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The Transect Line - September 2012 Newsletter Archive
Reef Check Honors California’s Unsung Heroes of Marine Conservation at Annual Gala Fisher-divers and First Group of Women Get Trained to Assess the Marine Reserves of Isla Natividad
Reef Check Spotlight: Synchronized Coral Spawning in the Red Sea Biosphere Expeditions Teams Up With Reef Check for EcoExpedition in Malaysia
The Bahamas Expands its Reef Check EcoDiver Network to the Exumas Reef Check Italia Campaigns to Protect Mediterranean Gorgonians and Red Coral

Reef Check Honors California’s Unsung Heroes of Marine Conservation at Annual Gala

Six of California’s marine conservation heroes were honored at Reef Check’s “Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans" Gala, September 8th at the Jonathan Beach Club in Santa Monica.

Mike Ireland, a Reef Check California program diver since 2008, received the Citizen Scientist of the Year Award. Through 2011, he had a completed a total of 92 transects, including an impressive 37 last year alone. This year, Mike became a California EcoDiver Instructor, leading recertification and standard training classes in San Diego this summer.

Receiving Poseidon Awards were Commissioner Richard B. Rogers from the California Fish & Game Commission, William W. Anderson and Gregory F. Schem from the MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force, and Don Benninghoven, MLPA Blue Ribbon Task Force member and former California Fish & Game Commissioner. They were recognized for their leadership and public service in the creation of a statewide network of marine protected areas in California through the Marine Life Protection Act.

Receiving the final award of the evening was California Assemblymember Paul Fong, who received the Reef Stewardship Award for his commitment to the conservation of our seas, demonstrated by his leadership in the authoring and passage of the bill banning the sale or possession of shark fins in California.

Thank you to all who attended, bid, donated, and volunteered- your efforts helped make the gala a success! Special thanks to sponsors Body Glove, Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP, Karma Tequila, Nova Medical Products, and Quiksilver Foundation.

Don Benninghoven, Richard Rogers, Greg Schem & William Anderson Sue Chen & Asm. Paul Fong Mike Ireland

Click here to view more photos from the gala.

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Reef Check Spotlight: Synchronized Coral Spawning in the Red Sea

By Dr. Mohammed M. A. Kotb, Assoc. Prof. of Coral Reef Ecology, Marine Science Dept., Suez Canal University, Egypt & Reef Check EcoDiver Course Director

Dr. Mahmoud Hanafy and Dr. Mohammed Kotb (from the scientific research team of the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA)), along with two researchers from the Nature Conservation Sector of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA), Mr. Tamer Moner and Mr. Islam El Sadek, had the opportunity to study and record a remarkable synchronized spawning involving different species of the branched hard corals Acropora. This event occurred during the first week of May 2012, and is considered the first full scientific observation ever recorded in the Egyptian Red Sea. Mass spawning is an event of synchronized reproduction as described in the mid-1980s, and it aims to maximize chances of fertilization: the coral colonies release their gametes (eggs and sperm) into the water simultaneously in large quantities and over a very limited time interval; the coordination of the release being dependent on environmental, biological and chemical factors.

This event is known to occur only in tropical areas and is usually associated with the full moon. Information on this phenomena available from the Egyptian Red Sea is a result of a decade of studies carried out by various researchers and institutes. This data was collected and analyzed by a HEPCA team, who came to the conclusion that the mass spawning takes place either two days before or after the full moon, usually in the period between the 20th of April and the 6th of May.

Their conclusion was correct: a unique and remarkable mass release of gametes from more than 12 species of the hard corals Acropora took place on Thursday the 3rd and Friday the 4th of May 2012 in the Hurghada area. And there is something more: the HEPCA team’s genuine excitement in witnessing this phenomenon can possibly be shared as- and this is the real breakthrough- recorded video.

Besides the undeniable value of disclosing a fascinating ecological process in front of our eyes, the scientific significance of such a record can greatly contribute towards preparing and implementing integrated environmental management plans for the preservation of the marine environment. The sector of coral reef rehabilitation would benefit from it too; perhaps finding new resources to intervene on the deteriorated coral reefs of Hurghada, heavily impacted by unregulated coastal development. Finally, with a close collaboration between environmental organizations, agencies and the tourism sector, our divers could even be among the first to be offered the possibility to observe the event live underwater.

In conclusion, if you were in the area at the time and concerned about the fact that the sea was clouded by an unidentified reddish substance, you now know there was no reason to worry. On the contrary, celebrate the magnificent natural event you had a glimpse of. As usual, we call upon the community to respect coral reefs by adopting proper behaviours and to report to HEPCA any violations to national and regional regulations you may witness at sea.

In related news, Dr. Ruben Torres of Reef Check Dominican Republic sent us a link to video of Montastrea coral spawning on September 6th in La Caleta MPA, Dominican Republic.

