Effectiveness of community and volunteer based coral reef monitoring in Cambodia
Globally, coral reef monitoring programmes conducted by volunteer-based organizations or local communities have the potential to collect large quantities of marine data at low cost. However, many scientists remain sceptical about the ability of these programmes to detect changes in marine systems when compared with professional techniques. A limited number of studies have assessed the efficacy and validity of volunteer-based monitoring, and even fewer have assessed community-based methods. This study in Cambodia investigated the ability of surveyors of different levels of experience to conduct underwater surveys using a simple coral reef methodology. Surveyors were assigned to four experience categories and conducted a series of six 20 × 5 m belt transects using five benthic indicator species. Results show decreased variation in marine community assessments with increasing experience, indicating that experience, rather than cultural background, influences survey ability. This suggests that locally based programmes can fill gaps in knowledge with suitable ongoing training and assessment.