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What is it? | What is the Living REEF Project invertebrate program? | How do I conduct a survey? | Can I Submit Data Online? | 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? | Are the data accurate and useful? | Who uses the data? | Why collect fish survey data? | Are other animals included besides fish?

What is the REEF Fish Survey Project?
REEF's mission, to educate and enlist divers in the conservation of marine habitats, is accomplished primarily through its Fish Survey Project. The Project was developed in 1990 with support from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and guidance by the Southeast Fisheries Science Center of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). The REEF Fish Survey Project allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations. The data are collected using a fun and easy standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. These data are used by a variety of resource agencies and researchers.

What is the Living REEF Project Invertebrate Monitoring Program?
The Living REEF Project is an invertebrate monitoring program that was created as a companion to the fish monitoring program for the Pacific Northwest.  Since this program was launched in 1998, REEF has launched a similar companion program in California.  Both of these programs monitor a set of invertebrates (and Algae in California).  To find out more, visit the REEF Invertebrate & Algae Monitoring Program page.

How do I conduct a REEF survey?
En Espaol
To collect data for the Project, REEF volunteers use the Roving Diver Technique (RDT), 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 forms?

The Survey Method- During RDT surveys, divers swim freely throughout a dive site and record every observed fish species that can be positively identified. The search for fishes 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.  Any sea turtle species seen during your dive should also be marked.  More about the Sea Turtle Program.
At the conclusion of each survey, each recorded 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)].

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 region the survey was conducted in. 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.

Click here to view a short instructional video of the REEF survey method.

Be sure to also visit this very informative tutorial webpage put together by Project S.E.A.-Link, one of our partners in Hawaii.  Even though it was written for surveyors in Hawaii, the information is valid for all of REEF's regions.

Online Data Entry- For surveys conducted in the tropical western Atlantic and Northeast US region, REEF volunteers can also submit their survey data online at www.reef.org/dataentry.

Can I Submit Data Online?
Yes, beginning in January 2005, data from surveys conducted in the tropical western Atlantic and Northeast US region can be submitted online at www.reef.org/dataentry.  For more information on this process, visit the Online Q&A page.  REEF hopes to make online data entry available for all our regions by the end of 2005.  Of course, REEF continues to supply and process TWA scanforms.

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

REEF surveys can be conducted in any of REEF's Project areas:
Tropical Western Atlantic/Northeast US & Canada (Florida, Caribbean, Bahamas, and Gulf of Mexico), southern Atlantic states (Georgia and South Carolina), and Virginia through Newfoundland
West Coast of the United States and Canada (California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia)
Tropical Eastern Pacific (Gulf of California to the Galapagos Islands).
Hawaiian Islands.

Each project area has different scanforms and survey 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 reef or large geographic regions. 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, via this Webpage, 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 sightings using your REEF member ID number.
To visit the REEF database, click here.

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.

Are the data accurate and useful?

Yes! From the beginning, the program was designed in conjunction with marine scientists from NOAA, the University of Miami, and The Nature Conservancy. For over two years, a team of marine ecologists and fisheries managers monitored and carefully evaluated REEF's field methods and reporting procedures. Their study, published in the Bulletin of Marine Science in 1996, confirmed that the collected data are of extreme value to the scientific community. They found that fish surveys conducted using the REEF roving diver method meet several objectives:

  • Ability to collect large quantities of presence/absence and relative abundance data
  • Indication of species distribution throughout a geographical area based on sighting frequency and abundance
  • Specific species presence/absence and abundance lists may be presented for any given region, subregion, zone or site
  • Measures of similarity in species composition may be computed between any combination of geographical areas

Today, marine ecologists from NOAA, the State of Florida, Caribbean and Bahamas government environmental protection offices, marine park management, and conservation groups are already putting information from REEF's database to good use.

What are the data used for?
As the REEF Fish Survey Project has grown, several papers and products have been produced using the roving diver survey method and the REEF database. In addition, the REEF Fish Survey Project has become integrated into several projects. These collaborations have included those with management agencies and other non-profit organizations.  To read more about these papers and projects and about using volunteers in data collection, visit our Monitoring and Research page.

Why collect fish survey data?
Once you start conducting fish 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.

Are other animals included besides fish?
While the main focus of REEF's program is marine fish, we have incorporated two additional components through collaborations with other organizations - the Pacific Invertebrate & Algae monitoring programs in the Pacific Northwest and California and the Sea Turtle Sighting Program.  Sea turtles are reported in all of REEF's regions.


Reef Environmental Education Foundation, 2000-2001
Date Last Modified: 02/26/07

Site Design: Brice X. Semmens
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