In a world in which ocean degradation is widespread and aggravated by the effects of climate change, there is a need to contribute with new management approaches to ameliorate the situation. Here, inclusive management is proposed as such an alternative. This contribution argues that including all genders in the management process is needed and the inclusion itself can generate new ways to solve problems. An assessment of findings from literature of the positive aspects when considering gender in environmental governance is presented and related to the specific situation of small-scale fisheries (SSF). These positive findings are explained in terms of (1) Participation, (2) Space, actors and activities, (3) Economic power, and (4) Equity and environmental stewardship. Further, a practical approach is taken and a model for gender inclusion in coastal/ocean management for SSF is presented and illustrated with a case of seagrass SSF in East Africa. The central argument is that in view of ongoing coastal/ocean degradation and the moderate governance and management success, it is worth trying management approaches that consciously and explicitly consider gender and diversity of actors. This will bring central actors (e.g., women not previously considered) into the management process and will provide the base for better governance and policy reform.
The following titles are freely-available, or include a link to a preprint or postprint.
The structure of the phytoplankton community in surface waters is the consequence of complex interactions between the physical and chemical properties of the upper water column as well as the interaction within the general biological community. Understanding the structure of phytoplankton communities is especially challenging in highly variable and dynamic marine environments. A variety of strategies have been employed to delineate marine planktonic habitats, including both biogeochemical and water-mass-based approaches. These methods have led to fundamental improvements in our understanding of marine phytoplankton distributions, but they are often difficult to apply to systems with physical and chemical properties and forcings that vary greatly over relatively short spatial or temporal scales. In this study, we have developed a method of dynamic habitat delineation based on environmental variables that are biologically relevant, that integrate over varying time scales, and that are derived from standard oceanographic measurements. As a result, this approach is widely applicable, simple to implement, and effective in resolving the spatial distribution of phytoplankton communities. As a test of our approach, we have applied it to the Amazon River-influenced Western Tropical North Atlantic (WTNA) and to the South China Sea (SCS), which is influenced by both the Mekong River and seasonal coastal upwelling. These two systems differ substantially in their spatial and temporal scales, nutrient sources/sinks, and hydrographic complexity, providing an effective test of the applicability of our analysis. Despite their significant differences in scale and character, our approach generated statistically robust habitat classifications that were clearly relevant to surface phytoplankton communities. Additional analysis of the habitat-defining variables themselves can provide insight into the processes acting to shape phytoplankton communities in each habitat. Finally, by demonstrating the biological relevance of the generated habitats, we gain insights into the conditions promoting the growth of distinct communities and the factors that lead to mismatches between environmental conditions and phytoplankton community structure.
The “open ocean” has become a highly contested space as coastal populations and maritime uses soared in abundance and intensity over the last decades. Changing marine utilization patterns represent a considerable challenge to society and governments. Maritime spatial planning has emerged as one tool to manage conflicts between users and achieve societal goals for the use of marine space; however, single-sector management approaches are too often still the norm. The last decades have seen the rise of a new ocean use concept: the joint “multi-use” of ocean space. This paper aims to explain and refine the concept of ocean multi-use of space by reviewing the development and state of the art of multi-use in Europe and presenting a clear definition and a comprehensive typology for existing multi-use combinations. It builds on the connectivity of uses and users in spatial, temporal, provisional, and functional dimensions as the underlying key characteristic of multi-use dimensions. Combinations of these dimensions yield four distinct types of multi-use with little overlap between them. The diversity of types demonstrates that there is no one-size-fits-all management approach, but rather that adaptive management plans are needed, focusing on achieving the highest societal benefit while minimizing conflicts. This work will help to sharpen, refine and advance the public and academic discourse over marine spatial planning by offering a common framework to planners, researchers and users alike, when discussing multi-use and its management implications.
New Zealand (NZ) is an island nation with stewardship of an ocean twenty times larger than its land area. While the challenges facing NZ’s ocean are similar to other maritime countries, no coherent national plan exists that meets the needs of scientists, stakeholders or kaitiakitanga (guardianship) of NZ’s ocean in a changing climate. The NZ marine science community used the OceanObs’19 white paper to establish a framework and implementation plan for a collaborative NZ ocean observing system (NZ-OOS). Co-production of ocean knowledge with Māori will be embedded in this national strategy for growing a sustainable, blue economy for NZ. The strengths of an observing system for a relatively small nation come from direct connections between the science impetus through to users and stakeholders of an NZ-OOS. The community will leverage off existing ocean observations to optimize effort and resources in a system that has historically made limited investment in ocean observing. The goal of the community paper will be achieved by bringing together oceanographers, data scientists and marine stakeholders to develop an NZ-OOS that provides best knowledge and tools to the sectors of society that use or are influenced by the ocean.
