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The Transect Line - November/December 2014 Newsletter Archive
Happy Holidays from Reef Check, Thank You for a Fantastic Year! Bangka Island’s Coral Reefs in Urgent Need of Protection
An In-Depth Look at Abalone: Part I First Ever All-Maldivian Reef Check Survey Completed
Support our "Teach Haitian Students to Save Coral Reefs" Indiegogo Campaign Jordanian Divers Added to Reef Check Monitoring Team
Kids/Youth Training Held in Port Salut, Haiti Update from Reef Check Egypt
Reef Check Sheds Light on Ocean Plastic at Plastic Paradise Screening    

Happy Holidays from Reef Check, Thank You for a Fantastic Year!
Dear Reef Check Supporter,

It took half a million years for corals to build coral reefs like the Great Barrier Reef, but we have managed to seriously damage many of them in just the past 30 years. Thank you so much for helping us to save some more reefs this year! With your support we have had a banner year with the following accomplishments:

Overall Successes:
  • Established a new Google Earth-based database with pop-up charts for all tropical and California survey data – now in beta release at data.reefcheck.org/
  • Redesigned the Reef Check website for launch in 2015.
Tropical Program Successes:
  • Started new programs in Turks and Caicos, Taiwan, Negros, Philippines and the Bahamas.
  • Completed a 3-year-long, first-ever survey of the entire coast of Haiti and discovered the "best reef" in the country in an area where previous workers reported no important reefs.
  • Helped the government of Haiti to set up seven new Marine Protected Areas and recommended the establishment of 18 more.
  • Awarded a cash prize of $25,000 in the prestigious, global St Andrews Prize for the Environment competition.
  • Designed a new kids/youth training program and tested it in the Caribbean.
  • Documented that blast fishing has been stopped in large areas of the Central Philippines.
California Program Successes:
  • Trained and recertified 240 volunteers, including the first community training in the north coast region where we are part of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) baseline monitoring program. With a new regional manager in Fort Bragg, this group will grow over the next year.
  • Reef Check volunteers monitored 73 reef sites throughout California including 8 new sites in the north. We completed the MPA baseline monitoring in southern California and reported our findings that will serve as a benchmark for future MPA evaluation and adaptive management.
  • Added three new staff to help train more volunteers and better use social media to educate about and advocate for reefs.
  • Launched a Speakers Bureau to better engage the public, especially schools.
  • Presented California results at two international Conferences:
    International Marine Conservation Congress, Glasgow, Scotland: reported how citizen scientist divers monitor California’s MPAs and how their involvement in marine conservation research informs marine management and builds a science-based stewardship ethic.
    – 2nd World Small-Scale Fisheries Congress, Merida, Mexico: showed how involving fishing communities in Baja California, Mexico in the monitoring and management of their resources can achieve sustainable fisheries and livelihoods.
Goals for 2015:
  • Raise funding to provide small grants to pay for gas and boats as an incentive for tropical teams to carry out more surveys to fill in remaining large gaps in locations and time.
  • Assist the government of Haiti, United Nations Environment and Development Programmes to design and implement a network of Marine Managed Areas in Haiti.
  • Continue to add more volunteers and sites in California and internationally to fill in gaps.
  • Collaborate on "long-term" MPA monitoring in Central and Southern California.
  • Publish results from most recent monitoring work.
With your help, we can continue the world’s only truly global reef monitoring program. Please make your tax deductible contribution to help save reefs at: https://my.reefcheck.org/myaccount/make_donation.php

Thank you. Have a wonderful holiday and fantastic 2015!

