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The Transect Line - September/October 2016 Newsletter Archive
Hurricane Matthew Blasts Haiti, Cuba, Bahamas and South Coast of US Buy a Shirt, Save a Reef! New Partnership with Onatah Outfitters
20th Anniversary Celebrations – Reef Check Honors International Ocean Heroes Impacts of Maldives Bleaching Event, Next Expedition Announced
20th Anniversary Gala Honorees Dive Casino Point Oman’s Musandam Coral Reefs Weather El Niño
Channel Islands EcoExpedition: Diving with a Purpose for 3 Days at 3 Islands    

Hurricane Matthew Blasts Haiti, Cuba, Bahamas and South Coast of US

Matthew was so large that it covered Haiti completely

By Gregor Hodgson, PhD Executive Director, Reef Check

By September 30th, NOAA models indicated that Hurricane Matthew would likely bash the western end of Haiti where six Reef Check staff are based in the city of Les Cayes. With measured wind speeds of 164 mph (264 kph), Matthew briefly reached Category 5 status, and was the most powerful hurricane in the Caribbean since Hurricane Felix in 2007. On October 2, I requested all our staff to evacuate to the capital Port Au Prince. Despite the efforts of Haiti Civil Defense to warn people, it has been 50 years since a storm this intense has hit western Haiti so there was no memory of how bad this could be. Many people also fear losing their possessions if they leave their homes, so few evacuated. But with predictions of up to 40 inches (101 cm) of rain, 40 foot (12 m) swells, and an 11 ft (3.3 m) storm surge, this was a big mistake for coastal dwellers.

The hurricane was so large and slow moving that it rained heavily for 24 hours before the eye hit Les Anglais (west of Les Cayes) at 6 am local time on October 4. This caused rivers to flood, bridges to be destroyed, and by then all communications were already down for the entire western end of Haiti.

Matthew moved slowly, and almost directly north across the southern peninsula with the eye passing out to sea near BonBon, a fishing village where Reef Check works, and located west of the city of Jeremie. Heavy rain and hurricane force winds (145 mph) continued for more than 36 hours. The Laguerre family is one we work with near Jeremie. Because their house was only 50 m from the sea we urged them by text to evacuate. Unfortunately, they waited until their roof started to lift off at about 6 pm, so that they were forced to run in the dark, repeatedly being knocked down and rolled by 90 mph winds until they reached a relative’s house on higher ground. Luckily, they were not injured by flying debris such as steel roofing sheets and coconut trees.

Our student Diana and family now live at a school next to their former home
Landslides, flooding from rain, waves and storm surge, and intense winds killed over 1000 people and left about 1 million without a roof or house. Cash crops such as cacao and coffee were completely destroyed. Family gardens, banana, mango and papaya trees were flattened, and goats, cows, and chickens killed, leaving people with little food. Many schools lost roofs and walls.

Reef Check is not a relief agency, but we quickly realized that the large relief agencies were not very familiar with the remote coastal areas affected by the hurricane and did not have local contacts. So we helped to advise USAID’s emergency DART team how to get food and supplies to these communities, some of which are only accessible by boat. Working with our partners at the United Nations Environment agency, we agreed to focus on short-term relief efforts to provide much needed solar powered EkoTek LED lights and some food directly to our students and fishermen. Many thanks go out to the Reef Check supporters who generously donated to the relief efforts.

Haitians are incredibly resilient and will rebuild. Once the immediate humanitarian crisis has passed we will send a team to re-survey the best reef in Haiti. Reefs = food.

