Reef Check Training Course
Introduction to Coral Reefs
Introduction to Reef Check
The Methods: The Planning Stage
The Methods: The Survey
Introduction to coral reefs
What is a coral reef?
• Made up of large hard corals that build the reef
structure and support a myriad of life;
• They are tropical ecosystems that rival only
rainforests in species diversity. This is BIODIVERSITY.
Photo by Jos Hill, 2002
Why care about coral reefs?
• Rainforests of the sea. E.g.. Nursery ground for 25% of
marine species and home to 33% of all known fish species;
• Important food source for millions of people;
• Source of medicines;
• Coastal protection from wave erosion to 1/6 of world’s
• Source of islands & white sand beaches for tourist resorts;
• 20 million scuba divers;
• Great beauty and spiritual value.
What conditions do coral reefs require?
• Low nutrient, clear water;
• Salinity around 32-42/ppm;
• Temperature between 18-29ºC;
• Waves and good water circulation;
• More effective management than is currently in place.
For more information see: http://www.coris.noaa.gov/about/what_are/what_are.html#Anchor-Where-16068
• Zones are habitats within a reef;
• Areas defined by complex associations between
creatures and the environment;
• Zones help better understand ecosystem
dynamics and changes over time.
Taken from the A.W.A.R.E Coral Reef Conservation Course
Natural disturbance: dynamic balance
of coral reef ecosystems
reef 10-20 year
Natural impacts include physical disturbances, such as
cyclones. These impacts tend to be ACUTE and coral reefs
have adapted to recover from acute events.
Natural disturbance: dynamic balance
of coral reef ecosystems
• We can measure the health of a coral reef in terms of its
resilience to impacts, such as, its ability to recover from
• We can measure this health by
monitoring how they change over
It is important to understand how reefs change with time
naturally in order that we can determine how human
impacts affect them
A basic ecology lesson
An ecosystem is like a jenga
Each block has a function to
hold the system together.
Pull out too many blocks and
the system will collapse…
Each organism in an ecosystem has a function
Threats to coral reefs
2. Destructive fishing;
5. Global climate
Human impacts tend to be CHRONIC and leave no
Solutions to these problems…
In order to effectively manage a coral reef we must:
1. Determine what the problems are and where they
2. Put in place a management solution;
3. Monitor the effectiveness of the management.
Introduction to Reef Check
• In 1993 at a Symposium in Miami a question was asked:
What is the health of the world’s coral reefs?
• Science “as usual” failed to give answers because:
• There are too few scientists who spend too
little time on reefs;
• Too few study sites;
• Few long-term studies;
• Emphasis on basic research;
• Different questions and methods used in different
areas meaning that we cannot compare data.
1997 – Reef Check begins
Reef Check designed a global survey method for the
International Year of the Reef. This protocol was:
• Simple, Rapid, All volunteer;
• Combined manpower of local communities with
• ‘Eco-holistic’ -- not just fish or coral;
• Provides basic data on coral reef health;
• Applicable anywhere in the world.
This 1997 survey effort revealed that coral reefs
around the world were in very poor health!
What is Reef Check?
• Educate the public about the coral reef crisis;
• Create a global network of volunteer teams, which
regularly monitor and report on reef health;
• Scientifically investigate coral reef processes;
• Facilitate collaboration among academia, NGOs,
governments and the private sector;
• Stimulate local community action to protect remaining pristine
reefs and rehabilitate damaged reefs worldwide using
ecologically sound and economically sustainable solutions.
Who are the stakeholders involved?
• Tourist divers;
• Local dive clubs;
• Government agencies;
• Local/regional NGO’s,
• Other stakeholders.
Reef Check Strategy
Monitoring Management Education
Coral Reef Conservation
Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network
But data intense Basic data only
Reef Check Global Network 1997-pre
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1400 Reefs, 62 Countries and Territories
What type of data do we collect?
1) A description of each reef site based on over 30
measures of environmental conditions and
expert rating of human impacts;
2) Shellfish counts along an 800 m 2 section of
3) Fish counts along an 4000 m 3 section of
4) A measure of the percentage of the seabed
covered by different substrate types including
live and dead coral;
5) A video transect of the seabed.
Some Global Results 1997 - 2001
• Percent hard coral cover was significantly higher on reefs
having no human impacts than on those with high impacts;
• Algal cover was higher on reefs rated as having
high sewage inputs;
• Zero grouper larger than 30 cm recorded at 48% of reefs
surveyed – indicating overfishing;
• Many marine protected areas
are not working very well;
• The 1997 – 1998 bleaching event reduced live coral cover
by 10% globally, indicating that coral reefs are a sensitive
indicator of global warming.
• Soufriere, St Lucia --
Authority uses RC to
demonstrate the value of
the marine protected area
(MPA) for fish;
• Gilutongan Island, Cebu, Philippines – local barrio decided
to set up MPA after RC participation. Today most successful
urban, no-take MPA in Philippines (Ross et al, 2000).
