Blog Post
by Anna Neumann / Reef Check California

Reef Check Expedition - Northern Channel Islands

August 05, 2015

“So, how are the oceans doing?”

This is the one question that has haunted me since I started working in the marine science field. People are always so curious about what is happening in the ocean and usually ask this as casually as they would ask if I had tried the burger, or seen the newest Hunger Games movie.  I never really know what to say in these situations, mainly because I simply do not know. The ocean is a vast expanse with so many types of ecosystems how could I possibly know everything and be able to categorize its status in a sentence or two. But yet they always ask.

My favorite question I get asked is “What changes have you seen in the ocean?”

I love this question because I can actually answer it. They are not asking me to summarize the entire ocean, but rather what I have seen.

I end up telling people about two major changes I have seen over the last 5 years diving in California. The first being the devastating decrease in sea star populations due to a wasting syndrome and the second being an explosion of invasive sargassum algae in the Southern Channel Islands.

Now experts are calling for a strong winter El Nino event which will bring warm ocean waters and the reversal of normal ocean currents. This spells trouble for California near shore ecosystem in many ways.   Recent warm-water events have coincided with an explosion of the sargassum and the unusual currents caused by an El Nino are likely to lead to a further spread of this invasive species.  In addition to the spread of sargassum, the loss of a major predator, the sea star, has had repercussions throughout the food chain and a major effect on the ecosystem as a whole.

However, despite the doom and gloom that I seem to spell out for people I do try to leave them with a glimmer of hope.  Those glimmers being that fact that Reef Check California is tracking these changes by surveying  sites up and down the California coast. Currently we are embarking on another mission to raise money for a trip to the northern Channel Islands to complete our yearly surveys of Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands. Traditionally, Reef Check used a team of smaller vessels to reach these sites, however the small boat limited the number of divers on the team and are unable to reach the outer-island sites. We hope that the use of a larger vessel, that can travel farther and accommodate more divers we will be able to efficiently conduct these sites.  With the predicted El Nino event this winter it is more important than ever to get these sites surveyed. Having data that will show the effects of the El Nino will increase our understanding how changes in temperatures and currents affect this beloved ecosystem.

The trip is currently scheduled for the 1-3 of September 2015 and we are running a campaign via kickstarter to help us fund this trip. If you are interested in donating or are an active Reef Check diver interested in attending please contact me at aneumann@reefcheck.org

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