Wider Caribbean Region Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network: Annex D - Biophysical Baselilne Monitoring Methods

The GCRMN baseline scientific monitoring methods provide a basic framework for existing and developing monitoring programs to contribute data that support a regional understanding of status and trends of Caribbean coral reefs. The purpose of these methods is to collect data that will contribute to our understanding of the processes that shape coral reefs and to provide actionable advice to policy makers, stakeholders, and communities. In order to achieve these goals, the GCRMN community seeks to collect comprehensive and inter-comparable data that build from a modern scientific perspective of reef monitoring.
The GCRMN methods have been developed to provide a systematic snapshot of the ecosystem health of coral reefs and, when repeated through time, insight into temporal trends in reef condition. Based on the conclusions of a retrospective analysis of trends in reef health over the past decades, GCRMN members have agreed that there is great value in coordinating and standardizing future monitoring efforts. To date, Caribbean regional monitoring efforts often collect non-overlapping types of data about coral reefs, or the efforts use non-comparable methods for describing similar parts of the reef ecosystem. The goal of this document is to define a set of data and data collection techniques that will be used by Caribbean GCRMN members. These methods reflect long-standing, vetted scientific protocols and provide a compromise between practical applicability and ease of comparison between existing methods and long-term datasets.
The GCRMN methods describe six elements of the coral reef ecosystem – (1) abundance and biomass of key reef fish taxa, (2) relative cover of reef-building organisms (corals, coralline algae) and their dominant competitors, (3) assessment of coral health and (4) recruitment of reef-building corals, (5) abundance of key macro-invertebrate species, and (6) water quality. These elements provide an overview of the current condition of the coral reef ecosystem as well as an indication of likely future trajectories. GCRMN recognizes that by collecting information about these elements across multiple locations, with regular re-sampling through time, it will be possible to more knowingly describe the status of coral reef health in the Caribbean and to assess the effectiveness of local and regional management efforts.
These methods are designed to provide a basic and regional summary of reef health. Importantly, the elements that are included for GCRMN monitoring are not all-inclusive, and many partner members may be interested in collecting more detailed or spatially expansive data. However, the GCRMN methods should be viewed as a minimum set of measurements to provide a reliable snapshot of reef condition – data elements should not be selected individually but instead will be collected in sum. Given the inherent complexity of reef processes, a multidimensional description of coral reef health is essential to provide a coherent ‘baseline’ of coral reef condition in a dynamic and changing world.

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