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The Transect Line - July 2010 Newsletter Archive
  Newsletter Highlights
Bleaching Alert How Bad Will It Get? Shanghai Students Travel to Thailand
Clinton Global Initiative Haiti Action Network Meeting EcoDiver Trainings Held in Montserrat and Nevis
Reef Check California Update Tobago Scholars Receive EcoDiver Scholarships
Technical Question of the Month Reef Check Colombia Visits Reef Check Florida
Reef Check Board Interns Graduate    
Bleaching Alert Global Warming and El Nino How bad will it get?

By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

2010 is now officially the hottest year ever recorded since temperature has been measured. Unfortunately coral reefs are the most sensitive ecosystem on earth to global warming. The previous hottest year was 1997/98 and Reef Check teams tracked the damage via bleached corals and ultimately the loss of about 10% of the world’s reef corals.

Corals are dependent upon their symbiotic algae for nutrition, and if the water becomes too warm for too long, the algae grow tails and simply swim away. If the now white “bleached” corals do not get their algae back after a couple of weeks, then they may die.

Unfortunately, reports have been coming in for two months from Southeast Asia and other parts of the world where water temperatures have exceeded normal levels resulting in massive bleaching in Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia (thumbnail photo by Peter Heyes) and Indonesia.

Like 1998, it appears that the weather patterns associated with El Nino reduce wind mixing and wave action leading to pools of ocean water simply sitting and becoming overheated under clear skies.

Reef Check teams are working hard to track this new global bleaching event. As global warming continues, it is likely that these events will become more frequent. Several scientists have predicted that most coral reefs will be killed off in the next 50 years by global warming. But global warming can be stopped. Let’s all work to stop it in time.

For more information, visit NOAA's Bleaching Outlook page.

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Reef Check Invited to Clinton Global Initiative Haiti Action Network Meeting

By Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson

Last month, Reef Check Board member Robert McClatchy and Director, Gregor Hodgson were invited to attend the Haiti Action Network meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative. The members of the Haiti Action Network are working on all aspects of the rebuilding of Haiti from schools, to medicine, to housing – but none of the current members are involved in the marine environment. The purpose of CGI is to bring diverse groups together to solve problems. This is clearly happening in Haiti and Reef Check is very pleased to have brought a marine perspective to the group. The food security issue in particular will be largely dependent on solving reef issues. Reef Check is planning the first complete survey of Haiti’s reefs beginning in October.

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Reef Check California Update

By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald

In July, Reef Check California (RCCA) completed its public training season for the year. Over the last several months, we conducted nine trainings and nine recertifications statewide and have certified 153 divers. Trainings and recertifications are always exciting events for us as we get to know the new crop of RCCA divers and meet the old-timers again as they do their annual recertification before conducting surveys. With this great group of divers we have also already surveyed many of our sites this year. So far the diving conditions have been great and most of the time we have been able to complete our sites within one day thanks to the large number of dedicated volunteers that come to each survey. If we were not so lucky with the conditions, our volunteers have always stepped up to the plate and returned to finish the surveys on a different day.  

On our surveys, we have seen many young rockfish recruits settling onto the rocky reefs this year. These fish, born as tiny larvae, spend several weeks to a month in the open ocean environment where they grow to fully formed fish before coming back to the reefs to settle and grow up to become adult fish. The numbers of young arriving at a given reef varies greatly among years and it looks like this will be a great year for their recruitment with large numbers of young arriving. As the survey season progresses we will be able to see if this trend continues and document it in our data. We have not only seen many tiny fish on the reefs but also have gotten many reports of exciting sightings above the water. Our volunteers have seen large numbers of whales and dolphins near our sites or on the boat trips to and from the surveys. Especially in the Monterey Bay region an exceptional number of blue and humpback whales have been seen. These are always great moments when the boat captain announces a whale sighting and slows the boat. Many times we are able to watch them as they pass by the boat until they dive again to feed on the abundant krill in the bay.  