Coastal waters provide a wide range of ecosystem services (ES), but are under intensive human use, face fast degradation and are subject to increasing pressures and changes in near future. As consequence, European Union (EU) water policies try to protect, restore and manage coastal and marine systems in a sustainable way. The most important EU directive in this respect is the Water Framework Directive (WFD) (2000/60/EC). Objective is to reach a “good status” in EU waters, following a stepwise and guided process. Our major objective is to test how an ecosystem service assessment can support WFD implementation in practice. We use the Marine Ecosystem Service Assessment Tool (MESAT) that utilizes spatial definitions, reference conditions and the good status according to the WFD as well as data and information gained during the implementation process. The data-based tool allows comparative analyses between different ecological states and an evaluation of relative changes in ES provision. We apply MESAT to two contrasting systems in the German Baltic Sea region, the rural Schlei and the urban/industrialized Warnow Estuary. These data-based assessments show how the ES provision has changed between the historic, pre-industrial state around 1880 (reference conditions with high ecological status), the situation around 1960 (good ecological status), and today. The analysis separates the estuaries into water bodies. A complementary expert-based ES assessment compares the situation today with a future scenario “Warnow 2040” assuming a good ecological status as consequence of a successful WFD implementation. Strengths and weaknesses of the approaches and their utilization in the WFD are discussed. ES assessments can be regarded as suitable to support public relation activities and to increase the acceptance of measures. Further, they are promising tools in participation and stakeholder processes within the planning of measures. However an ES assessment not only supports the WFD implementation, but the WFD provides a frame for ES assessments larger scale assessments in seascapes, increases the acceptance of the ES approach and the readiness of stakeholders to get involved.
The Bluntnose Sixgill Shark, Hexanchus griseus, is a large predatory shark, has a worldwide distribution and is listed as near-threatened by the International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The Seattle Aquarium collected observations of free-swimming Sixgill Sharks in Elliott Bay, Washington, under the aquarium’s pier in 20 m of water from 2003 to 2005 and again from 2008 to 2015 using the same methodology. Compared to total Sixgill sightings between 2003 and 2005 (273) fewer total Sixgills were sighted at the aquarium’s research station between 2008 and 2015 (33). The reason for the observed decline in sightings in unknown but based on data from other studies on Sixgills in Puget Sound during the same timeperiod the authors hypothesize the decrease may be due to natural variability of juvenile Sixgill recruitment to Elliott Bay.
Deep-sea corals are of conservation concern in the North Atlantic due to prolonged disturbances associated with the exploitation of natural resources and a changing environment. As a result, two research cruises in the Gulf of Maine region during 2014 and 2017 collected samples of two locally dominant coral species, Primnoa resedaeformis and Paramuricea placomus, at six locations to investigate reproductive ecology. Remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) were used to collect specimens that were examined via paraffin histology, and coincident video surveys were used to determine size class distributions. Both species were identified as gonochoristic, and sampled locations exhibited dissimilarities in spermatocyst development and oocyte size except for those in close geographic proximity. Fecundities exhibited substantial ranges across sample locations and average oocyte sizes (±SD) were 140 ± 117 μm for P. resedaeformis and 64 ± 46 μm for P. placomus. In addition, colony size distributions were also significantly different across sampling locations. Notably, the Outer Schoodic Ridge sample location, with larger colony and oocyte sizes, was identified as a potential key source population of reproductive material in the Gulf of Maine. These data were used to calculate differences in reproductive potential based on relationships between colony morphology and reproductive output using height as a predictive proxy. Furthermore, calculated age at first reproduction, 7.6–19.8 years for P. resedaeformis and 20.7–37 years for P. placomus, which may be dependent on sex of the colony, provides a metric for estimating the amount of time these coral habitats will take to recover. This investigation, in response to historical population impacts and environmental change, links reproductive and morphometric relationships to inform population scale reproductive models, while also establishing an understanding of regional scale gametogenic variability within the Gulf of Maine region.
