by Cyndi Dawson, Regional Manager, Reef Check California
The Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), based at the University of Santa Cruz, and Reef Check California (RCCA) have been collaborating on the central coast conducting subtidal monitoring. RCCA uses trained and certified volunteer divers to collect scientifically-sound data. PISCO is a large-scale academic marine research program that focuses on understanding the nearshore ecosystems of the U.S. West Coast, and applying those findings to issues of ocean conservation and management. Both PISCO and RCCA use directly comparable methods to survey depths from 0 – 60 ft. (0-18.3 m) on rocky reefs throughout the state to enumerate marine fishes, invertebrates, seaweed, and to characterize the substrate. Because the data collection methods are standardized and use a scientifically accepted methodology, the data from both groups are provided to resource managers to help improve marine management decisions.
The surveys take place along 30 x 2 x 2 m transects or swaths along the bottom. RCCA surveyors look for a select group of indicator species while PISCO surveys for an expanded number of species. For the past two years RCCA and PISCO have been conducting a comparison study that includes RCCA divers and PISCO divers surveying the same sites for fish within a 3-day window of each other. Conducting the surveys so close together controls temporal variability–changes from day-to-day–that occur, and allow a more direct comparison of the density estimates each group collects. This comparison study is crucial for the long-term success of RCCA as it will statistically determine if trained and certified RCCA volunteer divers sample with the same precision as academic programs for a select group of indicator species.
One of the sites included in the comparison study is Weston, within the boundaries of Pt. Lobos State Reserve. Both PISCO and RCCA have long-term survey sites within the park boundaries. PISCO has been surveying another site in the Reserve, Bluefin, since 1999, and Weston since 2001. RCCA has been surveying Weston since the start of the program in 2006. RCCA
has also been surveying Middle Reef, which is not surveyed by PISCO or any
other group, since 2006. The comparison at Weston began in 2006 with RCCA and PISCO conducting fish surveys one day apart. To add an additional replicate to the comparison survey, Weston was surveyed once again by PISCO on Friday Sept. 21, 2007, and RCCA surveyed the same site on Saturday Sept. 22, 2007. RCCA and PISCO have already begun the analysis for last year and the data looks great! RCCA divers are consistently getting estimates of density, size, and trends that are close to the PISCO estimates; scientifically speaking the data from preliminary analysis supports RCCA being within an acceptable level of precision of PISCO’s estimates.
This is great news for all Californians, as proving the scientific validity of RCCA data will increase the amount of quality data available to resource managers to make sound science-based management decisions. The amount of quality data collected and available to resource managers is being significantly increased by the growing numbers of trained and certified volunteer RCCA divers. PISCO and RCCA estimates for invertebrates, seaweed, and bottom characterization will also be compared in this study.
Stay tuned as we expect to release the results of these analyses by the spring of next year. If you are an experienced recreational scuba diver and would like to find out how to get involved with Reef Check California please go to here. No prior scientific training is required to help Reef Check conserve California’s rocky reefs one tank at a time!
(Ed. Note: In Feb. 2007, the Calif. Dept. of Fish and Game submitted a Memorandum of Understanding [MOU] to RCCA stating that the dept. considers RCCA’s methodology scientifically sound, compatible with its own methodology, and the training and quality controls sufficiently rigorous to warrant acceptance of the data collected by it volunteers for the dept.’s own management considerations. The entire MOU can be read here.)