[Coral-List] Reliable coral reef stats

John McManus jmcmanus at rsmas.miami.edu
Tue Sep 17 13:24:36 EDT 2013

Yes, Reef Check is a remarkable program and the only existing source of data
from around the world which uses a standard sampling approach. 

It is largely forgotten today, but most of the data on currents, contours
and bottom types on US charts up until at least 1950 (and much of it until
more recently) came from a volunteer program set up in the 19th century by
Lt. Mathew Maury. If you annotated a chart and sent it in, you would receive
in exchange the latest version. Like Wikipedia, if someone got something
wrong, someone else would correct it. Lots of software systems, including
server software, and made that way today. Volunteer programs are extremely
important, and Reef Check is a prime example.  

I do think there is a pressing need for a global system of reef systems
under more intensive, coordinated study, so that we can better understand
how these ecosystems are responding to change in terms of ecological and
socio-economic processes, so that we can distinguish among the impacts of
types of stressors (such as acidification), and so that we have a better
basis for understanding the near future of coral reefs. However, we still
need something like Reef Check to understand the global implications of all



-----Original Message-----
From: coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
[mailto:coral-list-bounces at coral.aoml.noaa.gov] On Behalf Of Gregor Hodgson
Sent: Sunday, September 15, 2013 6:09 PM
To: coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov
Subject: [Coral-List] Reliable coral reef stats

Since 1997, Reef Check has carried out a global monitoring program of coral
reefs using a standardized method based on about 30 indicators including
living coral and recently killed coral, bleached and diseased coral. Prior
to 2005, Reef Check teams were trained and led by Masters or PhD level
scientists who were responsible for field level Q & A. Since 2005, all Reef
Check data has been collected by individuals who have been through a formal
training program, tested and certified to collect data.  In fact about 75%
of the data has always been collected by research scientists because Reef
Check methods have been adopted by many countries and research institutes as
part of their core monitoring program. Independent researchers such as John
Bruno et al., have used the database for local and regional meta analyses.
The database is available to any researcher. Our WRAS online coral reef
database has been taken offline to transition it from a GIS to a Google
Earth platform, and to merge it with our California NED online rocky reef
database. http://ned.reefcheck.org/ An analysis of the 15-year coral reef
dataset is due out in 2014. For a list of peer reviewed and other technical
publications based on or related to Reef Check data please see:

Reef Check offers regular training programs throughout the world using our
local coordinators. If you think it is important to track coral reefs during
the next 20 years of global warming, please contact rcinfo at reefcheck.org to
arrange a training or if you would like to help coordinate surveys in a
country where we do not have a coordinator.

I am noticing two problems when researchers try to compare baselines now
with pre-1980s data:
1. there is a shifting baseline in new cohorts of coral reef researchers who
have a hard time understanding what reefs actually were like 40 years ago,
but typically have not read the old descriptive literature from pre-1970s
such as Saville-Kent that provide exceedingly detailed descriptions of what
the shallow reefs were like; 2. a problem with meta-analyses that do not
take into account the fact that in 2013, there are no "zero coral cover"
data from former reefs or zones of reefs that are no longer reefs because
they experienced 100% die off and so researchers no longer monitor them.
Some former reef zones that were populated by Acropora palmata can still be
seen, as the dead skeletons are still in place, but those formerly populated
by the more fragile A.
cervicornis are often simply gone. This means that the current regional and
global coral cover estimates are probably underestimating the decline as
researchers no longer include reefs that died and have not recovered.

Gregor Hodgson, PhD
Executive Director
Reef Check Foundation
PO Box 1057 (mail)
17575 Pacific Coast Highway (overnight)
Pacific Palisades, CA 90272 USA
T: +1 310-230-2371 or 2360
Gregorh at reefcheck.org
Skype: gregorh001

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