Equatorial corals were previously thought not to spawn synchronously at the assemblage level. However, recent studies have reported multi-specific coral spawning events in equatorial regions. Here, we report the reproductive activity of 21 Acroporaspecies in the Karimunjawa Archipelago over five consecutive years (2008–2012). We also infer the month of spawning for Acropora humilis, Acropora gomezi, and Acropora muricata from the presence of mature oocytes. We found that Acroporaassemblages exhibit a high degree of inter-specific reproductive seasonality. The highest proportion of colonies with mature oocytes was observed in March 2011 (65%, n = 80). Oocytes likely developed during June–March, 6 to 10 months before spermatogenesis. Spermatocytes were observed in samples collected during March; however, the onset of spermatogenesis could not be precisely determined as samples were not collected in January and February. This was because of weather constraints and difficulty in detecting the early stages of spermatogenesis. Multi-specific spawning events were observed during the first transition period (March–April) and the second transition period (September–October) between monsoons. The number of species containing mature oocytes was higher during March–April (12 species) and September–October (8 species). Spawning patterns likely follow the lunar cycle. However, two distinct spawning events coincided with two periods of higher temperature (March–April and September–October). Daily temperature records indicate that spawning occurred on days where temperature dropped before the expected spawning time during the warming period. During the period of rising temperature, wind speeds were lower, which might serve as a signal leading to the multi-specific spawning of corals in the tropics, at least in the Karimunjawa Archipelago of Indonesia.
Coasts are dynamic socio-ecological systems, subject to increasing anthropogenic pressures that present complex challenges for the design of effective coastal and marine governance systems. There are many contributing factors to the unsustainability of the marine environment, including weak governance arrangements. Typically, the management of coastal and marine ecosystems is undertaken in a fragmented way, with responsibilities dispersed across a number of bodies. ‘Integrated management’ is often proposed in normative approaches to marine management as a mechanism for securing more sustainable outcomes. The implementation of integrated management, however, tends to occur within existing governance structures and fails to address deep-rooted issues such as path dependency, institutional inertia, and policy layering. These barriers to transformative marine governance are re-framed in this paper as ‘persistent problems’ which inhibit more holistic approaches to achieve effective integrated management. Using insights from two Irish case studies to show how the implementation of innovative local initiatives for sustainable coastal and marine management are constrained by persistent institutional problems, it is concluded that an alternative management paradigm is required to understand and address the complexities involved in the design and delivery of an integrated management regime.
Corals in the Persian/Arabian Gulf are the most thermally tolerant in the world, but live very near the thresholds of their thermal tolerance. Warming sea temperatures associated with climate change have resulted in numerous coral bleaching events regionally since the mid-1990s, but it has been unclear why unusually warm sea temperatures occur some years but not others. Using a combination of 5 years of observed sea-bottom temperatures at three reef sites and a meteorologically linked hydrodynamic model that extends through the past decade, we show that summer sea-bottom temperatures are tightly linked to regional wind regimes, and that strong ‘shamal’ wind events control the occurrence and severity of bleaching. Sea bottom temperatures were primarily controlled by latent heat flux from wind-driven surface evaporation which exceeded 300 W m-2 during shamal winds, double that of typical breeze conditions. Daily temperature change was highly correlated with wind speed, with breeze winds (<4 m s-1) resulting in increased warming, while faster winds caused cooling, with the magnitude of temperature decline increasing with wind speed. Using observed and simulated data from 2012 to 2017, we show that years with reported bleaching events (2012, 2017) were characterized by low winds speeds that resulted in temperatures persisting above coral bleaching threshold temperatures for >5 weeks, while the cooler intervening years (2013–2016) had summers with more frequent and/or strong shamal events which repeatedly cooled temperatures below bleaching thresholds for days to weeks, providing corals temporary respite from thermal stress. Using observed data from 2012 onward and simulated data from 2008 to 2011, we show that the severity of bleaching events over the past decade was linked to both the number of cumulative days above bleaching thresholds (rather than total days, which obfuscates the cooling effects of occasional brief shamal events), as well as to maxima. We show that winds of 4 m s-1 represents a critical threshold for whether or not corals cross bleaching threshold temperatures, and provide simulations to forecast sea-bottom temperature change and recovery times under a range of wind conditions. The role that wind-driven cooling may play on coral reefs globally is discussed.