Yours truly,

Gregor Hodgson, PhD
Executive Director

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An In-Depth Look at Abalone: Part I
By Anna Neumann, North Coast Regional Manager, Reef Check California Program

It is nearly impossible to talk about diving in California without having a discussion about abalone. Abalone that belong to the phylum Mollusca and the class Gastropoda are large sea snails. Recently, the red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) has been getting a lot of attention. The New York Times ran an article about the snail in July 2014, and changes to local abalone fishing regulations have generated much discussion. Over the next few newsletters we will have a series of articles providing information about California’s abalone including a biological overview, a review of historic and current abalone fisheries in California, and an overview of the Abalone Recovery and Management Plan (ARMP) written by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Biological Knowledge
Abalone have a worldwide distribution. They are found in every coastal ocean except along the Pacific coast of South America, the east coast of the United States, the Arctic and Antarctica. Fifty-six species have been identified worldwide with the smallest full grown adult (H. pulcherrima) averaging 20mm (0.79 inches) in length found in Eastern Polynesia. The largest, H. rufescens, average 200 mm (7.9 in) in length and are found in the coastal waters of California.

Eight species of abalone are found in California: red (H. rufescens), black (H. cracherodii), white (H. sorensensi), green (H. fulgens), pink (H. corrugate), flat (H. walallensis), pinto (H. kamtschatkana) and threaded (H. assimilis).

Seawater temperature has the largest effect on their distribution, in terms of depth and geographical range [DFW, 2001]. Ocean temperatures vary along the California coast along a latitudinal gradient, with depth and locally depending on ocean currents and upwelling, a process that moves cold water from the deep ocean into the shallow nearshore habitats. California’s abalone are found on rocky reefs from intertidal waters down to a depth of 60 meters where they feed on algae [DFW, 2005]. Red and black abalone range from Oregon to Baja California; blacks prefer the intertidal extending to a depth of 20 feet. Red abalone prefer cooler water and are found in the intertidal and subtidal zone in northern and central California. In southern California they are restricted to the subtidal except in areas of strong upwelling around the northwestern Channel Islands [DFW, 2001]. Pink, green, white and threaded abalone are found in the warmer waters of southern California and their ranges extend from Point Conception to Baja California including the southeastern Channel Islands. The range of pinto and flat abalone extends northward from Point Conception [DFW, 2001].

Abalone reproduce via "broadcast spawning." Individuals release millions of eggs or sperm into the water during a synchronized spawning event. Spawning seasons vary between species, but most California species spawn in the spring and fall. Due to the fact that abalone are broadcast spawners it is necessary for males and females to be in close proximity to each other to ensure successful fertilization of the eggs in the water column. However, a large number of eggs and sperm do not necessarily guarantee healthy stocks in years to come...

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Support our "Teach Haitian Students to Save Coral Reefs" Indiegogo Campaign
Reef Check has launched a "Teach Haitian Students to Save Coral Reefs" Indiegogo campaign to raise $5,000 by January 24, 2015. The campaign seeks to protect Haiti’s coral reefs through ‘immersion learning’ for children of fishermen to develop critical community support and management for two marine parks.

Currently, Haiti’s reefs are overgrown with algae because there are not enough fish to eat it. Despite this imbalance, biodiversity in the region remains high and there are ways to solve this problem. By establishing Marine Managed Areas (MMAs), the fish will be able to grow, reproduce, and thereby eat the algae to allow the coral reefs to return to their former glory. We can gain the support and participation of fishermen by training kids to swim, snorkel, and start to learn marine biology, a field entirely left out of Haitian schools. Better management of this renewable resource will result in more fish and more jobs for the local population.

For $5,000 we can train 25 kids, ages 6 to 16 in a week-long training course that covers swimming, snorkeling, and basic marine science in their local language, Creole (see story below). In a few years, some of these students can enter Reef Check’s EcoDiver program, where we train university students to become citizen scientists to monitor coral reefs, track their health and understand what affects the health of their economy and their future. Other graduates of the program will join the tourism industry and create a more diverse economy than fishing alone. Additionally, a well-managed reef can provide up to 15 tons of fish per year, which is a vital food source for Haitians.

But first, we need to teach the kids to swim and get fishermen on our side… and we need your help! Help us to save the reefs, educate kids, and create more fish and jobs in Haiti. Check out a video by the New York Times to fully understand the impact of this project.

Visit the campaign page at https://indiegogo.com/projects/teach-haitian-students-to-save-coral-reefs for more information and to pledge your support.

