Coral reefs provide important ecological services such as biodiversity, climate regulation, and cultural benefits through recreation and tourism. However, many of the world's reefs are declining, with Caribbean reefs suffering a significant decline in living corals over the past half century. This situation emphasizes the need to assess and monitor reef conditions using a variety of methods. In this study, a new method for assessing reef conditions to inform management using participatory mapping by coral reef “experts” in the U.S. Virgin Islands (USVI) is described. Occupational SCUBA divers were recruited (n=87) to map coral reef conditions, uses, and threats (stressors) using an internet-based mapping website. The data reveal an uneven geographic distribution of reef conditions in the USVI with the most frequently mapped perceived healthy reef characteristics being: large amount of physical reef structure (n=872 markers); endangered or threatened species present (n=721); and large amount of live coral cover (n=615). The greatest perceived threats were: invasive species (n=606); water pollution (n=234); and unsustainable fishing (n=200). Areas of important reef characteristics, perceived threats to reefs, and perceived recovery potential were plotted to identify areas requiring critical management attention. The authors found that perceptions of healthy reef conditions outnumbered perceptions of reef threats for nine of the ten most familiar coral reefs; the most frequent activity type within the coral reefs was tourism diving; and for the most familiar coral reefs, the divers perceived a high recovery potential. Given the novelty of participatory mapping methods to assess coral reefs, the strengths and weaknesses of the method is evaluated. The authors further propose a management typology for categorizing reef areas to inform their future management. In the absence of primary data, or, as a supplement to underwater surveys and remotely-sensed data on reef condition, participatory mapping can provide a cost-effective means for assessing coral reef conditions while identifying place-specific reef locations requiring management attention.
Citizen Science and Crowdsourcing
Subtropical reefs provide an important habitat for flora and fauna, and proper monitoring is required for conservation. Monitoring these exposed and submerged reefs is challenging and available resources are limited. Citizen science is increasing in momentum, as an applied research tool and in the variety of monitoring approaches adopted. This paper aims to demonstrate an ecological assessment and mapping approach that incorporates both top-down (volunteer marine scientists) and bottom-up (divers/community) engagement aspects of citizen science, applied at a subtropical reef at Point Lookout, Southeast Queensland, Australia. Marine scientists trained fifty citizen scientists in survey techniques that included mapping of habitat features, recording of substrate, fish and invertebrate composition, and quantifying impacts (e.g., occurrence of substrate damage, presence of litter). In 2014 these volunteers conducted four seasonal surveys along semi-permanent transects, at five sites, across three reefs. The project presented is a model on how citizen science can be conducted in a marine environment through collaboration of volunteer researchers, non-researchers and local marine authorities. Significant differences in coral and algal cover were observed among the three sites, while fluctuations in algal cover were also observed seasonally. Differences in fish assemblages were apparent among sites and seasons, with subtropical fish groups observed more commonly in colder seasons. The least physical damage occurred in the most exposed sites (Flat Rock) within the highly protected marine park zones. The broad range of data collected through this top-down/bottom-up approach to citizen science exemplifies the projects’ value and application for identifying ecosystem trends or patterns. The results of the project support natural resource and marine park management, providing a valuable contribution to existing scientific knowledge and the conservation of local reefs.
Understanding the drivers and barriers to participation in citizen science initiatives for conservation is important if long-term involvement from volunteers is expected. This study investigates the motivations of individuals from five marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Dutch Caribbean to (not) participate in different initiatives around lionfish. Following an interpretive approach, semi-structured interviews with seventy-eight informants were conducted and analyzed using thematic network analysis. Approximately 60% (n = 48) of informants indicated that they had participated in citizen science initiatives at the outset of the invasion. From this group, almost half said that they still participated in some type of data collection, but only a few did so within a citizen science context. Many informants were initially motivated to participate in lionfish detection and response initiatives due to concern for the environment. Personal meanings attached to both the data collection experiences and to the data influenced informants’ motivations to sustain or cease data collection and/or sharing. In time, the view of lionfish as a threat changed for many informants as this species’ recreational and/or commercial value increased. Enabling and constraining factors for data collection and sharing were identified at the personal, interpersonal, organizational and technical levels. Our findings have implications for the design of future citizen science initiatives focused on invasive species.
Social studies in citizen science typically focus on existing project participants. We present results from an online survey of 1145 marine users to identify broader public interest in marine citizen science. Although we found considerable community interest, the most enthusiastic tended to have a higher education in science, were under 45 years old, primarily enjoyed SCUBA diving, and had contributed to scientific research in the past. The type of research organization involved in a project played a role in people's willingness to share information. The discourse of public participation in scientific research encourages public involvement in all aspects of the scientific process; however, we found that the respondents were primarily interested in data-collection opportunities. Feedback and past experiences in research were important considerations for gaining and retaining the volunteers. Our results indicate considerable potential for growth in volunteer recruitment, which can contribute constructively to scientific and public knowledge of the marine environment.
