Tuesday, March 27, 2012

GUAM: 'tis the season for monitoring!

It’s that time of the year again!

With the oncoming retreat of the trade winds and the arrival of calmer sea conditions, I am happy to announce that my favorite time of year is upon us….the coral reef monitoring field season! As the coordinator of Guam’s long-term coral reef monitoring program, getting back out into the field is the highlight of my job.

The monitoring field season is the time when the mountains of work required to develop grant proposals, write up progress reports, navigate the tortuous Government of Guam procurement process, address personnel issues, and other, well, not-so-fun responsibilities finally pays off. When water conditions become favorable and our proverbial ducks are lined in a row, a small team of biologists (including myself) grab the equipment that took us months to acquire, don our scuba gear and plunge into the warm waters around Guam. While our outings are certainly enjoyable, there is much work to be done, as we carefully count fish, meticulously measure coral colonies, and conscientiously collect other data that help us track changes in the health of Guam’s coral reefs and to help understand what might be causing these changes. Among many other important purposes, this type of ecological monitoring is critical as a way of measuring Guam’s progress towards its goals under the Micronesia Challenge.

Guam’s monitoring program is only a few years old, and it was only as recent as 2010 that we were able to begin collecting data at a limited number of sites. While we have been fortunate to have a fantastic marine lab operating since 1970, much of the work carried out by the marine lab, government agencies, and contractors has typically involved only individual studies and assessments, with no sites regularly surveyed over a long period of time. To address this major short-coming the Guam Comprehensive Long-term Monitoring Strategy was developed in 2006. As part of this strategy several reef sites around the island would be monitored annually, with data collected for a broad array of reef health indicators, such as benthic cover, coral colony size, coral health, fish diversity and biomass, and the abundance of commercially and ecologically macroinvertebrate (sea cucumbers, crown of thorns sea stars, sea urchins, etc.). Another major component of the program is the collection of water quality data, such as temperature, turbidity, salinity, and other types of water quality data. By collecting all these different types of data we are hoping to move beyond simply detecting whether or not there is a change out on the reef, and make progress towards a better understanding of the processes – whether natural or human-caused – underlying these changes.

In the coming months I will be posting updates on the progress of the monitoring program, interesting critter encounters, and other related observations and thoughts, especially as they pertain to the Micronesia Challenge. Stay tuned!

PHOTOS: Top A graduate student from Guam's Marine Lab carries out a fish survey in the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve as part of Guam's long-term reef monitoring program. Center A graduate student from the University of Guam Marine Lab taking photos along a survey transect in the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve; these photos will later be analyzed to obtain estimates of the percentage of seafloor occupied by living coral, dead coral, algae, and other benthic features. Bottom A school of bigeye trevally (Caranx sexfasciatus) at a survey site in the Tumon Bay Marine Preserve.

ted by

David Burdick
8:32 pm
Monday, March 27, 2011
Location: Hagatna, Guam

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