You can also help get the word out about Haiti by sharing our campaign, or donate directly to Reef Check at https://my.reefcheck.org/myaccount/make_donation.php

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Kids/Youth Training Held in Port Salut, Haiti
A Kids/Youth Training was held for 32 students from 27 October to 2 November 2014 in Port Salut, Haiti. The program was organized by Reef Check in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Program/Cote Sud Initiative and Ministry of Environment staff. The students came from two schools, Carpentier and Point Sable. The goal was to give the students an introduction to swimming, snorkeling and marine science.

The instructors in the course were Stephen Jean Louis, Hugues Ybrahim (formerly with Reef Check, now MDE staff), Romain Louis, Erika Pierre Louis, Kethia Florestal, and Nicolas Florestal of Reef Check Haiti. Training materials were prepared in Kreyol by Lunandja Philogene, Edward Beucler and Erika Pierre Louis.

Following the initial training, the students’ swimming and snorkeling abilities were assessed. The final two days were spent at the beach and in the water at Pt Sable and all students were given the opportunity to ride in the boat and then snorkel over the Pt Sable reef and see live fish, corals and other animals and plants. A series of swim races was held. The students were able to improve their swimming and enjoy snorkeling for the first time.

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Reef Check Sheds Light on Ocean Plastic Pollution at Plastic Paradise Screening
On October 27th, Reef Check Foundation and Team Marine hosted a free screening of the award-winning film Plastic Paradise at Santa Monica High School with over 200 guests in attendance. The independent documentary film by Angela Sun solves the global mystery of the question: if plastic never leaves our planet, where does it go? Angela travels to Midway Atoll, halfway between Asia and America, to see the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Plastic Paradise sheds light on the insidious effects of our rabid plastic consumption with the help of scientists, researchers, influencers, and volunteers.

The screening was followed by a panel discussion with some of the leading researchers on ocean plastic. Panelists included: Angela Sun – the director and producer of Plastic Paradise, Gregor Hodgson – the Founder and Executive Director of Reef Check Foundation, Captain Charles Moore – the Founder of Algalita Marine Research Foundation and discover of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, Graham Hamilton – the Chair of the West LA/Malibu Chapter of Surfrider Foundation, Kimberly Fuentes of Team Marine – Santa Monica High School’s environmental and advocacy group, and Marcus Eriksen from 5 Gyres – an advocacy group seeking to end plastic pollution. The panelists fielded audience questions on the film, plastic issues and legislation.

Thank you to Benjamin Kay, Team Marine and Carey Upton for their help in organizing and publicizing the screening, and to all the panelists for their participation. Special thanks to Angela Sun, a former Reef Check Thailand intern, for creating a magnificent film!

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Bangka Island’s Coral Reefs in Urgent Need of Protection
By Gianfranco Rossi, Reef Check Italia Onlus

Pulau Bangka is an Indonesian island situated in the heart of the area with the world's highest level of marine biodiversity, called "The Coral Triangle". Coral reefs are the main source of livelihood for the local population of 2,700 people, both in terms of fishing and tourism. More than 600 species of corals have been recently recorded in this area, and countless are the number of organisms that take advantage of the ability of corals to build environments ideal for their growth. There is also a population of dugongs, associated with the seagrass beds and the delicate mangroves of the island. For scuba divers, Bangka offers an extremely diverse marine habitat. Breathtaking walls and a series of pinnacles bathed by strong currents, which enable the growth of an incredible variety of life forms, alternate with volcanic black sand, creating this favorite destination of underwater photographers from around the world.

It is for this reason that Reef Check Italia Onlus (RCI) has decided to focus its coral reef conservation efforts on this area since 2011. RCI, in partnership with the Coral Eye Research Outpost, has been monitoring the southern coast of the island. Experienced marine biologists, university students and enthusiastic scuba divers have taken part in the RCI expeditions. Together, they have shown that by combining efforts for a common interest, you can get results of a great scientific value. The only available monitoring data of the reefs in this area, in fact, come from this successful collaboration, and the data show conflicting results. On one hand the exceptional biodiversity of the area was confirmed, with coral cover in some areas higher than 60%. On the other hand, detrimental signs of human impact have also emerged in the past several years. This includes the loss of coral coverage, arising from destructive activities such as bomb and cyanide fishing, which has been the main reason for a decrease in grouper, snapper, and parrotfish. There is also a reduced presence of other reef organisms collected for the tropical marine aquarium trade.