• Recife, Brazil – local government decides to set up
children’s reef education center after RC shows reef
• In collaboration with
Friends of the Reef, RC
Indo conducts art
contest to educate
school teachers and
students in Bali.
• Unfortunately we have to account for different types of
error when we compare results of surveys over time.
• Minimizing error is important because the more error we
have, the lower the resolution by which environmental
change can be detected.
Is the hard
% cover really changing
or is this
Annual survey results
Data quality: Sources of error
• Technical errors from transect placement;
• Perceptual errors;
• Identification errors.
Technical and perceptual errors can be minimized by
standardising the methods. Identification errors must be
minimized by standardising training and testing!
Learning from the Past and Site Descriptions:
Coral cover on Balicasag Island reef from 1984
(Christie et al. 2002)
1984 1992 1999
a cur t t l ad oa
Snt ay oahr c r l
a cur t t l o oa
Snt ay oas f c r l
o s nt ay oa ad oa
N - a cur t t lhr c r l
o s nt ay oa ot oa
N - a cur t t ls f c r l
How do we ensure the data is of
sufficient high quality to integrate it
with official data sets?
• standardise the identification training throughout Queensland;
‘Rock’ and ‘Recently Killed
Coral’ are frequently
confused by volunteers
• test participants.
What happens to our data?
• Sent to Reef Check Headquarters where it is integrated
with the global database;
• Sent to The World Fish Centre’s ReefBase;
• Used for global, regional and national annual reports
What are the objectives of participants?
• To be able to identify all of the target organisms to 80-95%* precision
whilst following exactly AND SAFELY the Reef Check methods using
• To understand the importance of precise data collection and how this
data can be used by scientists and managers for coral reef conservation;
• To understand the use and limitations to the data that is collected using
• Gain an understanding of the threats facing coral reefs and solutions to
• To have fun!!
*the level required for a particular Reef Check training event will depend upon
the Reef Check organisers;
**snorkel teams may also be accommodated for shallow reef areas.
Who must every Reef Check team
• Team Scientist;
• Team Leader;
• Equipment Cop.
What is the role of the Team Scientist?
• Site selection;
• Delegation of survey tasks;
• Survey briefing prior to dive;
• Ensure proper identifications and data
recording are made underwater
• Data sheet collection and filing;
• Organisation of data entry, filing and
notification of data entered to coordinator;
• Organise data analysis and summary.
What is the role of the Team Leader?
• Confirm dive trip dates and arrangements;
• Confirm team availability;
• Field day organisation;
• Complete field log;
• Organisation of media releases;
• Dive safety;
What is the role of the Equipment Cop?
• Pre and post-survey equipment check;
• Bring the equipment to the survey.
The Methods: The
The Survey Equipment
• 100 m transect line;
• Underwater slate for each team member;
• Spare pencil!!
• Underwater ID guides;
• GPS or detailed chart (or access to one);
• Plumb line;
• Marker and “safety” buoys / surface tenders;
• Underwater cameras (if available).
1 2 3 4
20m 5m 20m 5m 20m 5m 20m
The basic idea of the Reef Check protocol is to swim
along a 100m line and count!
Planning the survey
It is important that team members know EXACTLY what
they are to do.
Trying to communicate underwater can sometimes be
difficult and we are working under the clock!
• Critical for the success of Reef Check!
• Must be selected by an experience Reef Check Scientist;
• Re-surveys must be implemented at the same site in the same
• New sites would ideally be on a moderately to fully exposed reef
with a reef crest and outer slope being ideal.
• Select the “best” reef areas for surveys
Steep reef walls or drop-offs, reefs predominantly located in caves
or underhangs should be avoided.
The Survey Methods
•Initial site orientation survey (all divers)
•Lay the transect line (1 - 2 divers);
• Substrate survey (1 - 2 divers);
• Invertebrate/impact survey (1 - 2 divers);
• Retrieve the transect line (1 – 2 divers);
• Optional “safety” buddy and surface tender
Before you jump into the water…
• Record the GPS location;
• Record the name of the TS or TL on the data sheet;
• Start to fill out the site description form.
Divers should go over the dive plan before anyone enters
the water in order to ensure that everyone knows what
they should be doing and when.
