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NCCOS Project

Protecting Coral Reef Fish with Improved Monitoring: Supporting the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Program

This project began in May 2004 and was completed in November 2006

We developed a guide for monitoring reef fish in the National Park Service's South Florida / Caribbean Network (SFCN) of managed areas.

Why We Care
Coral reefs are more than just pretty to look at. Fish that spend part or all of their lives in coral reefs contribute over $100 million to the U.S. economy through commercial fishing. Half of all federally managed fisheries depend on coral reefs for part of their products’ life cycle. Recreational fishing around coral reefs contributes another $100 million to the economy, and the local economies benefit from recreational and tourism activities.

Coral reefs are delicate, and, without our protection, we will lose the diverse organisms dependent on them for survival. The effective conservation and management of coral reef systems requires a comprehensive understanding of the ecosystem structure and function, which can only be accomplished with appropriate monitoring programs. This project provides a guide for choosing and using optimal monitoring protocols.

What We Did
We developed a guide using expertise from reef fish scientists and park managers to help the National Park Service choose a customized, site-specific monitoring protocol based on individual, localized objectives and resources. The guide included three reef fish monitoring program case studies that were built on the presented framework using park-specific data sets, management concerns, and local partnerships. The guide outlines the methods required to create or enhance a reef fish monitoring program within areas monitored by the South Florida/Caribbean Network, ranging from:

The framework is applicable to other areas as well, including the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument.

The favored sampling approach is characterized by an iterative process of data collection, sampling design analysis, and population assessments that evaluate population risks associated with management policies. Managers can adapt survey methods of the monitoring program and increase its accuracy by integrating new information as it is gathered and accommodate evolving needs of monitored areas.

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NCCOS delivers ecosystem science solutions for stewardship of the nation’s ocean and coastal resources to sustain thriving coastal communities and economies.

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