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INVERTEBRATE & ALGAE MONITORING       

Where? | What species are monitored? | How and why did these programs get developed? | How do I conduct a survey? | What materials are available? | When and where can I conduct a survey? | What happens to my surveys? | How can I access the data? | How do I interpret the data and reports? | Why collect invertebrate survey data?

Where?
REEF has programs to monitor invertebrates in California (launched in 2006) and the Pacific Northwest (launched in 1998) (the California program also includes a few species of algae).  Both of these were created to serve as a companion to the fish monitoring program that has been in place from California to Alaska since 1997.  Each program monitors a discrete list of species that were carefully selected in order to provide valuable information on the status and health of regional marine ecosystems.

What species are monitored?

The Pacific Northwest program includes 44 invertebrates - the list of species included in the program is posted at http://www.reef.org/data/pac/invertsp.htm.  A gallery of images of the species included is posted on this website.

The California program includes 63 invertebrates and algae - the list of species included in the program is posted at  http://www.reef.org/data/pac/CAinvertsp.htm.  A gallery of images of the species included will be posted soon.

How and why did these programs get developed?
Why add invertebrates to a program that primarily focuses on fishes?  Invertebrates such as colorful anemones, starfish, and sponges dominate the landscape seen by divers in cold water rocky reef environments. Whereas tropical divers spend most of their time looking at fish seen in front of a backdrop of invertebrates, invertebrates are predominant in cold water. In addition to a desire by West Coast REEF members to learn more about these fascinating spineless creatures so apparent to underwater naturalists, invertebrates and algae can serve as valuable indicators of the health and status of local environments. 

The list of invertebrates and algae monitored in these programs is not an exhaustive list of all of those a diver will encounter in California or the Pacific Northwest (this is in contrast to REEF's fish monitoring programs, which have divers/snorkelers record all fish species encountered during a dive that can be positively identified).  A variety of animals and algae from different Phyla were chosen in order to familiarize REEF volunteers with the characteristics of major taxonomic groups and exhibit the biological diversity of nearshore marine environment. Each species in the programs was carefully selected based on specific monitoring criteria so that the survey data will be useful to resource agencies and scientists trying to better understand and protect coastal marine resources.

The Pacific Northwest program was developed through a partnership with the Living Oceans Society, a non-profit organization based in British Columbia that is committed to the preservation of marine biological diversity and creation of sustainable fisheries through the establishment of a network of marine protected areas and ecosystem management (for more information, visit their website at www.livingoceans.org).  Special thanks to Dana Haggarty and Susan Francis for developing the species list and writing the training curriculm.

The California program was developed with guidance from the Monterey Bay and Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuaries, the Channel Islands National Park and the California Department of Fish and Game.  Special thanks to Steve Lonhart, Laura Francis, Dan Richards and John Ugoretz for their assistance in developing the species list.

How do I conduct an invertebrate/algae REEF survey?
As part of the programs, invertebrates are monitored using the same Roving Diver Technique (RDT) survey method used in REEF fish surveys.  The RDT is a visual survey method specifically designed for volunteer data. The only materials needed are an underwater slate and pencil, a scantron form available at no charge from REEF, and a good reference book. Where can I get Scantron formsFind out more about doing a survey.

The Survey Method- During RDT surveys in the Pacific region (California to Alaska), divers can conduct a fish survey, an invertebrate survey, or both during each dive.  During the survey dive, the surveyor swims freely throughout a dive site and records the presence of all fish species and/or each of the invertebrate/algae species included in the program that are encountered and that can be positively identified.  The search for fishes and/or invertebrates begins as soon as the diver enters the water. The goal is to find as many species as possible so divers are encouraged to look under ledges and up in the water column.
At the conclusion of each survey, each recorded fish species is assigned one of four abundance categories based on about how many were seen throughout the dive [single (1); few (2-10), many (11-100), and abundant (>100)].  The invertebrates are assigned either the abundance codes (Single, Few, Many, Abundant) or Present, depending on the species. Species that tend to be present in aggregations rather than as discrete individuals, such as strawberry anemones and sand tube worms, will be recorded as present if seen during the dive rather than assigning an abundance category. The list of invertebrates included in each program are listed at:

  http://www.reef.org/data/pac/invertsp.htm - Pacific Northwest

http://www.reef.org/data/pac/CAinvertsp.htm - California

Filling out the Scansheet- Following the dive, each surveyor records the species data along with survey time, depth, temperature, and other environmental information on the REEF scansheet specific for the Pacific region. The location of the survey is recorded using the common dive site name and the REEF Geographic Zone Code. The Zone Codes are a hierarchical list of codes. A separate survey and scansheet are done for each dive. Completed scansheets are returned to REEF HQ, at P.O. Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, USA.

What materials are available?
As part of these programs, survey and training materials have been created that include information about the invertebrates and algae included, including image-based training curricula ("Introduction to Identification of Pacific Northwest Invertebrates" and "Introduction to Invertebrates and Algae in California").  Waterproof survey paper that lists both fish and invertebrates is available and color identification cards.  All of these materials are available through our online store or from REEF HQ.

When and where are invertebrate surveys conducted?
Just like REEF fish surveys, the invertebrate surveys are conducted as part of a diver's regular diving activities; anytime they are in the water.

Because each project area has different scanforms and survey materials, be sure to have the Pacific scanform and materials.

What happens to the survey after it's returned to REEF HQ?
REEF personnel review the completed forms and then scan the forms into a computer. A series of quality control programs are run on the datafiles and then the survey data are loaded into REEF's online database. From this database, a variety of reports can be generated on species distribution and population trends, for a specific site or region. The time frame from receipt of a survey at REEF HQ to uploading to the database is usually between 4-8 weeks.

How can I access the data?
All data collected by REEF volunteers is returned to REEF and entered into our database. This database is accessible online and a variety of reports can be generated. A summary report can be generated for a given location or region, with data on all species that have been documented there. Distribution reports can be generated for a specific species or family. And you can view your own lifelist of fish and invertebrate sightings using your REEF member ID number.

How do I interpret the data and the reports?
Roving diver survey data generate a species list along with sighting frequency and abundance estimates for each species. Click here for information on interpreting these frequency and abundance estimates.

What are the data used for?
As the invertebrate and algae database grows, the data will be useful in a variety of management and conservation applications.  While there are no examples of invertebrate data applications yet, the REEF Fish Survey Project data have been used in several scientific papers and have become integrated into several projects.  To read more about these papers and projects and about using volunteers in data collection, visit our Monitoring and Research page.

Why collect survey data?
Once you start conducting fish and/or inveterate surveys, your diving experience will change.  Suddenly you will start to notice things on your dives that have always been there, but the difference is that now you will know them. You will realize when a species you encounter is a great find, and who are the usual suspects.  Another reason- it allows you to participate, become a scientist, become an explorer.   It gives you a voice to make a difference.  We hope you will use it.
To learn more, you may be interested in reading Learning to See Underwater, a paper published in the Underwater Naturalist in April 2001 (click here to download a pdf).

 


Reef Environmental Education Foundation, 2000-2001
Date Last Modified: 04/28/06

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