We are looking forward to continuing our surveys throughout the state this season and hopefully will expand our network of sites as we have done every year in the past to include some previously unmonitored reefs in our network of RCCA sites. If you are an RCCA diver and would like to join us for surveys, go to the RCCA forum for survey dates and locations. Even if you have not been recertified this year there are always possibilities to practice and become a current Reef Checker on the surveys. Check out the dates and sites and come along for fun and exciting Reef Check surveys this diving season!

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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 California -- Why do we count the number of kelp plants and their stipes?

Giant kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is a large seaweed that grows from the rocky seafloor all the way to the surface of the ocean where it forms large canopies that can be seen from shore. By growing through the entire water column these algae provide habitat, shelter, and food for many of the fish and invertebrate species that live on these rocky reefs - just as trees do in a forest on land. Because giant kelp is so fundamental to the biological communities on rocky reefs along the California coast, Reef Check California divers count this species on their transects. But how do we insure that we capture in our data the important physical structure and biomass that the kelp provides?

In contrast to trees in a terrestrial forest where each plant has one trunk that supports the leafy canopy, kelp forests are structured differently. Each individual kelp plant* is made up of many ‘stipes’, or rope-like branches, that grow from the ‘holdfast’, a root-like structure that anchors the kelp to the reef. As a kelp plant grows, its stipes become longer and more numerous. Therefore, the older a kelp plant, the more structure and habitat it can provide to the reef community. If we were just to count the number of kelp plants on a reef we would not capture this important difference between small kelp plants and larger, older plants. In order to document the size, and hence the amount of habitat the kelp provides, we count the number of stipes of each kelp plant on our transects. At our survey sites, we encounter very differently structured kelp forests. Sometimes they are made up of many, many small individuals, which have only a few stipes each, and in other areas we find forests with fewer but larger plants with over a hundred stipes each. By counting the number of individuals as well as the number of their stipes, we can use our data to describe the important differences in the habitat structure that this forest-building algae provides to the rocky reef community.

* ‘Plant’ is a term that is regularly used and accepted when referring to kelps and other seaweeds. These organisms, however, are not plants belonging to the kingdom Plantae, but are rather algae within the kingdom Protista.   

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Reef Check Board Interns Graduate

By Board Interns Josh Dubinsky & Marc Mund

As some members of the Reef Check (RC) community may already know, we had the pleasure of joining the Reef Check Foundation as interns to the board of directors for the past 7 months. This amazing opportunity initially came about through the cooperation of RC’s Board Chair, Sue Chen, and Richard Diaz, the Director of the Riordan Volunteer Leadership Development Program (RVLDP), a Los Angeles-based organization established by the Honorable Mayor Riordan and governed under the umbrella of the Los Angeles Junior Chamber of Commerce (LAJCC). The RVLDP mission is to educate and train business professionals for life-long service in the governance of nonprofit organizations. As part of the RVLDP program, participants are required to partake in an internship with a nonprofit organization with the aim of gaining knowledge about the functions of a board of directors.

Last December, RC joined the RVLDP internship fair for the first time and immediately attracted a lot of high potential intern candidates through Sue Chen and Dr. Gregor Hodgson’s energetic and passionate presentations. As a result, RVLDP decided to assign six interns, a record number, to the RC organization. Within a few weeks, all interns were integrated within the organization, met all board members, and participated in the annual weekend retreat in downtown Los Angeles.

Offering skills in board governance, fundraising, strategic planning, financial management, marketing, and public relations, the intern group participated in all board meetings and went on to join committees with the aim of supporting various initiatives. David Fleming worked with Russ Lesser on a direct mail campaign, while Nikki Dossman supported Gregor Hodgson on the EcoDiver initiative. The remaining four interns—Josh Dubinsky, Charles Hassell, Brian Miller, and Marc Mund—joined Regina Rubino in drafting a strategic plan to attract corporate partners and establish long-term relationships profiting Reef Check.

