The intent of this work is five fold: 1) To spatially characterize and monitor the distribution, abundance, and size of both reef fishes and macro-invertebrates (conch, lobster, Diadema); 2) To relate this information to in-situ data collected on associated benthic composition parameters; 3) To use this information to establish the knowledge base necessary for enacting management decisions in a spatial setting; 4) To establish the efficacy of those management decisions; and 5) To work with the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program to develop data collection standards and easily implemented methodologies for transference to other agencies and to work toward standardizing data collection throughout the US states and territories. Toward this end, the Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment's Biogeography Branch (BB) has been conducting research in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands since 2000 and 2001, respectively. It is critical, with recent changes in management at both locations (e.g. implementation of MPAs) as well as proposed changes (e.g. zoning to manage multiple human uses) that action is taken now to accurately describe and characterize the fish/macro-invertebrate populations in these areas. It is also important that BB work closely with the individuals responsible for recommending and implementing these management strategies. Recognizing this, BB has been collaborating with partners at the University of Puerto Rico, National Park Service, US Geological Survey and the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources. To quantify patterns of spatial distribution and make meaningful interpretations, we must first have knowledge of the underlying variables determining species distribution. The basis for this work therefore, is the nearshore benthic habitats maps (less than 100 ft depth) created by NOAA's Biogeography Program in 2001 and NOS' bathymetry models. Using ArcView GIS software, the digitized habitat maps are stratified to select sampling stations. Sites are randomly selected within these strata to ensure coverage of the entire study region and not just a particular reef or seagrass area. At each site, fish, macro-invertebrates, and benthic composition information is then quantified following standardized protocols. By relating the data collected in the field back to the habitat maps and bathymetric models, BB is able to model and map species level and community level information. These protocols are standardized throughout the US Caribbean to enable quantification and comparison of reef fish abundance and distribution trends between locations. Armed with the knowledge of where "hot spots" of species richness and diversity are likely to occur in the seascape, the BB is in a unique position to answer questions about the efficacy of marine zoning strategies (e.g. placement of no fishing, anchoring, or snorkeling locations), and what locations are most suitable for establishing MPAs. Knowledge of the current status of fish/macro-invertebrate communities coupled with longer term monitoring will enable evaluation of management efficacy, thus it is essential to future management actions. Starting in 2010, the regular La Parguera survey area was extended eastward to encompass the Guanica Bay region. The purpose of this modification was to conduct a baseline assessment of fish, macro-invertebrates (conch, lobster, Diadema) and benthic communities in support of Guanica Bay watershed restoration, and then to monitor changes over time. A watershed management plan was developed in 2008 by the Center for Watershed Protection, in cooperation with various Divisions of Puerto Rico DNER and NOAA, to identify priority management recommendations and implementation strategies for the Guánica watershed based on input from local experts, observations from on-the-ground assessments, and a comprehensive review of existing studies and applicable local rules and regulations. The Guánica watershed was selected for the watershed planning project because it is a priority of the Commonwealth for conservation of the near shore coral reef habitat, which has been steadily declining in condition during the past several decades. Information collected during this survey will provide critical baseline information for the watershed and adjacent coral reefs which will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of the restoration project implemented. More information on the Guanica Bay project can be found at: <http://ccma.nos.noaa.gov/ecosystems/coralreef/guanica.html>.
Data are collected on the following: 1) Logistic information - diver name, dive buddy, date, time of survey, site code, and meter numbers at which the quadrat is placed.
2) Habitat structure - to characterize the benthic habitats of the dive site, the habitat diver first categorizes the habitat structure of the site: hard, soft or mangrove.
3) Proximity of structure - on seagrass and sand sites, the habitat diver records the absence or presence of reef or hard structure within 3m of the belt transect. A score of zero (0) indicates that no reef or other hard structure is present; one (1) indicates that a reef or hard structure smaller than 4m2 is present; and (2) indicates that a reef or hard structure larger than 4m2 is present within 3m of the diver. The point-count diver also uses this scoring system to record the absence, presence, and proximity of reef or hard structures within their cylinder.