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The Bahamas Expands its Reef Check EcoDiver Network to the Exumas
By Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer Krista Sherman

Training activities under the Global Environment Facility (GEF) Full Size Project (FSP) pilot demonstration 3 — “Tourism and Coral Reef Health in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park” have been selected to provide the local communities in the Exumas with increased skills to pursue or engage in sustainable tourism activities as a means of employment or revenue generation and to promote environmental stewardship. A Reef Check EcoDiver Certification workshop was held at the Staniel Cay All-Age School during the 13-18th of August, 2012 in Staniel Cay, Exuma.

Reef Check EcoDiver surveys were conducted at two locations on North Horseshoe Reef. Substrate surveys were completed by Krista Sherman and Lindy Knowles, fish by Jacob Leese and Keiran Miller and invertebrates and impacts by Juan Antonio Puyol and Susanna Girolamo. Benthic cover was dominated by nutrient indicator algae (54%), rock (31%) and hard corals (8%). On average, grunts were the most abundant indicator fish species observed followed by parrotfish and butterflyfish. Mean abundance of gorgonians were the highest of all indicator invertebrates. No anthropogenic impacts were observed within the vicinity of the 100 m transect line. Although The Bahamas is currently under a coral bleaching watch, results indicated that only 4% of the coral populations surveyed were bleached with up to 14% of individual coral colonies showing signs of bleaching. The Reef Check Exuma team has agreed to assemble twice per year to conduct surveys at North Horseshoe Reef.

The Reef Check protocol was adopted by The Bahamas to supplement ongoing coral reef monitoring efforts in the country and in an effort to involve local communities in scientific research. The Bahamas’ team of certified Reef Check EcoDivers now welcomes Juan Antonio Puyol, Keiran Miller, Susanna Girolamo and Jacob Leese. The course was led by Krista Sherman (Reef Check EcoDiver Trainer and GEF FSP Coordinator for the Bahamas National Trust) with the assistance of Reef Check EcoDiver Lindy Knowles (Science Officer, Bahamas National Trust). Funding for this workshop was provided by the Waitt Foundation with support from the Bahamas National Trust through the GEF FSP.

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Fisher-divers and First Group of Women Get Trained to Assess the Marine Reserves of Isla Natividad

By Mary Luna, Reef Check Program Manager, Mexico

“A kelp forest on steroids,” or so has the Natividad marine environment been described by visiting divers. This comes as no surprise given Natividad’s remote location and the conscious management of the marine resources that the local fishing cooperative Buzos y Pescadores (ByP) has implemented over generations. Fishing cooperatives on the Pacific side of the Baja Peninsula are granted fishing concessions that are renewed every 20 years. These are geographically specific areas in the ocean where a cooperative has the exclusive right to harvest invertebrates, such as lobster and abalone.

ByP closed part of their concession to all types of fishing in 2006. They worked with the marine conservation organization Comunidad y Biodiversidad (COBI) to implement a monitoring system that would allow ByP to evaluate the recovery of key commercial species for 6 years. This test period ended this year and after the ByP members assessed the benefits versus the costs they voted to continue implementing the MPAs for 6 more years. It has been an honor for Reef Check (RC) to work with ByP and COBI since 2006, when we were invited to adapt the Reef Check California (RCCA) monitoring protocol to the Natividad conditions and to train their fisher-divers on how to do the underwater surveys.

Colleen Wisniewski, RCCA’s Southern California Regional Manager, and I returned this past July to perform the annual recertification of the fisher-divers. During that time of the year the fishers are generally harvesting sea cucumber and wavy turban snail and they had not yet finished their quota when we arrived. We started the training by conducting the classroom sessions in the afternoons when they came back from fishing and the field training was postponed until they finished their quota at the end of the week. We had no complains though; Natividad is considered a world surfing destination and a healthy south swell fueled our sessions at the local breaks.

Jhonatan Castro, Jesus Flores, Abraham Mayoral, Sergio Mendoza, Alonzo Murillo and Roberto Carlos Vazquez are the fisher-divers who completed the recertification and collected data in the two reserves after our training was complete. After that they worked with Arturo Hernandez from COBI to obtain their Dive Master certifications. We are very proud of these men for continuing to dedicate their time and effort to monitoring their MPAs.

We also had the honor to introduce the first two members of the women's dive team from the island to the RC Baja methodology. These divers obtained their scuba diving certification from Arturo Hernandez from COBI last summer and we just wanted to get them familiar with some of the species and survey methods that comprise a Reef Check survey. The offshore winds that characterize the island are a blessing for surfers, but can certainly make an afternoon dive session challenging for new divers. Add to that the thick kelp canopy and colder water temperatures, which only increase the level of difficulty. Elsa Cuellar and Esmeralda Albañez persevered and did a great job as they completed their first intro RC dives in spite of these conditions. Elsa and Esmeralda, as well as the other scuba certified women on the island are logging more dives to get fully certified next year so they can eventually start collecting data.