The vast developmental opportunities offered by the world’s coasts and oceans have attracted the attention of governments, private enterprises, philanthropic organizations, and international conservation organizations. High-profile dialogue and policy decisions on the future of the ocean are informed largely by economic and ecological research. Key insights from the social sciences raise concerns for food and nutrition security, livelihoods and social justice, but these have yet to gain traction with investors and the policy discourse on transforming ocean governance. The largest group of ocean-users – women and men who service, fish and trade from small-scale fisheries (SSF) – argue that they have been marginalized from the dialogue between international environmental and economic actors that is determining strategies for the future of the ocean. Blue Economy or Blue Growth initiatives see the ocean as the new economic frontier and imply an alignment with social objectives and SSF concerns. Deeper analysis reveals fundamental differences in ideologies, priorities and approaches. We argue that SSF are being subtly and overtly squeezed for geographic, political and economic space by larger scale economic and environmental conservation interests, jeopardizing the substantial benefits SSF provide through the livelihoods of millions of women and men, for the food security of around four billion consumers globally, and in the developing world, as a key source of micro-nutrients and protein for over a billion low-income consumers. Here, we bring insights from social science and SSF to explore how ocean governance might better account for social dimensions of fisheries.
Types of plastic waste in different aquatic environments were assessed to obtain a global framework of plastic waste transport and accumulation, relevant for plastic pollution mitigation strategies in aquatic environments. Packaging and consumer products were the most encountered product categories in rivers, while fishery items dominated in the oceanic environment. Plastics from electronics, building and construction, and transport were barely observed. For polymers, polyethylene and polypropylene contributed most to pollution in all environments. The highest diversity in polymer composition was found in oceanic and freshwater sediments. It is therefore argued that a large fraction of plastic waste accumulates here. This confirms that plastic waste transport and accumulation patterns were most affected by the density, surface area, and size of plastics. Only thick-walled, larger plastic debris from low-density polymers are transported through currents from rivers to ocean, while the larger fraction of plastic litter is likely retained in sediments or beaches.
Organic matter (OM) in aquatic systems is either produced internally (autochthonous OM) or delivered from the terrestrial environment (ter-OM). For eutrophication (or the reverse – oligotrophication), the amount of autochthonous OM plays a key role for coastal ecosystem health. However, the influence of ter-OM on eutrophication or oligotrophication processes of coastal ecosystems is largely unclear. Therefore, ter-OM, or ter-OM proxies are currently not included in most policies or monitoring programs on eutrophication. Nevertheless, ter-OM is increasingly recognized as a strong driver of aquatic productivity: By influencing underwater light conditions and nutrient- and carbon availability, increased ter-OM input may shift systems from autotrophic toward heterotrophic production, but also alter the interactions between benthic, and pelagic habitats. Thus, by changing baseline conditions in coastal zones, ongoing, and predicted changes in inputs of ter-OM due to climate change (e.g., in precipitation) and anthropogenic activities (e.g., reduced sulfate deposition, damming, and coastal erosion) may strongly modify eutrophication symptoms within affected ecosystems, but also hinder recovery from eutrophication following a reduction in nutrient loadings (i.e., oligotrophication). In this review, we aim to shed light upon the role of ter-OM for coastal eutrophication and oligotrophication processes and ecosystem health. Specifically, we (1) discuss the theoretical interactions between ter-OM and eutrophication and oligotrophication processes in coastal waters, (2) present global case studies where altered ter-OM supply to coastal ecosystems has shifted baseline conditions, with implications for eutrophication and oligotrophication processes, and (3) provide an outlook and recommendations for the future management of coastal zones given changes in ter-OM input. We conclude that it is essential to include and target all OM sources (i.e., also ter-OM) in monitoring programs to better understand the consequences of both eutrophication and oligotrophication processes on coastal ecosystems. Our review strongly urges to include ter-OM, or ter-OM proxies in eutrophication monitoring, and policies to safeguard coastal ecosystem health also under changing climatic conditions and globally increasing anthropogenic perturbations of coastal ecosystems.
Several calls to action urge scientists and science communicators to engage more with online communities. While these calls have been answered by a high percentage of scientists and science communicators online, it often remains unclear what are the best models for effective communication. Best practices and methods for online science communication can benefit from experimental and quantitative research addressing how and when users engage with online content. This study addresses with quantitative and predictive models a key question for the popular, but often-ignored in science communication, social media platform Facebook. Specifically, this study examines the impact of imagery through quantification of likes, comments, and shares on Facebook posts. Here, I show that a basic quantitative model can be useful in predicting response to marine organism imagery on Facebook. The results of this online experiment suggest image type, novelty, and aesthetics impact the number of likes, shares, and comments on a post. In addition, the likes, shares, and comments on images did not follow traditional definitions of “charismatic megafauna”, with cephalopods and bony fishes receiving more interactions than cartilaginous fishes and marine mammals. Length and quality of caption did not significantly impact likes, comments, or shares. This study provides one of the first quantitative analysis of virality of scientific images via social media. The results challenge previously held conceptions of social media scientific outreach including increasing emphasis on imagery selection and curation, notions of which taxa the public connect with, and role of captions for imagery.