4) Transect depth profile - the depth at each quadrat position. Depth is measured with a digital depth gauge to the nearest 1ft.
5) Abiotic footprint - defined as the percent cover (to the nearest 1 percent) of sand, rubble, hard bottom, and fine sediments within each quadrat position. Rubble refers to rocks and coral fragments that are moveable; immovable rocks are considered hard bottom. The percent cover given as a part of the abiotic footprint should total 100 percent. In a seagrass area for example, despite the fact that seagrass may provide 50 percent cover, the underlying substrate is 100 percent sand so this is what is recorded. To estimate percent cover, the habitat diver first positions the quadrat at the chosen meter mark along the transect tape. If the meter mark is an odd number, then the quadrat is placed on the left side of the tape; if even, it is placed on the right. Next, the habitat diver lays the quadrat along the substrate (regardless of the slope) and estimates percent cover based on a two-dimensional (planar) view (e.g. if bottom is sloping, the quadrat is not held horizontally). Also, the diver should try to use the same planar view for all estimates of percent cover. The habitat diver then estimates, for each quadrat, the height (in cm) of the hardbottom from the substrate to get a sense of bottom relief. Note: Height is collected for all hardbottom substrates, excluding rubble; height is not collected for softbottom substrate.
6) Biotic footprint - defined as the percent cover (to the nearest 0.1 percent) of algae, seagrass, live corals, sponges, gorgonians, and other biota (tunicates, anemones, zooanthids, and hydroids) within each quadrat position. The remaining cover is recorded as bare substrate to bring the total to 100 percent. Again, the diver must use a planar view to estimate percent cover of the biota. Seagrasses and gorgonians should not be stacked upright. For example, if a single seagrass blade crosses 10 squares, then total seagrass coverage should be the sum of the area taken up by that blade in all 10 squares instead of the area covered if the blade was held upright. Species covering less than 0.1 percent of the area are not recorded. Taxa are identified to the following levels: stony coral-species, algae-morphological group (macro, turf, crustose, rhodolith, filamentous, cyanobacteria), sponge-morphological group, and gorgonians-morphological group. When estimating percent cover, it is important to realize there is a balance between precision and time. For stony corals, the approximate area covered by living coral tissue is recorded. Coral skeleton (without living tissue) is usually categorized as turf algae or uncolonized substrate. Data on the condition of coral colonies are also recorded. When coral is noticeably bleached, the entire colony is considered affected and is recorded to the nearest 0.1 percent. Coral colonies are reported as entirely bleached if they contain any portion of white, blotchy, mottled, or pale tissue. This protocol assumes stress throughout the colony and estimates maximum bleaching impact. Diseased/dead coral refers to coral skeleton that has recently lost living tissue because of disease or damage that is still visible, and has not yet been colonized by turf algae. Turf algae include a mix of short (less than 1cm high) algae that colonize dead coral substrate.
7) Maximum canopy height - for each soft biota type (e.g., gorgonians, seagrass, algae), structure is recorded to the nearest 1cm at the quadrat level.
8) Number of individuals - for sponges, gorgonians and "other" biota type (non-encrusting anemones and non-encrusting hydroids) the number of individuals at the quadrat level is recorded.
9) Rugosity - measured by placing a 6-m chain at two randomly selected positions along the 25m belt transect. The chain is placed such that it follows the substrate's relief along the centerline of the belt transect. Two divers measure the straight-line horizontal distance covered by the chain. The chain is placed on top of any hard substrate encountered, but not on top of soft corals or sponges since we are measuring hard bottom rugosity. Data on rugosity are collected for reef sites only. Rugosity measurements typically are made by the point-count and belt-transect divers while awaiting the completion of other benthic habitat measurements by the habitat diver. Upon completion of the dive, the rugosity data are transferred from the fish data sheet to the habitat data sheet by the habitat diver.
