Reef Check News
How do RC California Data Compare to Data from Academic Monitoring Programs?
By Reef Check California Director Dr. Jan Freiwald
Reef Check California has been training volunteers and collecting data on the communities of rocky reefs for almost six years now. We have developed a strong and dedicated group of divers, many of whom collect data year after year. Because of this commitment and our rigorous training and standardized protocol, RCCA has become an important and cost-effective part of the Marine Protected Area (MPA) monitoring in the state of California. As part of this monitoring and evaluation effort, RCCA is collaborating with academic and state monitoring programs towards the goal of establishing baselines of the ecosystem at the time MPAs are implemented. One question that is always raised when citizen scientists are involved in data collection is: how do the data they collect compare to the data collected by academic monitoring programs? To address this question, leading academic monitoring programs in California and RCCA got together and analyzed datasets to compare how well the data agree when they monitor the same habitats. The results of this analysis was recently published in the Journal of Environmental Monitoring and Assessment.
To compare the data collected by academic monitoring programs (in this case, the Cooperative Research and Assessment of Nearshore Ecosystems (CRANE) and the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) programs) and RCCA, we selected 13 sites in southern California that were sampled at approximately the same time in 2008 by RCCA and the PISCO/CRANE team. We chose benthic invertebrates and fish species and physical aspects of the rocky reef for comparison because they are sampled by both programs.
Overall, we found high agreement in most measures of invertebrate and particularly fish community description. The greatest similarities were for fish, somewhat lesser agreement for invertebrate community measures and least agreement in the habitat variables. Despite the fact that these sites overlapped there had not been any prior coordination between the programs so the actual locations within a reef area were not the same. Therefore, the differences in the habitat variables are most likely based on different approaches to the selection of sampling locations. RCCA targets rocky reefs and kelp forest communities and this is reflected in the high counts of high relief and reef in its data. These results suggest that RCCA data collected in the same habitat is comparable to data of other, academic or agency, subtidal monitoring programs. This study suggests that if sampling of a limited number of key species is desired, for example to design a cost-effective and geographically comprehensive sampling of indicator species, RCCA’s approach is effective and reliable in collecting these data and inform managers of changes in the marine environment. Further, these data can be combined with more comprehensive datasets (i.e. longer species lists) to supplement each other and to be integrated into California’s future adaptive marine management.