2014 marked the seventh year of the Multi Agency Reef Visual Census in South Florida. In 2007, researchers with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI) and NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA), in collaboration with researchers from the University of Miami-Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS), agreed to join efforts to perform annual monitoring of reef fish communities in the FL Keys coral reef ecosystem, with cooperative sampling to begin in 2008. In January 2008, the National Park Service Inventory and Monitoring Program South FL and Caribbean Network (NPS I&M) added cooperative support.
Currently this multi-agency program counts with the support of many different institutions and we are excited to announce that in 2012 the program expanded to Martin County, FL. Now the entire Florida reef track is being assessed by our scientist, an unprecedented achievement that will not only allow different agencies to work together but will most certainly provide valuable information about the ecosystem.
This program would not be posible without the help of all the agencies involved: NOAA-SEFSC, UM-RSMAS, FWC-FWRI Marathon, NPS-SFCN, NPS-BNP, NPS-DRTO, and NSUOC among others.
A sampling protocol has been established that includes: (1) Survey Design and Agency-Specific Sampling, (2) Training, (3) Sampling, and (4) Data Entry, QA/QC and Management associated with multi-agency (FWRI, NOAA and NPS I&M) annual monitoring of reef fish communities in the FL Keys coral reef ecosystem. Monitoring occurs using a scuba-based Reef fish Visual Census (RVC) approach.
Before sampling season begins, a workshop will be given to all divers explaining how to fill out the data sheet used for sampling. During the workshop specific methods to collect data will be explained for all sections: (1) General site information, (2) Fish data, and (3) Habitat data, including how to identify the different types of benthic organisms that are assessed (corals, sponges, zooanthids, macroalgae, etc.) and how to distinguish some commonly misidentified organisms (e.g., Palythoa mistaken for live coral).