Citizen Monitoring to Improve Marine Conservation

First Statewide Underwater Survey of California Reefs by Citizen Scientists

The Reef Check Foundation trains and certifies recreational scuba divers to perform ecological monitoring. In a joint effort with the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG), Reef Check’s California program (RCCA) formed teams of dedicated volunteer scuba divers to survey 73 "indicator species" on 48 reefs located from Mendocino to San Diego. Volunteer scuba divers from the California Reef Check Foundation have completed a statewide scientific survey of California’s rocky reef ecosystems. The survey lasted for the period of two years, and it resulted in a 135-page report, "Reef Check California 2006–2007: Citizen Monitoring to Improve Marine Conservation." The survey discovered differences in fish and invertebrate populations in different parts of California. Scuba divers discovered that abalone were still quite rare at the Southern Ca, while in northern California, noticeably smaller red abalone were found in shallow waters used for recreational fishing contrary to species living in deep waters. The goal of the foundation is defined as training California scuba divers who already have experience in scuba diving, local knowledge, and commitment to collect high quality scientific data on the vast areas of rocky reefs that are not being monitored, according to Cyndi Dawson, RCCA’s Science Director. As California continues to move towards ecosystem-based management, comprehensive long-term monitoring will be crucial to track progress, so trained commercial scuba divers will be needed. So far, the ability of RCCA’s survey participants to respond quickly to management needs and initiatives have constituted invaluable contribution by citizen science. RCCA scuba divers include a diverse group of ocean users such as recreational divers, commercial urchin fishermen, lifeguards, and college students. Many people joined, because they just wished to dive with a purpose. Scuba divers always have been dedicated advocates of the environment preservation, seeing changes in California’s ocean due to pollution, overfishing, and global warming. Voluntary participation of the citizens across the state is a real move to make a difference.


Founded in 1996 and based in Pacific Palisades, the international non-profit organization dedicated to conservation of reef ecosystems worldwide, Reef Check Foundation, relies on teams of volunteers in more than 80 countries, working to create partnerships among community volunteers, government agencies, businesses, universities, and other not for profit organizations. One of its goals is to create a global network of trained volunteer scuba diving teams for regular monitoring and reporting the reef status in support of science-based management. Experienced California scuba divers can sign up for training. Tel: 310-230-2371.

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