I’ve had the honor and pleasure of working with the fisher-divers of Natividad and of interacting with the local community for several years now. Through them I’ve learned about discipline, dedication to work and family and the importance of community. After 7 years of working with RC, mainly with projects in Baja, I am leaving to pursue a graduate degree at the Bren School at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My goal is to learn practical business and science skills that will allow me to have a greater positive impact on the sustainable development of coastal communities. Thank you to all the people at Reef Check, COBI, ByP, the Magdalena Island fisher-divers, their families and many others who, by allowing me to work with them all of these years, have taught me more than any formal school will ever be able to teach.

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Biosphere Expeditions Teams Up With Reef Check for EcoExpedition in Malaysia

Submitted by Biosphere Expeditions

Tioman Island in Malaysia is a popular tropical holiday destination, due to its clear water and abundant marine life. Fortunately, despite its 200,000 tourists a year, it has remained relatively undeveloped. Although the island was gazzetted as a marine park in the late 1990s, fishing has continued, albeit to a lesser extent, and park rules are poorly enforced. Reef Check Malaysia has been completing surveys on the island for a number of years along with scientists, dive centers and other researchers. However, research has been limited to sites that are easily accessible by the dive centers fringing the north west coast of the 37km long island. Anecdotal evidence has long suggested that the rest of the island suffers from impacts such as Crown of Thorns starfish outbreaks, monsoonal coral-damaging storms and more intense artisanal and small-scale commercial fishing, but until recently, important quantitative information has been missing.

Thanks to a team of volunteers from Biosphere Expeditions, Tioman Dive Centre and Reef Check Malaysia were finally able to survey the reefs of east Tioman and surrounding islands for the first time in March 2012. Marine biologist and Reef Check leader, Katie Yewdall, led three teams of Biosphere Expedition volunteers over a six week period on Araliya, a 45 ft sloop rig sailing yacht during which volunteers lived aboard and completed 2 to 3 research dives a day. 35 surveys were completed at 19 sites in the area, including 12 newly introduced reefs. These reefs were found to be different from already surveyed ones in a number of ways. Some were badly affected by sedimentation originating from the mainland, some were suffering heavily from damaging fishing methods and some were escaping these impacts and remaining healthy and diverse.

The data gathered in these surveys will serve as a baseline upon which future expeditions will build and will be combined with the several years of data already collected from the area. This will allow researchers more fully to understand the impacts on the long-term health of the reef environment and allow managers to adjust plans and ensure their protection. Annual expeditions are now planned- which any interested individual can join- to contribute to the continuation of this valuable, interesting and exciting long-term monitoring program.

The 2013 Malaysia expeditions will run from March 10-22 & March 24 - April 5 2013. Details of these and other expeditions can be found at: http://reefcheck.org/involved/Expeditions.php


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Reef Check Italia Campaigns to Protect Mediterranean Gorgonians and Red Coral

By Reef Check Italia's Gianfranco Rossi

Paramuricea clavata is an endemic gorgonian of the Mediterranean Sea. Its presence characterizes some of the very best dive sites. Its role is crucial for maintaining the integrity of one of the areas with the highest rate of biodiversity on the planet: the Mediterranean coralligenous. In this habitat, the wonderful fans of this gorgonian extend from the substrate with upright branches that form true underwater forests. The dark bluish color, due to the reduced brightness of the environment where they grow, creates scenarios that arouse deep admiration in any diver.

Unfortunately very little is known about the biology of Paramuricea clavata; not only by scuba divers but also by researchers to which many aspects of the life of these organisms are still poorly known.

As a result, the Gorgonians Campaign 2012 was launched by Reef Check Italia Onlus. Besides asking volunteers to record information on the distribution and abundance of these organisms, the importance of observations indicating any presence of tiny eggs laid on the branches’ surfaces has also been highlighted. Knowing the gorgonian distribution while obtaining information on the period they’re breeding could generate data of great scientific relevance. Paramuricea clavata belongs to the Octocorals; in this group two different kinds of reproduction are known: the first one consists of broadcast spawning with fertilization and development in the water column, while the second one occurs when fertilization and brooding take place on the adult colony.

Colonies of P. clavata have separate sexes, meaning that single individuals are female or male, and the presence of hermaphrodites is very rare. Sperm is released in the form of tiny white-yellowish colored spherules, while the eggs are a purple-bluish color. To be effective, female and male spawning must be synchronous.

The eggs remain aggregated by a thin layer of a mucous material adhered to the surface of the branches of the mother colony. After being fertilized, the eggs ripen through different stages until they produce a planula that detaches from the mother colony to colonize the surrounding territory. Once settled on the substrate, the planula ripens into a single polyp from which begins the asexual reproduction that will create a new colony.

The months of June and July are considered the ideal period for the reproduction of gorgonians, meaning that it is possible to observe this phenomenon. All you have to do is carefully examine the gorgonian’s surfaces, and with great care you could spot a myriad of tiny whitish or bluish eggs spread along the various branches. This is what has happened to many divers who have experienced a way of diving characterized by increased awareness of the extraordinary phenomena that often occurs under our eyes but inevitably passes unnoticed because of the lack of appropriate knowledge.

For more information, visit Reef Check Italia Onlus.

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