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Students From Concordia International School Shanghai Travel to Thailand

Submitted by Paul Adams

A small group of students from Concordia International School Shanghai’s (CISS) Marine Ecology Program returned to Thailand for a third year to collect data for Reef Check. Seven newbies and four returning divers traveled to Racha Yai Island, off the coast of Phuket, armed with excitement for being on summer holiday, enthusiasm to experience the thrill of being a visitor in the underwater world, and in style with personally designed team t-shirts by Reef Check EcoDivers Jane Chow and Anthony Wonsono.

Daily dive routines were quickly established on the M/V Scuba Cat, a liveaboard boat that became home for the next nine days. Returning divers immediately embarked on their chosen specialties and quickly became acclimated to their diving routines—adding additional skills to their diving repertoire. Two divers worked towards PADI’s Rescue Diver Certification and remained constantly alert for a variety of emergency scenarios, while newbies quickly gained confidence as they worked through the necessary skills to become Advanced Open Water Divers. PADI scuba instructors Joel Klammer and Paul Adams supervised all diver training and certifications in coordination with Scuba Cat tour leader Stuart Robinson.

The trips to Racha Yai Island, organized by CISS teacher Terry Umphenour, have enabled CISS students to participate in the Reef Check program. On past trips, student divers found the ocean waters around Racha Yai Island teeming with life, as evident by the numerous fishing boats that constantly surrounded the area around Scuba Cat Bay. During this third expedition, fishing boats still came and went; however, their presence was not nearly as noticeable as in past years.

Upon entering the water, the reason for their sparseness became immediately clear. A bleak underwater situation greeted the dive teams. Students returning for their second or third year found horrifying conditions! Instead of viewing beautifully colorful coral, divers beheld only white, bleached coral—a result of warm ocean water. The air, surface, and bottom temperatures all hovered near 30o Celsius—in some places moving upward towards 32o Celsius. Reefs thrive in water temperatures below 28o Celsius. The water temperature around Racha Yai Island had reached a critical threshold. If not for the warm water, in which the divers swam without the need of wetsuits, they could have been visiting Antarctica—swimming over an ice-filled landscape.

Returning divers Katie Klammer and Wonsono stated, “Anchor damage to the coral continues to be an issue; however, bleaching of 87% to 95% of the coral was terrible. Numbers of "indicator species" were dramatically down in all areas. It was difficult to tell if the coral had any diseases because all we saw was white.”

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EcoDiver Trainings Held in Montserrat and Nevis

Submitted by Reef Check Coordinator James Hewlett

Seven students from Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York arrived in Nevis on June 19th as part of a course called Global Ecosystems: Tropical Coral Reefs. The group was led by Professor James Hewlett, a Reef Check Course Director and Coordinator on the island of Montserrat, W.I. Accompanying Hewlett as a Teaching Assistant was University of Maryland biology student Conor O’Leary. The course included a variety of topics associated with coral reef ecology, but embedded in the curriculum was the Reef Check EcoDiver certification program. Scuba Safaris, led by Managing Director Ellis Chaderton, was the local dive shop partner which helped support activities related to the course, as well as the EcoDiver program. The week ended with 8 new certified EcoDivers! Variable weather on the last two days kept the group from conducting the very first survey in Nevis waters, but the new EcoDivers were able to complete a shallow survey on the leeward side of St. Kitts at Green Point. 

On June 26th, Hewlett, O’Leary, and two students traveled to Montserrat, W.I. to participate in the second annual Montserrat Dive Festival. Hosted by the Green Monkey Dive Shop, the week-long festival included a diverse array of activities in the waters of Montserrat. Participants were given the option of becoming certified EcoDivers. Troy Depperman, owner of the Green Monkey and Reef Check Course Director, directed the EcoDiver program for 5 volunteers. Joining the festival mid-week were three more Course Directors from Florida Keys Community College. The new arrivals had sailed from Key West to Montserrat on The Freedom Boat, an organization committed to sustainable solutions for preserving the world’s oceans. With support from a grant from the National Science Foundation, the boat and its crew will remain in Montserrat for a month to conduct Reef Check surveys in multiple locations. Montserrat’s reefs face an unusual threat due to its active volcano in the Soufriere Hills. Volcanic activity began in 1995 and continues to this day. A February 2010 collapse of the volcanic dome dropped more than 50 million cubic meters of ash and rock into the landscape and out into the ocean on the windward side of the island. Direct deposition of ash, increased erosion, and increased redevelopment activity has contributed to a substantial sedimentation load on Montserrat’s reefs. 