For video of Port Salut and Chardoniere see: https://youtu.be/mabAt9wN6oY


20th Anniversary Celebrations – Reef Check Honors International Ocean Heroes

Julian Hyde, Dr. Gregor Hodgson, Michael Weber, Dr. Ruben Torres, Dr. Matthias Hammer

Reef Check honored five ‘Heroes of the Reef’ for their outstanding ocean conservation contributions at its 20th Anniversary “Save the Reefs, Save the Oceans” gala on the beach in Santa Monica, California on September 15th. Michael Weber, author of “The Wealth of the Oceans” received the Poseidon Award in recognition of his global conservation accomplishments while at the Center for Marine Conservation, the California Fish and Game Commission and Resources Legacy Fund. Weber’s early support enabled the Reef Check California program to get off the ground. Weber stated:

“Reef Check has raised the credibility of citizen science and has become a close collaborator with the state’s universities and a trusted partner with the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Reef Check has set a standard for citizen science worth emulating.

Reef Check divers will be able to document the recovery of ocean communities in and around the state’s network of marine protected areas. And as a result, Reef Check will be able to tell the kind of hopeful story that will inspire others to care and to act.”

The first Hero of the Reef Awardee Dr. Ruben Torres, Director of Reef Check Dominican Republic, was honored for 10 years of coral reef conservation including installing a network of mooring buoys, the co-management of the La Caleta marine park, the creation of a sustainable seafood program and a series of recipes for lionfish, a Pacific species that has invaded the Caribbean.

The second Hero of the Reef Awardee, Julian Hyde, Director of Reef Check Malaysia, was also honored for 10 years of coral reef conservation including pioneering the use of hydrophones to track blast fishing, the improvement of MPA effectiveness at Tioman Island, and the creation of a dugong sanctuary at Sibu Island.
Citizen Scientist of the Year Keith Rootsaert with Reef Check California Central Coast Manager Dan Abbott


Biosphere Expeditions founder Dr. Matthias Hammer received the Reef Stewardship Award for his 15 years of global conservation activities including the creation of Reef Check expeditions for divers in the Maldives, Malaysia and Oman.

This year’s Citizen Scientist of the Year Award was presented to Keith Rootsaert, a California volunteer diver since 2010 who made more than 180 survey dives for Reef Check.

The Reef Check Board and Staff are grateful to all those who attended, bid, donated, and volunteered to make the 20th Anniversary Gala a success! Special thanks to sponsors Houlihan Lokey, Body Glove, Edison International, SWAGTRON, Gary L. Justice, Plumbers Depot Inc., Atlantis Resorts, Paul Gauguin Cruises, and Myers’s Rum Platinum White.

Click here for more photos from the gala


20th Anniversary Gala Honorees Dive Casino Point
Matt WalshBy Katie Kozma, Reef Check California Southern California Training Coordinator

The morning after a wonderful evening celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Reef Check Foundation, Reef Check Board Member Chris Glaeser, Reef Check Executive Director Dr. Gregor Hodgson and I set out to Catalina Island with our Gala Honorees for a day of diving at Casino Point Dive Park. Little did we know what a huge surprise the ocean had in store for us that day!

Our honorees, all based out of tropical locations, had never done any cold water diving and had never seen the beauty of a kelp forest before. Our goal was to have them experience both before they headed back home to tropical waters. We had seen evidence of kelp returning to the Dive Park during our survey in early July, so our hope was that it would still be there, and we were in luck!

At the Dive Park, we suited up amid much grumbling about bulky wetsuits and submerged for our first dive of the day. The water was calm, clear and warm. We were greeted by a green sea turtle at about 40ft and a total of six giant black sea bass swam through the kelp, three of which we saw at the same time! This is extremely rare, and exciting for our honorees and Reef Check staff.

At 2.5m and over 500lbs, the giant black sea bass Sterolepis gigas is the largest bony fish found in shallow rocky reef communities of California and they’re listed as a critically endangered species by IUCN. They were recreationally and commercially fished for much of the 20th century and this led to a severe decline in the population. In 1982, the state banned taking black sea bass and there has been an increase in the number of juvenile black sea bass reported caught and released. When we did our Casino Point survey in early July, we encountered one giant black sea bass on site and many recreational diver reports from Casino Point in the past few months have mentioned multiple sightings of black sea bass around the area. Fishermen report seeing groups of black sea bass living around the island, a sign that this species is starting to make a comeback in California.

