology of northern California and her extensive diving experience along the north coast provide her with the necessary skills to work along this challenging stretch of coastline.

If you are interested in participating in surveys along the North Coast please check the RCCA forum for survey dates in this region. There is also still one more opportunity to become an RCCA EcoDiver in this region this year. We are offering our last training in northern California in Sonoma in July. For this and other trainings, please check the training schedule to sign up to become a Reef Check California diver and help work towards a sustainable future for California’s coastal ecosystem.

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Technical Question of the Month

Each month, Reef Check will answer a technical question regarding the monitoring protocol of our coral reef or rocky reef programs. If you have a question you would like answered, please email rcinfo@reefcheck.org.

Reef Check Tropical -- How can a single Reef Check survey be considered sufficient to indicate coral reef health?

A standard Reef Check (RC) survey involves both transect and manta tow surveys over a large area of reef. The transects cover 800 square meters of reef twice (once for invertebrates and once for fish) and point-sampling of 160 points along 80m of reef to determine the substrate composition. As ecological surveys go, this is not a small unit of sample and because we focus on a small, carefully selected set of organisms, the results are relatively robust. Many coral reef monitoring programs use much smaller sampling units. However, a single RC survey may be adequate to estimate some parameters but not others, and adequacy will depend on several factors, especially the density of target organisms.

Reef Check was designed using a unit-based approach (four x 100 square meter transects) so that with proper sampling design it can be applied to measuring coral reef health at individual sites and on a regional and even global scale. Just as the right tools are required to build a house (you wouldn’t use a hammer to try to saw wood), it is important to use the right sampling design to achieve a particular goal with respect to producing reliable results.

For results covering a large area (scale), a single RC survey replicated at many sites over this area is sufficient to produce reliable results on reef health. For example, at the regional or global scale, a sample of say, 500 sites, spread over the area provides a reliable estimate of average conditions in the area. Conclusions regarding parameters such as mean coral cover and abundance of most indicators are likely to be accurate.

Replication of surveys is also important to obtain reliable results on a local scale e.g. a single reef. While corals do not move, fish do. So while a single survey may be sufficient to estimate coral cover on a certain reef, it will likely be insufficient to estimate abundance of rare organisms. Four or five surveys might be needed to obtain a reliable estimate of the abundance of common fish, and still might be insufficient to provide a reliable estimate of the abundance of rare fish e.g. the humphead wrasse. That being said, if zero humphead wrasse are recorded after five surveys on a reef, that “zero” has meaning! While we cannot estimate humphead abundance, we can say that humphead wrasse are very rare – usually because they have been fished out. This is very useful information both at the local and regional levels for those interested in coral reef management. Before Reef Check existed some scientists claimed that there were still lots of fish, we just weren’t looking in the right places! Because of the widespread RC monitoring program we now know that this is not true.

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Economic Valuation Report on Dominican Republic Coral Reefs Released

The World Resources Institute has been working to quantify the economic value of coastal and marine ecosystems throughout the Caribbean. Projects have so far been completed in Tobago, St Lucia, Belize and, most recently, the Dominican Republic. Reef Check Dominican Republic (RCDR) helped with this latest report; carrying out studies to look at protecting beaches in tourist areas, providing suitable commercial fishing habitats and examining potential tourism in protected areas. In doing this, better management practices and plans can be drawn up to ensure a better understanding of the fundamental role these environments play in supporting local communities and their industries.

Results from the three major study areas forecast revenue losses to the hotel industry due to beach erosion, a decrease in local fisheries income due to overfishing, and potential revenue transfer resulting from training local fishermen to become dive guides in National Park areas.

In order for the long term economic interest to be protected in the Dominican Republic, stronger and tighter regulations for protecting these environments need to be enforced, along with increasing public awareness about continuing to protect and enjoy the benefits of marine and coastal ecosystems.

The objective of these valuation studies is to help ensure that improvements are made in coastal policy planning and that effective management of these important ecosystems promote and support the future environmental and economic health of the region.

Further details of the WRI report and its findings can be found here http://www.wri.org/project/valuation-caribbean-reefs

Click here to read the full report on the Dominican Republic.

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First Solomon Islands EcoDiver Training Workshop Held

Submitted by Gillian Goby of TDA

The first Solomon Islands EcoDiver training workshop was held in May. The organizers, Gillian Goby, Tony Soapi and John Paranga of the Solomon Islands’ Tetepare Descendants Association (TDA) trained 16 participants with varying Reef Check and monitoring experience.


With kind donations from Reef Check, Australian Volunteers International and the WWF, participants gained valuable training and further understanding of conducting surveys and marine monitoring. In attendance were four current TDA marine monitors, four further untrained monitors, community members, tour guides, rangers and the Tetepare Conservation Manager.

The workshop began with a classroom session, followed by in-water practice in Tetepare Lagoon, a calm and protected area ideal for learning. All participants finished the workshop with a greater understanding of the marine environment around Tetepare and eight of them were formally certified as Reef Check EcoDivers.

Going forward, TDA will be a valuable resource for reef monitoring, having benefitted from this workshop which has increased the quality and accuracy of monitoring and collecting data. In addition, it has also trained other community members, giving them the opportunity to join up with the marine monitoring program. Tsunami damage monitoring and targeted fish surveys are also being added to TDA’s program.

For more information on Reef Check Solomon Islands, please contact Gillian Goby

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