benthic monitoring

AGRRA - Atlantic & Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment

The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program champions coral reef conservation and empowers those who protect these diverse ecosystems. We are an international collaboration of scientists, managers, and supporters aimed at improving the regional condition of reefs in the Western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. For 20 years, AGRRA has used an innovative regional approach to examine the condition of reef-building corals, algae and fishes and support the conservation of coral reef ecosystems. We curate and distribute data, research and educational materials that support this mission.

The AGRRA program began in 1997 by Dr. Robert N. Ginsburg – the guiding visionary force and mentor behind AGRRA’s efforts for 20 years. Collaborating with numerous colleagues, advisors and students, AGRRA has become a leading advocate for coral reef science and conservation. Dr. Ginsburg has led and supported AGRRA, through his foundation The Ocean Research and Education Foundation (ORE), inspiring new generations of ocean scientists, educators and conservationists.

AGRRA’s initial goals were to provide a standardized assessment of key structural and functional indicators that could be applied to reveal spatial and temporal patterns of regional reef condition. Priority was placed on conducting baseline assessments of remote reefs such as in Cuba, The Bahamas, Panama and Los Roques and on creating educational materials and leading training workshops for in-country partners around the Caribbean.

Since that time, we have collaborated with teams of scientific professionals and partners to fill many gaps, collectively conducted over 2,300 surveys, built one of the largest open-access public databases of coral reef condition, and contributed to numerous peer-reviewed publications and management plans.

A cornerstone of our program has been providing open-access to scientific data collected through our partner network. Over 2,300 surveys and 10,000’s of data scientific metrics of corals, fish, and key invertebrates have been collected throughout reefs in the Caribbean. The AGRRA data portal greatly improves the efficiency, transparency and reliability of data compilation and analysis. AGRRA has become a key source of scientific data used to inform reef policies, legislation, management and conservation.

AGRRA has developed a comprehensive set of visual training tools to help partners learn identification of key reef organisms, their role in reef health, and how to scientifically monitor, track and understand these systems. We strive to promote a learning platform through trainings, exchanges and education materials and to catalyze conservation impact through creative effective communication to wider audiences.

Our goals at AGRRA are to:

  • 1. Conduct scientifically sound, comparable regional surveys of the health of coral reefs using a standardized method
  • 2. Promote a collaborative learning platform through trainings, exchanges and open-access education materials
  • 3. Advance our scientific understanding of coral reefs, analyze data results and provide easy data access with the AGRRA data platform and on-line data entry tools
  • 4. Catalyze conservation impact through partnerships and creative effective communication to wider audiences.
Data type
Research and monitoring
Geographic location
Saba bank
St. Eustatius
St. Maarten
AGRRA - Atlantic & Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment

A Quantitative, Non-Destructive Methodology for Habitat Characterisation and Benthic Monitoring at Offshore Renewable Energy Developments

Following governments’ policies to tackle global climate change, the development of offshore renewable energy sites is likely to increase substantially over coming years. All such developments interact with the seabed to some degree and so a key need exists for suitable methodology to monitor the impacts of large-scale Marine Renewable Energy Installations (MREIs). Many of these will be situated on mixed or rocky substrata, where conventional methods to characterise the habitat are unsuitable. Traditional destructive sampling is also inappropriate in conservation terms, particularly as safety zones around (MREIs) could function as Marine Protected Areas, with positive benefits for biodiversity. Here we describe a technique developed to effectively monitor the impact of MREIs and report the results of its field testing, enabling large areas to be surveyed accurately and cost-effectively. The methodology is based on a high-definition video camera, plus LED lights and laser scale markers, mounted on a ‘‘flying array’’ that maintains itself above the seabed grounded by a length of chain, thus causing minimal damage. Samples are taken by slow-speed tows of the gear behind a boat (200 m transects). The HD video and randomly selected frame grabs are analysed to quantify species distribution. The equipment was tested over two years in Lyme Bay, UK (25 m depth), then subsequently successfully deployed in demanding conditions at the deep (.50 m) high-energy Wave Hub site off Cornwall, UK, and a potential tidal stream energy site in Guernsey, Channel Islands (1.5 ms21 current), the first time remote samples from such a habitat have been achieved. The next stage in the monitoring development process is described, involving the use of Remote Operated Vehicles to survey the seabed post- deployment of MREI devices. The complete methodology provides the first quantitative, relatively non-destructive method for monitoring mixed-substrate benthic communities beneath MPAs and MREIs pre- and post-device deployment. 

Data type
Scientific article
Research and monitoring