Recently, a new threat, perhaps one of the worst, is the opening of a new mine. The mine’s toxic discharges into the sea can poison organisms, muddy the waters and reduce the resilience of the reefs, that is, their ability to recover independently after both natural and anthropogenic impacts. Considering the important role of Bangka as a connecting bridge between the Bunaken National Marine Park and the Lembeh Strait, damage to Bangka’s reefs would have unpredictable effects on all of the surrounding areas.

In order for the efforts of the RCI expedition not to be in vain, it is necessary that the people who are fighting for the preservation of this heritage won't be left alone in this difficult task. Despite Jakarta authorities speaking out against the mine in Bangka, the local government has intervened by authorizing work on the mine and dismissing the regulation that small islands of Indonesia are to be preserved.

The permit grants the subsidiary of a Hong Kong company, Mikgro Metal Perdana (MMP), mineral rights to 2,000 hectares in a total area of 4,800 hectares that potentially contains ore. A large part of the local population is against the mine, with only a few people in favor of seeking immediate money. Such people don’t care about the environmental consequences for future generations who won’t have a place to live or food to eat as a result of the devastating and definitive damage to the reefs of the area.

For this reason, RCI is asking everyone to sign a petition to halt the mine excavation on the island of Bangka and to share this article via social networks using the hashtag #SaveBangkaIsland. This will be the only way to bring the voice of so many people to the authorities who have the responsibility to make the important decision to either: promote the preservation of this heritage which belongs to everyone or facilitate the interests of a few corrupt and unscrupulous people.

Please visit the Save Banka Island Facebook page and the petition to show your support.

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First Ever All-Maldivian Reef Check Survey Completed
From left to right: Shaha Hashim, Rafil Mohamed, Dr Jean-Luc Solandt, Ibrahim Shameel (c) Biosphere Expeditions.
By Biosphere Expeditions

After years of investment by Marine Conservation Society’s Dr. Jean-Luc Solandt in training Maldivian divers in Reef Check methods in collaboration with Biosphere Expeditions, the first ever Maldives survey undertaken by nationals alone took place November 14, 2014 at Velassaru reef, just to the south of the capital, Male’.

The surveys were organized by Mr. Rafil Mohamed of the Divers Association of Maldives and Ms. Shaha Hashim from local NGO Gemana – both of them qualified as Reef Check EcoDiver Trainers in September 2014 whilst aboard the MV Carpe Diem for the recent Biosphere Expeditions survey of North Male’ reefs. Facilitating this survey was Mr. Adam Ashraf from Dive Desk Dive Centre in Male'. The rest of the team was made up of Ibrahim Shameel from the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme and other Maldivian nationals from different NGOs and civil society.

They and the Maldivian organisations they represent are committed to preserving the reefs of the Maldives in the face of population growth, increased demand on reef fish from the tourist and grouper fishery sectors, and climate change threats. The hope is that civil society bottom-up efforts such as these are eventually mirrored by active government management of the Maldives’ spectacular reefs, including comprehensive controls on fish sizes when exported and caught, reductions in overfishing of local reefs and marine reserve stipulations properly enforced at or near to every tourist island.

Individuals participating in the survey were all trained by Dr. Solandt, some at the Marine Research Centre in Male’, and others during the course of Biosphere Expeditions' research work around the archipelago since 2011.

Dr. Solandt said he is “delighted that this survey is taking place. Reef Check provides all the data that managers of reefs need in order to make informed decisions on reef health. The beauty of the Reef Check methodology is that it is replicated every year in different parts of the world, producing valuable insights on how reefs are doing over time. The stark truth of the data collected around the Maldives so far is that reefs have very low numbers and sizes of grouper – a very important predatory fish. This is of concern, because local islanders depend on fish, and many predator fish species are important to keep in check some of the animals that damage the reef (such as Crown-of-Thorns starfish and Drupella snails – both of which eat corals).”