We would like to thank Chris Glaeser and Colleen Wisniewski for organizing and leading this trip.



References: Hawk, H. and L. G. Allen 2014. Age and Growth of the Giant Black Sea Bass, Sterolepis gigas CalCOFI Rep., Vol. 55.


Channel Islands EcoExpedition: Diving with a Purpose for 3 Days at 3 Islands
Matt WalshBy Katie Kozma, Reef Check California Southern California Training Coordinator

In May 2016, Reef Check launched a month-long Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to help complete our assessment of California’s Northern Channel Islands and Big Sur Coast for the second year in a row. With the support of 87 backers, we successfully raised the funds to complete both EcoExpeditions once again this year.

On the evening of August 29th, 2016, a group of 22 divers boarded the Conception of the Truth Aquatics Fleet in Santa Barbara and prepared to spend the next three days counting fish, invertebrates, and algae and doing substrate characterization. After looking at the large swell reports that were predicted, we made a plan and motored overnight toward the Northern Channel Islands.

On Day One we were greeted with a beautiful sunrise over Anacapa Island. After a thorough dive briefing, our dedicated and eager team suited up for the first dive of the trip. Surface conditions were calm and visibility was incredible with loads of fish to count, including large schools of blacksmith and señoritas. We were able to complete three survey sites around the island in three dives at Landing Cove, Cathedral Wall and Goldfish Bowl for a successful first day. Some divers encountered a giant black sea bass, a green sea turtle and some friendly California sea lions while collecting their data.

On Day Two we found ourselves anchored at Santa Rosa Island and prepared for another day of diving and data collection. Surface conditions were a bit rough, the current was strong, and the divers faced some moderate surge underwater, but visibility was still decent. There was a lot of giant kelp to count, many different species of rockfish to size, and bat rays all around. Once again we were able to complete three survey sites in three dives around the island with our enthusiastic team at East Point, South Point and Johnson’s Lee.

The third and final day of our expedition found us at Santa Cruz Island. Our first dive of the day was at Scorpion Anchorage, where the kelp was thick and many of our divers subsampled spiny lobsters and warty sea cucumbers while collecting their invertebrate data. Our last two survey sites of the trip were Fry’s Anchorage and Pelican Anchorage. These sites were urchin barrens, with little algae to count at either site.

Our devoted team of divers then headed back to port, with the knowledge we had successfully completed nine survey sites around the three islands. The data that was collected by the divers on this trip is currently being entered into our database and will soon be available on our Global Reef Tracker for scientists, marine managers and the general public to use.

We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone who backed our Kickstarter campaign and helped make this trip possible. And of course, a huge shout-out goes to our amazing team of volunteers for their incredible efforts to help collect the data during this expedition!


Buy a Shirt, Save a Reef! New Partnership with Onatah Outfitters

Submitted by Onatah Outfitters

Onatah Outfitters is thrilled to announce that we have selected Reef Check Foundation as our newest ocean conservation pillar organization! Onatah Outfitters, a clothing company dedicated to making environmentally friendly and responsible products, donates a portion of every sale to one of our six charitable partners/pillars, based on the color of the shirt. As our newest ocean conservation pillar, Reef Check will receive 15% percent of the profit on every shirt sold in our Chalky Mint color.

Our company is dedicated to partnering with like-minded organizations that share our vision of improving the world. Although we are a new company, we have already donated 117 meals to children in developing nations, supplied 4.046 days of clean drinking water, and planted 15 trees through donations to our pillars. Through our coordinated efforts, we hope to bring similar success to Reef Check.

We were amazed by all Reef Check does to preserve the Earth’s vanishing underwater ecosystems and were especially impressed with the hands-on approach they take to ocean preservation. It is our hope that through this new partnership, we can help build awareness and provide support.