10) Abundance and maturity of queen conchs (Strombus gigas) - a count of the total number of conch encountered within the 25 x 4m belt transect are enumerated. The maturity of each conch is determined by the presence or absence of a flared lip and labeled mature or immature, respectively. If conch abundance is counted by a fish diver, the data are then reported to the habitat diver. The decision of who will collect conch data should be made prior to entering the water.
11) Abundance of spiny lobsters (Panilaurus argus) - a count of the total number of lobsters encountered within the 25 x 4m belt transect. No measurements are taken. If lobster abundance is counted by a fish diver, the data are then reported to the habitat diver. The decision of who will collect lobster data should be made prior to entering the water.
12) Abundance of long-spined urchin (Diadema antillarum) - a count of the total number of urchins encountered within the 25 x 4m belt transect. No measurements are taken. If urchin abundance is counted by a fish diver, the data are then reported to the habitat diver. The decision of who will collect urchin data should be made prior to entering the water.
NOTE: If rugosity, conch, lobster or urchin data are collected by a fish diver, data must be transferred to the habitat data sheet. The habitat diver is responsible for transferring the data to their data sheet; however, the fish diver should assist the habitat diver with this task by reporting the data once the dive concludes.
13) Marine debris - type of marine debris within the transect is noted. The size of the marine debris and the area of affected habitat is also recorded along with a note identifying any flora or fauna that has colonized the debris.
14) Mangrove characteristics - for Puerto Rico mangrove sites only. The following information on mangrove characteristics are recorded within each quadrat position: number of prop roots, number of prop roots colonized by algae, sponges, and other (tunicates, anemones, mussels, zooanthids, etc.).
15) Photography - the point count or habitat diver will take at least two photos in different directions at each site to maintain an anecdotal and permanent visual description of the sites that were sampled. Proper care and maintenance is necessary for all camera and camera housings. It is important to maintain the cameras and housings before, after and in between dives.
Data Caveats: Overtime, some changes were made to the stratified random site selection process as follows: 1) Habitat strata initially consisted of hard bottom, sand, and seagrass. Sand and seagrass strata were subsequently combined into one soft bottom strata at all three locations (Puerto Rico, St. Croix, and St. John). This action was taken after the February 2002 mission to Puerto Rico. In Puerto Rico, mangroves are sampled in addition to the above strata. 2) In addition to the habitat strata, Puerto Rico originally contained three strata representing levels of protection from waves and currents. These strata were the Bank Shelf, Outer Lagoon and Inner Lagoon. This was changed beginning with the December 2002 mission to simply Protected and Unprotected. After the January 2005 mission, strata of Protected and Unprotected was removed leaving only habitat strata. 3) A small subset of sites were resampled during each mission through June 2002 in Puerto Rico. These station names contain the letter 'P' indicating they are permanent stations. 4) In 2007, algae data collection changed from identification of each alga to the genus level to grouping algae into six morphological groups: macro, turf, crustose, filamentous, rhodolith, and cyanobacteria for more efficient data collection. 5) Shelter characteristics ceased being recorded at the end of 2006. 6) Marine debris data collection began in 2007. 7) In 2010, the survey area was extended further east to encompass the Guanica Bay region. The study area was divided into five regions based on a combination of the regular Parguera survey area and three Guanica strata previously designated by CCMA for contaminant and nutrient sampling. As such, 2010 and 2011 sites prefixed by 1-3 are located within the La Parguera study area, while those prefixed by 2-5 are located within the Guanica study area.
Although the 1m-square-quadrat remained the basic method of choice for habitat data collection, overtime, changes in data collection methods were made for some habitat variables and several additional variables were added. These changes were deemed necessary to capture more precise information and as many variables as possible to explain better the observed variability in reef fish assemblage metrics. Detailed information on all changes to the protocols for collecting habitat data in Puerto Rico can be found at: <http://ccma.nos.noaa.gov/ecosystems/corealreef/reef_fish/protocols.html>
Process Date: 200101 - 201209