REEF's Invertebrate and Algae Monitoring Program


Where?

REEF has programs to monitor invertebrates/algae in California (launched in 2006), the Pacific Northwest (launched in 1998), the South Atlantic States (launched in 2013) and the Northeast US & Eastern Canada (launched in 2014).  All of these were created to serve as companions to the fish monitoring programs already in existence in those regions. 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 46 invertebrates (including 3 invasive tunicates) - the list of species included in the program is posted here.  A gallery of images of the species included is posted on this website.

The California program includes 63 invertebrates and algae (including 1 invasive tunicate and 1 invasive algae) - the list of species included in the program is posted here.

The South Atlantic States program includes 51 invertebrates and algae (including 1 invasive algae).

The Northeast US & Eastern Canada program includes 60 invertebrates and algae (including 4 invasive tunicates).

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 temperate region 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 initially 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. 

The Survey Method

During RDT surveys in the Pacific region (California to Alaska), South Atlantic States region, and Northeast US & Eastern Canada region, 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. Invertebrates included in each program are listed at for the Pacific Northwest and California programs.

Submitting the Data

Following the dive, each surveyor transfers the information about their survey dive, including survey time, depth, temperature, and other environmental information, along with the species sightings data, to the REEF database. Information is submitted through an online data entry interface or on a REEF scansheet specific for the region the survey was conducted in. Scansheets are available from the REEF online store and are returned to REEF HQ in Key Largo, FL. The location of the survey is recorded using the common dive site nameand the REEF Geographic Zone Code. The Zone Codes are a hierarchical list of codes. A separate survey submission is done for each dive.

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 Janna Nichols from Pacific Northwest Scuba, one of our partners. Even though it was written for surveyors in the Pacific Northwest, the information is valid for all of REEF's regions.

Online Data Entry

REEF volunteers can submit their survey data online at http://www.reef.org/dataentry.

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 as well as 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 my online survey after I hit the Submit button?

The data is compiled with other surveys into a batch, which gets processed every few weeks. Not only does it go through computer quality control error checks, but REEF personnel review the data before the batch is passed 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 submission to uploading to the database is usually between 2-3 weeks.

How can I access the data?

All data collected by REEF volunteers is submitted online 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).

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub