Assessing National Biodiversity Trends for Rocky and Coral Reefs through the Integration of Citizen Science and Scientific Monitoring Program


Rick D. Stuart-Smith, Graham J. Edgar, Neville S. Barrett, Amanda E. Bates, Susan C. Baker, Nicholas J. Bax, Mikel A. Becerro, Just Berkhout, Julia L. Blanchard, Daniel J. Brock, Graeme F. Clark, Antonia T. Cooper, Tom R. Davis, Paul B. Day, J. Emmett Duffy, Thomas H. Holmes, Steffan A. Howe, Alan Jordan, Stuart Kininmonth, Nathan A. Knott, Jonathan S. Lefcheck,  Scott D. Ling, Amanda Parr, Elisabeth Strain, Hugh Sweatman, And Russell Thomson.


RLS data provide valuable contribution to the Australian 2016 State of the Environment report


Sustained, coordinated monitoring is vital to national biodiversity assessments, but it has been difficult to piece together a consistent and detailed picture of what has been happening to marine biodiversity through time. The latest Australian State of the Environment (SoE) report was recently released, and the Reef Life Survey data provided an important means of improving the level of detail and amount of information available to understand marine biodiversity trends related to ocean warming, fishing pressure and invasive species over the last decade.  Forming the cornerstone of the shallow reef biodiversity assessment for SoE 2106, the Reef Life Survey (RLS) data collected by volunteer divers were integrated with data from the two longest-running scientific monitoring programs – the University of Tasmania Long-term Temperate MPA and Australian Institute of Marine Science Long-term Great Barrier Reef monitoring programs. The contributions of RLS included some 30,000 hours surveying 5930 rocky and coral reef transects in the period of 2010─2015: a phenomenal contribution of volunteer time. When examined around the country and combined with the other two datasets over the 10-year period, there were clear trends where reefs have been transformed in relation to each of these major pressures. The results can be seen in the SoE report, and also in an open access article published in BioScience (Download: Stuart-Smith-et-al-Assessing-national-biodiversity-trends-rock-and-coral-reefs_biw180_OPEN.pdf).


ABSTRACT: Reporting progress against targets for international biodiversity agreements is hindered by a shortage of suitable biodiversity data. We describe a cost-effective system involving Reef Life Survey citizen scientists in the systematic collection of quantitative data covering multiple phyla that can underpin numerous marine biodiversity indicators at high spatial and temporal resolution. We then summarize the findings of a continental- and decadal-scale State of the Environment assessment for rocky and coral reefs based on indicators of ecosystem state relating to fishing, ocean warming, and invasive species and describing the distribution of threatened species. Fishing impacts are widespread, whereas substantial warming-related change affected some regions between 2005 and 2015. Invasive species are concentrated near harbors in southeastern Australia, and the threatened-species index is highest for the Great Australian Bight and Tasman Sea. Our approach can be applied globally to improve reporting against biodiversity targets and enhance public and policymakers’ understanding of marine biodiversity trends. Keywords: Convention on Biological Diversity, state of the environment, ecological indicator, Marine Trophic Index, community temperature index


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