On all accounts, the trips were a huge success, with 12 new certified EcoDivers, three completed Reef Check surveys, a credit-bearing college course, and a week-long dive festival. A program of this scope would not be possible without support from the partner dive shops, Scuba Safaris and the Green Monkey Dive Shop, and financial support through the National Science Foundation grant. Future plans include an expansion of Reef Check activity in the waters around Nevis, and some detailed mapping of the reefs being surveyed by the crew of The Freedom Boat.

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Tobago Scholars Receive EcoDiver Scholarships From Coral Cay and Reef Check

Submitted by Coral Cay Conservation's Jan-Willem van Bochove

Coral Cay Conservation (CCC) is delighted to report that three key community members from Speyside in Tobago have recently completed their EcoDiver Training at the CCC Project site in Charlotteville, Tobago.


The trainees make up part of a 5-man team, recently established as the ‘Speyside Eco-Marine Park Rangers’ who are helping to drive the establishment of a marine managed area in order to protect the stunning, but highly threatened coral reefs along Tobago’s north-eastern coastline. The Rangers received a free CCC Scholarship and joined international volunteers from Coral Cay to earn PADI Advanced Open Water Diver and Reef Check EcoDiver certifications.

The Rangers will be conducting ongoing scientific monitoring work around Speyside’s reefs as well as make other community members aware of its vital importance to the island of Tobago as a healthy biodiversity hotspot. The EcoDiver certification is of great value to Speyside community members as it empowers them to play an active role in the development and management of the Speyside marine area.

Rupert Mc Kenna, one of the scholars, said “It’s a pleasure to be part of this program. There [are] five persons willing to form a group to carry on the work of protecting the reef in Speyside. We are willing to be trained to carry out the work that Buccoo Reef Trust and Coral Cay have started.”

Coral Cay Conservation is providing all volunteers and local scholars participating in its projects with Reef Check EcoDiver training. The programme complements CCC’s existing ‘Science Development Training’ and will allow these citizen scientists to contribute to coral reef conservation across the globe!

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Reef Check Colombia Visits Reef Check Florida

Submitted by Nohora Galvis

Acknowledging that recreational divers visit coral reefs more often than scientists do, former Colombian Reef Check Coordinator Nohora Galvis has written many scientific papers about the relevance of including dive operators in the decision-making process as reporters of their underwater observations. At a meeting in the Florida Keys this July, Nohora accomplished her objective of recommending internationally that it is relevant that each country develop a network of dive operators to act as coral reef observers to provide an early alert of potential environmental impacts. To support this objective in Colombia, a website was created by the ICRI Foundation Colombia in Pro of Coral Reefs. Since the main idea is to organize a systematic collection of data, training needs to be provided to scuba dive operators to report on a daily or weekly basis during peak alert seasons. These reports should then be analyzed by NGOs before governmental agencies are informed. In Colombia, the first training workshop has been planned for the 2010 Colombian Day of the Reef. The 160 scuba dive operators in Colombia have been invited to attend.

While in the Keys, Nohora Galvis met with Reef Check Florida representative and President of Ocean Rehab, William Djubin to share their experiences of organizing a network of divers. William recently organized teams of divers to conduct pre-oil surveys in the Keys. Nohora and William also met with Nikole Ordway, a Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director at Pro Dive International in Fort Lauderdale, to exchange new ideas to improve the volunteer monitoring of coral reefs.

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