Reef fish survey techniques: Assessing the potential for standardizing methodologies

TitleReef fish survey techniques: Assessing the potential for standardizing methodologies
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsCaldwell Z.R, Zgliczynski B.J, Williams GJ, Sandin SA
JournalPlos One
Date Published2016/04
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number1932-6203
Accession NumberWOS:000374970600009
Keywordsabundance; assemblages; communities; coral; density; northern line islands; shark populations; strip transect; underwater visual census; video techniques

Dramatic changes in populations of fishes living on coral reefs have been documented globally and, in response, the research community has initiated efforts to assess and monitor reef fish assemblages. A variety of visual census techniques are employed, however results are often incomparable due to differential methodological performance. Although comparability of data may promote improved assessment of fish populations, and thus management of often critically important nearshore fisheries, to date no standardized and agreed-upon survey method has emerged. This study describes the use of methods across the research community and identifies potential drivers of method selection. An online survey was distributed to researchers from academic, governmental, and non-governmental organizations internationally. Although many methods were identified, 89% of survey-based projects employed one of three methods-belt transect, stationary point count, and some variation of the timed swim method. The selection of survey method was independent of the research design (i.e., assessment goal) and region of study, but was related to the researcher's home institution. While some researchers expressed willingness to modify their current survey protocols to more standardized protocols (76%), their willingness decreased when methodologies were tied to long-term datasets spanning five or more years. Willingness to modify current methodologies was also less common among academic researchers than resource managers. By understanding both the current application of methods and the reported motivations for method selection, we hope to focus discussions towards increasing the comparability of quantitative reef fish survey data.

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