Sea turtle populations are often assessed at the regional to sub-basin scale from discrete indices of nesting abundance. While this may be practical and sometimes effective, widespread in-water surveys may enhance assessments by including additional demographics, locations, and revealing emerging population trends. Here, we describe sea turtle observations from 13 years of towed-diver surveys across 53 coral islands, atolls, and reefs in the Central, West, and South Pacific. These surveys covered more than 7,300 linear km, and observed more than 3,400 green (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) sea turtles. From these data, we estimated sea turtle densities, described trends across space and time, and modelled the influence of environmental and anthropogenic drivers. Both species were patchily distributed across spatial scales, and green turtles were 11 times more abundant than hawksbills. The Pacific Remote Island Areas had the highest densities of greens (3.62 turtles km-1, Jarvis Island), while American Samoa had the most hawksbills (0.12 turtles km-1, Ta’u Island). The Hawaiian Islands had the lowest turtle densities (island ave = 0.07 turtles km-1) yet the highest annual population growth (μ = 0.08, σ = 0.22), suggesting extensive management protections can yield positive conservation results. Densities peaked at 27.5°C SST, in areas of high productivity and low human impact, and were consistent with patterns of historic overexploitation. Though such intensive surveys have great value, they are logistically demanding and therefore have an uncertain budget and programmatic future. We hope the methods we described here may be applied to future comparatively low-cost surveys either with autonomous vehicles or with environmental DNA.
Climate change and associated sea-level rise alongside the potential for alterations in the magnitude and frequency of extreme storm events, rapidly rising coastal populations, and a legacy of coastal land reclamation are forcing the need for sustainable coastal protection on shallow, wetland-dominated coasts. In this context, practitioners, and academics in the field of coastal flood and erosion risk reduction have been highlighting the flood protection value of natural coastal features for some time. Examples of the implementation of nature-based coastal flood and erosion risk reduction schemes, however, are few and far between and can certainly not (yet) be considered mainstream. One key problem around the implementation of these types of approaches has arguably been the relative lack of perceived scientific certainty around the efficiency with which natural landforms, such as coastal wetlands, reduce wave action on landward lying structures and the persistence of such landforms in an uncertain future. This makes nature-inclusive approaches less attractive to more traditional engineering-only approaches that rely solely on one “hard” structure with a well-defined impact on waves and a specified design life. Using the example of wave dissipation over coastal wetland surfaces, this paper provides a way forward for an easily applicable scientifically informed assessment of the minimum difference any given wetland makes to wave heights at landward locations. Such a “minimum function” approach could be rolled out to other ecosystem services provided by natural features and thus allow decision makers and coastal planners to consider nature-inclusive approaches to coastal management with greater confidence.
Issues related to protection of the Arctic environment are becoming increasingly urgent, as arctic ecosystems are vulnerable to increasing anthropogenic pressures. The problem of protecting Northern nature from the effects of persistent organic pollutants, which are dangerous for both biota and human health, is particularly acute. This case study analyses the existing normative acts regulating monitoring activities in the Russian Arctic. The paper emphasizes gaps in legal regulation, which are particularly prominent with regard to monitoring the quality of traditional food consumed by indigenous peoples. The author introduces proposals to change the current legislation to improve the efficiency of the state monitoring system in the Russian Arctic. Such changes will also help to harmonize monitoring activities in Russia with other Arctic States and to fill in the gaps in the Global Monitoring Reports and the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP) reports on persistent organic pollutants in traditional indigenous food.
