Kelp forests are disappearing at an alarming rate along the California Coast. The nonprofit Reef Check Foundation is actively doing something about it by providing the necessary scientific data to make informed, science-based decisions for the sustainable management and conservation of oceans worldwide.

Reef Check EcoDivers

Volunteers go through the Reef Check EcoDiver certification, a course offered by Reef Check to teach recreational divers about species identification and data collection. These dedicated volunteers join survey days where they work in buddy teams to lay out transect lines and collect data on what they see according to Reef Check protocols.

Data collection is essential for understanding changes in marine life populations and the overall health of our reefs. By participating in these surveys, volunteers contribute to a global network of data that helps scientists, policymakers, and conservationists make informed decisions for protecting our oceans.

Reef Check is Worldwide

Beyond the West Coast of the United States, Reef Check’s efforts extend worldwide, and the training is offered in many languages, engaging local communities. Reef Check not only focuses on collecting data but also spearheads reef restoration initiatives and educational programs to raise awareness about the importance of ocean conservation.

urchin barrens in california

Urchin Barrens along the Pacific Coast of the United States

One example of their reef restoration efforts in California is focused on the issue of urchin barrens-a phenomenon that threatens the health of kelp forests along the west coast of the United States.

Urchin barrens occur when populations of purple sea urchins explode, leading to the overgrazing of kelp. This changes the balance of the kelp forest ecosystem and all the creatures that rely on it. A combination of extreme warm water events and the loss of natural predators gave the purple sea urchins free range. Sea otters have not been found north of San Francisco for over 150 years. On top of that, the collapse of the sunflower sea star population occurred in 2014 because of a mysterious marine disease called the Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Sea otters and sunflower stars are both important urchin predators. Without them, the ecosystem’s ability to keep urchin numbers in check is severely diminished.

Reef Restoration in California

Reef Check’s work with urchin barrens involves surveying affected areas, collecting data on urchin populations, and implementing targeted interventions to restore the balance of the kelp forest ecosystems.

One such intervention is a community collaboration where commercial fishermen work closely with Reef Check volunteers to reduce the purple sea urchin population in monitored testing zones.

By decreasing the population density, the hope is that the kelp and other creatures will reestablish balance. These trial areas are being compared to control sites to test this hypothesis. So far, the efforts are producing encouraging results. Kelp forests are making a comeback. There are a couple of great videos by Reef Check showing and explaining their urchin removal process in Big Sur. Check out part one and part two for the full story.

Why Science is Key for Climate Action

By taking a scientific focus on ecosystem changes, Reef Check provides hard data on global reef health and gives communities the information necessary to enact conservation changes. It also empowers recreational scuba divers with the knowledge to be directly involved.

How to Get Involved

However, you don’t necessarily have to be a diver to help. Loads of people support Reef Check by volunteering at events, donating money, collaborating in fundraisers, or simply sharing their social media posts with your network.

Their commitment to preserving marine biodiversity is making a tangible difference in safeguarding the future of our oceans. If you want to learn more about their organization and how you can make a difference, visit their website at

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