Rafil Mohamed adds "I would like to thank Dr. Solandt and Biosphere Expeditions again for certifying us as Reef Check EcoDivers and trainers. Dr. Solandt’s training efforts and the Biosphere Expeditions placement programme for locals (in association with LaMer and the Rufford Foundation) for locals have kick-started us into doing this first of what we hope will be many community-based surveys to come. In the absence of the Maldives government doing any meaningful conservation work on the reefs that form the very bedrock of our country and livelihoods, it falls to us as ordinary Maldivians to preserve the reefs, not least because of their beauty, but also because of their importance for our lives and culture. Because without our reefs, there would be no Maldives."

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Jordanian Divers Added to Reef Check Monitoring Team
By Christof Schneider

From October 19-24, 2014 the Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan (JREDS) hosted a Reef Check EcoDiver Training in Aqaba. The training of local divers is part of JREDS’ marine environmental program to raise awareness and knowledge about coral reefs and to build up a team of qualified divers for further reef monitoring activities at the Jordanian Red Sea coast.

The training was funded by the German GIZ, provider of international cooperation services for sustainable development, as part of the project "Protection of environment and biodiversity in Jordan", and was arranged and managed by Christof Schneider of Datadiving GmbH & Co. KG, a German scientific diving company.

A team of three German EcoDiver Trainers, led by Christian von Mach (Reef Check Course Director and Coordinator of the Red Sea Environmental Centre) operated the training program that gave EcoDiver qualification to 14 local divers with diverse professional backgrounds. Participants came from The Royal Marine Conservation Society of Jordan, the Aqaba Marine Park, the Marine Science Station (associated with the University of Jordan), the Royal Jordan Naval Force, the Aqaba Port Authority as well as Instructors and Divemasters from local dive centers.

The site that was selected for training as well as the survey dives, is a popular dive site in Aqaba and therefore frequently visited by dive centers. Before reaching a gentle slope, an extended shallow reef between 5 to 10 meters deep gave the participants a good opportunity to easily practice the Reef Check methods. Aside from getting familiar with the indicators and procedures, this area also raised everybody`s attention for the appearance of different kinds of coral stress and damage. Coral damage caused by divers, anchoring boats as well as pollution could all be observed. Invertebrate and fish indicator species were present in relatively low numbers only, some indicators such as full grown groupers and snappers were not sighted at all. Additional non-survey dives were done at other sites. These seemed to have somewhat higher coral cover and better reef health. The general absence of commercial fish species however became apparent in all dives.

Thanks to the high motivation and interest of the participants, as well as good organization and logistics by JREDS, learning and practicing in the classroom and underwater worked out well for everybody.

Fringing a short and highly exploited coastline, the coral reefs of Jordan are facing various problems. Located close to Aqaba port, industrial areas and hotels, increasing pressure on the marine environment is unavoidable. There is an urgent need to take action, and monitoring of the coral reefs is an important part to get done.

For more information please contact Christof Schneider at c.schneider@datadiving.de

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Update from Reef Check Egypt
Reef Check Egypt EcoDiver Course Director Dr. Mohammed M. A. Kotb sends in these photos and a report on his training in November:

I organized a one-week training workshop in Marsa Alam, along the southern Egyptian Red Sea coast. The workshop aimed to give a comprehensive training on the basics of underwater survey techniques and the Reef Check method was one of these techniques. Participants were researchers from Red Sea Protectorates, Port Saied University, Suez Canal University, National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Science, and Volunteers from Diving community. The workshop gathered 15 participants and was co-funded by the Nature Conservancy, IUCN, Reef Resilience Network, Red Sea Protectorates, Marine Science Dept. of Ismailia Suez Canal University, EPEA, Diving Station Reef Villa and Sea Secrets Divers.

Dr. Kotb is also a long-time coordinator of Reef Check Egypt and a Professor of Coral Reef Ecology at Suez Canal University in Ismailia, Egypt. For more information, he can be contacted at kotb13@gmail.com.

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