Public participation in science is burgeoning, yet little is known about factors that influence potential volunteers. We present results from a national survey of 1,145 marine users to uncover the drivers and barriers to a sightings-based, digital marine citizen science project. Knowledge of marine species is the most significant barrier and driver for participation. Many marine users perceive that they have insufficient knowledge of marine species to contribute to the project, yet they expect to learn more about marine species if they were to participate. Contributing to scientific knowledge is also a strong driver for many marine users to participate.
Coastal visits not only provide psychological benefits but can also contribute to the accumulation of rubbish. Volunteer beach cleans help address this issue, but may only have limited, local impact. Consequently, it is important to study any broader benefits associated with beach cleans. This article examines the well-being and educational value of beach cleans, as well as their impacts on individuals’ behavioral intentions. We conducted an experimental study that allocated students (n = 90) to a beach cleaning, rock pooling, or walking activity. All three coastal activities were associated with positive mood and pro-environmental intentions. Beach cleaning and rock pooling were associated with higher marine awareness. The unique impacts of beach cleaning were that they were rated as most meaningful but linked to lower restorativeness ratings of the environment compared with the other activities. This research highlights the interplay between environment and activities, raising questions for future research on the complexities of person-environment interactions.
- Recreational diving engages 20 million people worldwide. Most of the literature refers to tropical destinations but at least 1 million dives per year take place in Mediterranean marine protected areas (MPAs).
- Divers may negatively affect underwater habitats. However, if effectively engaged, they can contribute to science, territorial management and more sustainable local economies.
- During 2006–2014, volunteers trained by the not-for-profit organization Reef Check Italia (RCI) completed 24 714 observations and 2417 dives in six Mediterranean countries, contributing to a dataset that supports scientific papers about climate change, rare and non-indigenous species (NIS), and informs MPA management decision-making.
- The wide range of opportunities offered by this dataset is illustrated with two examples relevant to marine conservation in the context of MPA management. They concern: (i) the spread of the NIS Caulerpa cylindracea along the Ligurian coasts, with a focus on Portofino MPA, and (ii) the distribution and abundance of protected species in the Portofino MPA.
- A diver-focused survey showed that RCI volunteers are highly committed, and that participation in RCI activities has led to a better understanding of, and a sense of stewardship towards, favoured dive sites and the marine world. Knowing who volunteers are, and why they volunteer in their favourite sector, is crucial to designing citizen-science based projects able to achieve their multiple goals.
Social media like blogs, micro-blogs or social networks are increasingly being investigated and employed to detect and predict trends for not only social and physical phenomena, but also to capture environmental information. Here we argue that opportunistic biodiversity observations published through Twitter represent one promising and until now unexplored example of such data mining. As we elaborate, it can contribute to real-time information to traditional ecological monitoring programmes including those sourced via citizen science activities. Using Twitter data collected for a generic assessment of social media data in ecological monitoring we investigated a sample of what we denote biodiversity observations with species determination requests (N = 191). These entail images posted as messages on the micro-blog service Twitter. As we show, these frequently trigger conversations leading to taxonomic determinations of those observations. All analysed Tweets were posted with species determination requests, which generated replies for 64% of Tweets, 86% of those contained at least one suggested determination, of which 76% were assessed as correct. All posted observations included or linked to images with the overall image quality categorised as satisfactory or better for 81% of the sample and leading to taxonomic determinations at the species level in 71% of provided determinations. We claim that the original message authors and conversation participants can be viewed as implicit or embryonic citizen science communities which have to offer valuable contributions both as an opportunistic data source in ecological monitoring as well as potential active contributors to citizen science programmes.
Interviews were conducted with 110 marine users to elicit their salient beliefs about recording marine species in a citizen science project. The results showed that many interviewees believe participation would increase knowledge (either scientific, the community’s, or their own). While almost half of the interviewees saw no negative outcomes, a small number expressed concerns about targeting of marine species by others, or restrictions on public access to marine sites. Most of the people surveyed (n = 106) emphasised the importance of well-designed technological interfaces to assist their data collection, without which they would be unlikely to engage in the project.
Coral reefs hosts nearly 25% of all marine species and provide food sources for half a billion people worldwide while only a very small percentage have been surveyed. Advances in technology and processing along with affordable underwater cameras and Internet availability gives us the possibility to provide tools and softwares to survey entire coral reefs. Holistic ecological analyses of corals require not only the community view (10s to 100s of meters), but also the single colony analysis as well as corallite identification. As corals are three-dimensional, classical approaches to determine percent cover and structural complexity across spatial scales are inefficient, time-consuming and limited to experts. Here we propose an end-to-end approach to estimate these parameters using low-cost equipment (GoPro, Canon) and freeware (123D Catch, Meshmixer and Netfabb), allowing every community to participate in surveys and monitoring of their coral ecosystem. We demonstrate our approach on 9 species of underwater colonies in ranging size and morphology. 3D models of underwater colonies, fresh samples and bleached skeletons with high quality texture mapping and detailed topographic morphology were produced, and Surface Area and Volume measurements (parameters widely used for ecological and coral health studies) were calculated and analysed. Moreover, we integrated collected sample models with micro-photogrammetry models of individual corallites to aid identification and colony and polyp scale analysis.