Monitoring Protocol

The Reef Check California monitoring program has been designed to assess the relative abundance and size distribution of target species and how these parameters are changing over time. This will permit the evaluation of population and community attributes at sites inside and outside of existing and proposed Marine Protected Areas and will provide insight into how different sites respond to newly imposed management measures.

Based on the Department of Fish and Game's CRANE monitoring program, sites will contain three core 30 meter transects in each of two habitat zones (offshore and inshore reef), with a maximum depth limit of 18 m (~60') (see figure). At these core transects, divers will assess fishes, invertebrates, seaweed and substrate. In addition to the 6 core transects, divers will survey 12 fish- only transects that are distributed across the site (6 offshore and 6 inshore).

A standard Reef Check California survey at each site will include:

• Site description (1 per year)

• Fish survey (size and identity) (18 fish transect, 6 core and 12 fish-only) - The density, size distribution and sex (where possible) of target fish species will be counted along each 30 x 2 x 2 meter transect.

• Invertebrate band transect (6 transects surveyed in spring and fall) - The density of selected conspicuous, solitary, and mobile invertebrates will be counted along each of the 6 core 30 x 2 meter band transect.

• Seaweed band transect (6 transects surveyed in spring and fall) - The density of selected conspicuous macro algae will be estimated along each of the 6 core 30 x 2 meter band transect. Four invasive algal species (Caulerpa. taxifolia, Sargassum. muticum, S. filicinum and Undaria. pinnatifida) will be noted, as present or absent anywhere on the site.

• Substrate Uniform Point Contact (UPC) (6 transects surveyed in spring and fall) - Sampling of substrate type, cover (i.e, sessile invertebrates or algae) and rugosity (vertical relief) will occur at 30 uniformly spaced points at every meter along each of the 6 core 30 m transect line.

Urchin size frequency survey (1 per site in spring and fall) - The sizes of 100 red and purple urchins will be sampled to generate a size frequency distribution of the respective urchin populations at each site where densities are high enough to obtain the sample size.

While anyone can participate in Reef Check California programs, only divers with an established record of diving and who have completed the training and demonstrated proficiency in survey methods and species identification will be eligible to contribute data to the database.

Indicator Organisms

Rather than monitor every organism we encounter, a list of indicator organisms has been developed to serve as a proxy for the overall biodiversity of a survey site. The Reef Check California shallow subtidal species list was compiled based on the following criteria:

• Ease of identification
• Commonly observed by divers in shallow subtidal rocky reef habitat
• Species of special interest or concern (i.e., protected species, species known to be endangered, overfished and/or seriously depleted)
• Species commonly targeted by recreational and commercial fishing activities
• Ecologically important species

Following extensive field testing, the draft species list was revised and the Final Reef Check California species lists were created containing 31 species and 1 order of invertebrates, 35 fish species, 8 species and 1 genus of algae.

Reef Check California will not have separate target species lists for distinct geographic regions in California. Although we recognize the distinct biological breaks along the California coast and associated differing composition of species, separate species lists would limit the ability of the monitoring program to detect subtle shifts in target species geographic ranges. In addition, a single species list will permit volunteers trained in any part of the State to participate in surveys along the entire coast.

Protocol Development

A panel of scientific, agency, and recreational diving experts was convened to review the draft protocol to ensure the sampling design, methods, and species list were scientifically sound and appropriate for volunteers. Extensive field testing was conducted to evaluate the feasibility of the monitoring program and assess the ability of volunteer divers to implement the protocol in a variety of locations and conditions. Field testing took place in Monterey, San Luis Obispo, Santa Cruz Island, Santa Barbara, Palos Verdes, and Santa Catalina Island and included over 20 divers encompassing a range of diving and research abilities. Following field testing and scientific review, the program was revised and the final version adopted.

List of reviewers :

  • Dr. Richard Ambrose
  • UCLA-Director Environmental Science and Engineering Program
  • Mike Anghera
  • UCLA Dive Safety Officer
  • Dr. Mary Bergen
  • CA Dept. of Fish and Game- Marine Region Environmental Scientist
  • Dirk Burcham
  • California Coastkeeper Alliance- Catalina Conservancy Divers
  • Dr. Mark Carr
  • Dr. Jennifer Caselle
  • Gary Davis
  • National Park Service-Visiting Chief Scientist for Ocean Programs
  • Tom Ford
  • Santa Monica Baykeeper- Director of Kelp Restoration
  • Amanda Jensen
  • UCSC-PISCO Research Diver
  • Dr. Kathy Ann Miller
  • UC Berkeley, University Herbarium
  • David Osorio
  • CA Dept. of Fish and Game- Marine Biologist
  • Dr. Dan Pondella
  • Occidental College – Director Vantuna Research Group
  • Dr. Pete Raimondi
  • Dr. Donna Schroeder
  • UCSB – Marine Science Institute
  • Dr. John Stephens
  • Vantuna Research Group
  • John Ugoretz
  • CA Dept. of Fish and Game- Nearshore Ecosystem / MLPA Coordinator