Country:_________________________ State/Province:______________ City/town:_____________________
Date: __________________ Time: Start of survey: ______________ End of survey: __________________
Latitude (deg. min. sec): ______________________________ Longitude (deg. min. sec) : ______________________________
Distance from shore: _________m from nearest river: ______km
River mouth width: _________ <10m ________ 11-50m _______ 51-100m _____101-500m
Dist. to nearest population center: __________ km Population size: _____x1000
Weather: _____ sunny ________ cloudy ________raining
Why is this site selected: ___________________________ Is this best site in the area? _____Yes _____No
Is this site: Always sheltered:_________ Sometimes sheltered: _______ Exposed:___________
Major coral damaging storms Yes:________ No:________ When was last storm: __________
Overall Anthropogenic impact None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Is siltation a problem Never Occasionally: ________ Often: _______ Always: _____
Dynamite fishing None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ Heavy: ____
Poison Fishing None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Aquarium Fishing None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Harvest Inverts for Food None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Harvest Inverts for curio sales None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Tourist Diving/snorkeling: None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Sewage Pollution None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Industrial pollution None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Commercial fishing None: ______ Low: ________ Med: ________ High: _____
Fish for the live food fish
restaurant trade None: ______ Low: ________ Med: _____ High: _____
Artisinal/recreational None: ______ Low: ________ Med: _____ High: _____
How many yachts are typically
present within 1km of this site : None: ______ Few (1-2): _____ Med (3-5): ____ Many (>5): _____
Other impacts: ____________________________________________________
Any Protection (legal or other) at
this site? Yes:_______ No: __________ if yes, answer questions below
Is protection enforced Yes (full enforcement):_______ No:__________
• Reef Check typically surveys 2 depths:
1) Between 2-6m
2) Between 8-12m
• A snorkel survey over the site can help determine its eligibility for
a Reef Check survey;
• The TS or experienced Reef Checkers will typically lay the
transect line because care must be taken not to damage the reef.
The substrate survey
• The aim is to collect % cover estimates of various substrates
and benthic organisms;
• A point sampling method is used every 50cm;
• Plumb line must be used to remove bias;
• This survey typically takes 30 mins to 1 hour to complete.
HC hard coral SC soft coral (includes flower, tree, ornamental) RKC recently killed coral
HCB bleached hard coral SCL leathery soft coral RKCNIA recently killed coral and NIA
HCBR branching hard coral SCZ zoanthids RKCTA recently killed coral and turf algae
HCM massive hard coral SCB bleached soft coral
HCF foliose hard coral
HCP plate hard coral
HCE encrusting hard coral SP sponge RC rock
NIA nutrient indicator algae SPE encrusting sponge TA turf algae
RB rubble SD sand CA coralline algae
OT other SI silt/clay
(For first segment, if start point is 0 m, last point is 19.5 m)
SEGMENT 1 SEGMENT 2 SEGMENT 3 SEGMENT 4
0 - 19.5 m 25 - 44.5 m 50 - 69.5 m 75 - 94.5 m
0 10 25 35 50 60 75 85
0.5 10.5 25.5 35.5 50.5 60.5 75.5 85.5
1 11 26 36 51 61 76 86
1.5 11.5 26.5 36.5 51.5 61.5 76.5 86.5
2 12 27 37 52 62 77 87
2.5 12.5 27.5 37.5 52.5 62.5 77.5 87.5
3 13 28 38 53 63 78 88
3.5 13.5 28.5 38.5 53.5 63.5 78.5 88.5
4 14 29 39 54 64 79 89
4.5 14.5 29.5 39.5 54.5 64.5 79.5 89.5
5 15 30 40 55 65 80 90
5.5 15.5 30.5 40.5 55.5 65.5 80.5 90.5
6 16 31 41 56 66 81 91
6.5 16.5 31.5 41.5 56.5 66.5 81.5 91.5
7 17 32 42 57 67 82 92
Invert and impact survey
• This is a 5m wide belt transect. We use the same 4 x 20m
long transects, but survey 2.5m either side of the tape;
• The goal of this survey is to count the target mobile invertebrates
and note any coral damage, such as, bleaching, Crown of Thorns
Starfish, anchor damage or trash;
• The upside down pose is the easiest position to search and write;
• A regular U-shaped search pattern ensures a comprehensive
coverage of the belt transect;
• This survey takes between 30 mins and 1 hour to complete.
• Same 5m wide belt transect but it is also 5m HIGH;
• The fish survey is the first survey to be done;
• The ideal survey time is between 09.00 and 10.00;
• Completion time is approximately 1 hour;
• The team must wait 15mins after the line is deployed before entering the
• Divers must make slow and careful movements;
• Concentrate on buoyancy;
• Coordinate counts with your buddy to avoid double counting;
• Only count fish in the tunnel except for the Humphead wrasse and
Bumphead parrotfish or mega fauna.
Site Name: Country/Island:
Data recorded by:
0-20m 25-45m 50-70m 75-95m
Barramundi Cod (Cromileptes)
Other Grouper >30cm*
Other Parrotfish (>20cm)
* give size in comments
Data recorded by:
0-20m 25-45m 50-70m 75-95m
Banded coral shrimp (Stenopus
Pencil urchin (Heterocentrotus
Sea cucumber (edible only)
Crown-of-thorns star (Acanthaster)
Giant clam (Tridacna)
Triton shell (Charonia tritonis)
Drupella (Drupella sp)
Coral Damage/Disease/Bleaching and Trash
Rate the following as: None=0, Low=1, Medium=2, High=3
0-20m 25-45m 50-70m 75-95m
Crown of thorns star scars
Coral damage: Boat/Anchor
Coral damage: Dynamite
Coral damage: Other
Trash: Fish nets
Please fill in the following 0-20m 25-45m 50-70m 75-95m
• Data entry;
• Media release;
• Thank-yous to supporters;
• See TL, TS and EC roles…..
Special thanks to Jos Hill PhD of
Reef Check Australia for providing
key parts of this presentation.