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Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring Project

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Worm & Coral Polyps (click for full size image)

The goals and objectives of this project are:

  1. To spatially characterize and monitor the distribution, abundance, and size of both reef fishes and macro-invertebrates (conch, lobster, Diadema);
  2. To relate this information to in-situ data collected on water quality and associated habitat parameters;
  3. To use this information to establish the knowledge base necessary for enacting management decisions in a spatial setting;
  4. To establish the efficacy of those management decisions; and
  5. To work with the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program to develop data collection standards and easily implemented methodologies for transference to other agencies and to work toward standardizing data collection throughout the US states and territories.

Project Summary

To achieve the above objectives, the CCMA's Biogeography Branch (BB) has been working since 2000 in the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. It is critical, with recent changes in management at both locations (e.g. implementation of MPAs) as well as proposed changes (e.g. zoning to manage multiple human uses) that action is taken now to accurately describe and characterize the fish/macro-invertebrate populations in these areas. It is also important that BB work closely with the individuals responsible for recommending and implementing these management strategies. Recognizing this, BB has been collaborating with partners at the University of Puerto Rico, National Park Service, US Geological Survey and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources.

To quantify patterns of spatial distribution and make meaningful interpretations, we must first have knowledge of the underlying variables determining species distribution. The basis for this work therefore, is the nearshore benthic habitats maps (less than 100 ft depth) created by NOAA's Biogeography Program in 2001 and NOS' bathymetry models. Using ArcView GIS software, the digitized habitat maps are stratified to select sampling stations. Sites are randomly selected within these strata to ensure coverage of the entire study region and not just a particular reef or seagrass area. At each site, fish, macro-invertebrates, and associated water quality and habitat information is then quantified following standardized protocols see methodology link below). By relating the data collected in the field back to the habitat maps and bathymetric models, BB is able to model and map species level and community level information. These protocols are standardized throughout the US Caribbean to enable quantification and comparison of reef fish abundance and distribution trends between locations. Armed with the knowledge of where "hot spots" of species richness and diversity are likely to occur in the seascape, the BB is in a unique position to answer questions about the efficacy of marine zoning strategies (e.g. placement of no fishing, anchoring, or snorkeling locations), and what locations are most suitable for establishing MPAs. Knowledge of the current status of fish/macro-invertebrate communities coupled with longer term monitoring will enable evaluation of management efficacy, thus it is essential to future management actions.

Photo of Queen triggerfish (Balistes vetula) taken in St. Croix, USVI 2005 Photo of blue tangs (Acanthurus coeruleus) swimming in an elkhorn coral forest (Acropora palmata) in St. Croix, USVI 2003 Close up photo of a sand diver (Synodus intermedius) taken in Puerto Rico 2005 Photo of a Biogeography Branch SCUBA diver performing a reef fish survey over a reef in St. John, USVI 2005
Photo Credits: Biogeography Branch


Current/Completed -

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Relevant Links

Time Frame

Ongoing: 2000 - Present

For More Information

Project Manager:
1305 East West Highway
Silver Spring , MD 20910

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