Marine biodiversity and derived ecosystem services are critical to the healthy functioning of marine ecosystems, and to human economic and societal well-being. Thus, an understanding of marine biodiversity in different ecosystems is necessary for their conservation and management. Coral reefs in particular are noted for their high levels of biodiversity, and among the world’s coral reefs, the subtropical Ryukyu Islands (RYS; also known as the Nansei Islands) in Japan have been shown to harbor very high levels of marine biodiversity. This study provides an overview of the state of marine biodiversity research in the RYS. First, we examined the amount of English language scientific literature in the Web of Science (WoS; 1995–2017) on six selected representative taxa spanning protists to vertebrates across six geographic sub-regions in the RYS. Our results show clear taxonomic and sub-region bias, with research on Pisces, Cnidaria, and Crustacea to be much more common than on Dinoflagellata, Echinodermata, and Mollusca. Such research was more commonly conducted in sub-regions with larger human populations (Okinawa, Yaeyama). Additional analyses with the Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) records show that within sub-regions, records are concentrated in areas directly around marine research stations and institutes (if present), further showing geographical bias within sub-regions. While not surprising, the results indicate a need to address ‘understudied’ taxa in ‘understudied sub-regions’ (Tokara, Miyako, Yakutane, Amami Oshima), particularly sub-regions away from marine research stations. Second, we compared the numbers of English language scientific papers on eight ecological topics for the RYS with numbers from selected major coral reef regions of the world; the Caribbean (CAR), Great Barrier Reef (GBR), and the Red Sea (RES). As expected, the numbers for all topics in the RYS were well below numbers from all other regions, yet within this disparity, research in the RYS on ‘marine protected areas’ and ‘herbivory’ was an order of magnitude lower than numbers in other regions. Additionally, while manuscript numbers on the RYS have increased from 1995 to 2016, the rate of increase (4.0 times) was seen to be lower than those in the CAR, RES, and GBR (4.6–8.4 times). Coral reefs in the RYS feature high levels of both endemism and anthropogenic threats, and subsequently they contain a concentration of some of the world’s most critically endangered marine species. To protect these threatened species and coral reef ecosystems, more data are needed to fill the research gaps identified in this study.
Ecosystem-based management approaches are increasingly used to address the critical linkages between human and biophysical systems. Yet, many of the social-ecological systems (SES) frameworks typically used in coastal and marine management neither represent the social and ecological aspects of the system in equal breadth or depth, nor do they adequately operationalize the social, or human, dimensions. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s West Hawai‘i Integrated Ecosystem Assessment, a program grounded in ecosystem-based management, recognizes the importance of place-based human dimensions in coastal and marine resource management that speak to a fuller range of social and cultural dimensions of ecosystem-based management. Previous work with stakeholders in West Hawai‘i revealed noteworthy SES dynamics and highlighted both the importance and lack of understanding of the links between ecosystem services and human well-being, particularly services that enhance and maintain active cultural connections to a place. While cultural ecosystem services and human well-being are often recognized as important elements of SES, there have been substantial barriers to fully representing them, likely due to perceived difficulties of measuring non-material benefits and values, many of which are socially constructed and subjective. This study examined SES frameworks related to cultural ecosystem services and human well-being to advance the representation and operationalization of these important concepts in coastal and marine management. We describe key insights and questions focused on: (1) points of inclusion for human dimensions in SES models, (2) culturally relevant domains of human well-being and related indicators, (3) the importance of place and its interaction with scale, and finally (4) the tension between a gestalt vs. discrete approach to modeling, assessing, and sustainably managing social-ecological systems.
Digital photography is widely used by coral reef monitoring programs to assess benthic status and trends. In addition to creating a permanent archive, photographic surveys can be rapidly conducted, which is important in environments where bottom-time is frequently limiting. However, substantial effort is required to manually analyze benthic images; which is expensive and leads to lags before data are available. Using previously analyzed imagery from NOAA’s Pacific Reef Assessment and Monitoring Program, we assessed the capacity of a trained and widely used machine-learning image analysis tool – CoralNet coralnet.ucsd.edu – to generate fully-automated benthic cover estimates for the main Hawaiian Islands (MHI) and American Samoa. CoralNet was able to generate estimates of site-level coral cover for both regions that were highly comparable to those generated by human analysts (Pearson’s r > 0.97, and with bias of 1% or less). CoralNet was generally effective at estimating cover of common coral genera (Pearson’s r > 0.92 and with bias of 2% or less in 6 of 7 cases), but performance was mixed for other groups including algal categories, although generally better for American Samoa than MHI. CoralNet performance was improved by simplifying the classification scheme from genus to functional group and by training within habitat types, i.e., separately for coral-rich, pavement, boulder, or “other” habitats. The close match between human-generated and CoralNet-generated estimates of coral cover pooled to the scale of island and year demonstrates that CoralNet is capable of generating data suitable for assessing spatial and temporal patterns. The imagery we used was gathered from sites randomly located in <30 m hard-bottom at multiple islands and habitat-types per region, suggesting our results are likely to be widely applicable. As image acquisition is relatively straightforward, the capacity of fully-automated image analysis tools to minimize the need for resource intensive human analysts opens possibilities for enormous increases in the quantity and consistency of coral reef benthic data that could become available to researchers and managers.