First, the transect team lays down some 20-meter transect tapes, along which fish and invertebrates are surveyed in a "belt" (the five meters above the line and the 2.5 meters on either side of the line) and substrate coverage is surveyed in a line (the band of seafloor directly below the tape). A full Reef Check survey requires four 20-meter transects.
Next, it's the job of the fish team to count the snappers, grunts and butterflyfish found along the "belt" of the transect. The fish team also counts parrotfish in excess of >20cm and groupers in excess of >30cm (one grouper species, the Nassau Grouper is recorded separately from other groupers), and keeps an eye out for rare megafauna (sharks, turtles) and lionfish. These are indicator species that the scientists who developed the Reef Check DR protocol chose as a measure of the largely anthropogenic threats to coral reefs' survival here. For example, Nassau Groupers are highly prized in the seafood trade and a major victim of Caribbean overfishing, while butterflyfish are often depleted from an area that has been targeted by aquaria collectors.
Next comes the invertebrate team, counting banded coral shrimp, lobsters, tritons, three species of sea urchin, flamingo tongue snails, and of course gorgonians (sea fans and sea whips, cnidarians similar to soft corals). It's also their job to record coral damage, bleaching, and diseased hard corals and gorgonians.
The substrate team picks up the rear, dropping a weighted plumb line at each half-meter mark and recording the substrate beneath. The reef bottom can be composed of rock, sand, live hard coral, nutrient-indicator algae, sponges, silt, and other algal and invertebrate components. Recently killed coral, pure calcareous white with the polyp cup structures still visible, is also recorded as a category.
Thanks to Dr. Ruben Torres, our Team Scientist and President of Reef Check Dominican Republic, for the photo/videos and helping us every step of the way.
With Every Drop is a Chicago-based blog, published by CR² team members, that focuses on the biodiversity, ecology, and conservation of marine and freshwater ecosystems.
“Even if you never have the chance to see or touch the ocean, the ocean touches you with every breath you take, every drop of water you drink, every bite you consume. Everyone, everywhere is inextricably connected to and utterly dependent upon the existence of the sea.” – Dr. Sylvia Earle