We’d like to thank Reef Check for becoming a pillar and for helping us spread our message of looking great while doing good. Visit www.onatahoutfitters.com/shop/core-pocket-tee-reef-check to learn more about this exciting partnership and to check out our Chalky Mint Reef Check pocket t-shirt!


Impacts of Maldives Bleaching Event, Next Expedition Announced

Submitted by Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt, Reef Check Maldives Coordinator

Biosphere Expeditions, with local partners and The Marine Conservation Society of UK (MCS), has successfully surveyed the effects of the 2016 bleaching event on Maldives reefs. We used Reef Check in our 2016 surveys to provide data on differences between bleaching impacts on inner and outer reefs. The data is being presented at the next Rufford regional conference by Hussein Zahir of LaMer group in the Maldives, who has been developing a relationship with us since 2011, as well as helping us to identify Maldivian participants for our expeditions. The conference is a learning experience for different recipients of Rufford grants in the region over recent years.

The next MCS/Biosphere Expedition to the Maldives is from 15-29 July 2017 with a difference. The second week (22-29 July) is only for divers already certified as Reef Check EcoDivers. This allows participants to have a short refresher day, then get down to 2-3 dives a day of data collection, with the expedition able to move much further southeast than we’ve done before. We have yet to survey these southern reefs of Felidhoo atoll to record site conditions that haven’t been surveyed since the late 1990s. The first week of the expedition (15-21 July) will survey those sites visited on this year's expedition to see how they’re doing since the bleaching event.

We hope that experienced and qualified Reef Check EcoDivers will join us on week 2 so that we can get some excellent data on new sites. Please visit www.biosphere-expeditions.org/maldives for more information and to sign up.


Oman’s Musandam Coral Reefs Weather El Niño

By Biosphere Expeditions

Despite high salinity and water temperatures, even more extreme in the recent El Niño year, Oman’s Musandam Peninsula’s coral reefs are thriving, according to a recent Reef Check survey conducted by Biosphere Expeditions. Divers observed coral cover ranging between 28 and 78% at shallow (<10m) depths, with little evidence of coral disease, predation, or bleaching. However, the report cautions that additional stress caused by natural or anthropogenic impacts could severely affect coral and other ecosystems, as has been seen in other reefs in the Arabian Peninsula. Additionally, fisheries in the area have undergone a decline. Biosphere Expeditions thus urges the establishment of a number of no-take zones in the northern part of the Peninsula.

The Musandam Peninsula is located at the northernmost point of Oman, at the entrance to the Arabian Gulf, and is in fact separated from the rest of Oman by part of the United Arab Emirates. The 650-mile coastline is characterized by rocks, coves, and steep cliffs and slopes, and the coral reefs remain relatively untouched by human intrusions such as industrial fishing and recreational diving. The reefs face a different challenge in the form of high salinity and temperature. Though moderate in comparison to the Gulf of Arabia, the Gulf of Oman still experiences summer water temperatures between 23 and 31°C, with a maximum temperature of 35°, but due to a strong thermocline this range can be experienced over the course of a single day. Salinity is generally at 36.5% with recorded extremes of 38.9%. Oman’s coral reefs have thus been uniquely adaptable, with a resultant variety of coral habitats in the area.

During the last week of October 2015, Biosphere divers used Reef Check methodology to survey eight different dive sites along the northern Musandam coastline. “Corals appeared to be in a healthy ‘climax’ state on many of the shallow reefs, with many sites hosting very large Porites colonies, indicating no significant damaging events to these corals over the past 400 years,” according to the report.

However, high densities of Diadema urchins are causing structural damage to the reef structure, though no grazing pressure was observed. Additionally, the reduced size and abundance of grouper populations, and the sighting of only one lobster, point to pressures of local fishing. The report expresses concern that continued coastal development in the area will add to overfishing, and thus urges the establishment and enforcement of fishing regulations, as well as the designation of marine protection zones.

Click here to download the full report: www.biosphere-expeditions.org/images/stories/pdfs/reports/report-musandam15.pdf

For more information, please see www.biosphere-expeditions.org/oman.


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