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Fish Surveying Procedures

A main effort of the Palm Beach County Reef Research Team is to conduct fish surveys on the artificial reefs of the county. On each dive, multiple surveys are conducted, using two surveying methodologies (see below).

Subtasks of Fish identification, fish size assessment, fish counting, data entry into underwater forms, and post-dive data submission onto online or printed forms are involved in both the survey methods.

The following section provides the procedural approach to be used for the various tasks of the Fish Surveying Specialty, for each survey method.

Bohnsack-Bannerot Stationary Visual Census Technique

The Bohnsack-Bannerot Stationary Visual Census Technique is the primary fish survey system used by the PBCRRT. It requires the diver to remain stationary during a timed count, and count within a close distance to the same location on the reef each time a survey is taken. Comparasions can then be drawn about status of the reef using data from the same ID stations, as well as overall trends using several ID stations.

Details of this procedure are listed below:

  • Each fish ID diver monitors fish for ten minutes at their ID station.
  • He/she observes a 360 degree cylinder of a 25 foot radius from bottom to surface.
  • Data (species, numbers and sizes) are recorded on the waterproof form in the correct boxes. For any fish in size category 6, the actual size is written next to the count.
  • Upon returning to the boat, data sheets should be checked for errors or questions in fish identification.
  • The data sheets must be complete: name of diver, buddy, date, dive site (e.g., North Corridors), ID station (e.g. 202 E).
  • Completed fish sheets are turned into the Science Coordinator before leaving the boat. The Science Coordinator copies the sheets and mails the copies to the individual for online data entry.

Fish sizes are divided into six length categories:

Category 1: .0 - 0.75 inches
Category 2: .75 - 2.50 inches
Category 3: 2.5 - 4.25 inches
Category 4: 4.25 - 8.25 inches
Category 5: 8.25 - 11.5 inches
Category 6: 11.5 or greater (specify on the form)

Each monitoring site has designated fish ID stations. Prior to the dive, Team members are assigned a fish monitoring station and a buddy who may be a surveyor, a trainee, or a safety companion not currently a specialist. If both halves of the buddy team are fish counters, they have to station themselves far enough apart that their cylinders of observation do not overlap. Each Team member will use a slate with the waterproof fish identification paper provided by the Fish Team leader or designee. These sheets list fish alphabetically by families and include the fish most likely to be seen. There is space on the sheets to add other species of fish as write-ins.

REEF Roving Diver Technique:

PBCRRT also supports the international database maintained by the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF). Upon finishing the ten-minute Bohnsack-Bannerot stationary count, the ID person and dive buddy conduct a roving fish count, using the REEF Roving Diver Technique. This survey will last until the end of the dive. The ID person swims around the entire site recording additional species seen and assigning them to one of four categories of abundance:

  • Single: one individual of that species sighted
  • Few: 2 to 10 individuals
  • Many: 11 to 100
  • Abundant: >100

This information is recorded on the PBCRRT underwater datasheet and marked as Rove, for post dive transfer to a REEF scanform. The roving count is conducted for 20 minutes, or until the dive is finished, whichever comes first.

These roving counts include additional species and numbers not encountered in the stationary count to provide data for the REEF international database, and to arrive at a more complete species list for the Team database.

Data Handling:

The information recorded on the underwater data sheets is entered into the online team database for both point count and rove methods, within two weeks of the dive. Each team member is responsible for entering their own data or finding another team member to enter it. If one member enters another's data, it is the name of the collector, not the name of the enterer that is to be recorded in the database.

The data collected while roving shall be entered into the PBCRRT database as a species present input. The site selected should be ROVE, and rather than quantities, only a unit quantity shall be entered on the input (putt a "1" in the first column), indicating presence of the species on the reef. The unit entry may be made in any or the size columns.

In addition to entering data into the Team database, each fish ID person must fill out and mail in a REEF fish data scanform. Additional information recorded on the scanform includes: survey time, depth, temperature, and other environmental information on the REEF scansheet specific for the region the survey was conducted in. The location of the survey is recorded using the common dive site name and the REEF Geographic Zone Code. The Zone Codes are a hierarchical list of codes. A separate survey and scansheet are done for each dive. Completed scansheets are returned to REEF HQ, at P.O. Box 246, Key Largo, FL 33037, USA. For more information on REEF and the Roving Diver Technique, visit the REEF website: www.reef.org.

Fish Surveyor Qualifications:

To become certified as a PBCRRT Fish Survey Specialist, a member must:

  • Complete the Research Diver Orientation Class.
  • Score 90% or better on a fish identification test involving 50 fish randomly selected from the Master Fish List Many of the 13 grunt species found on the local reefs will be included in the test, as they represent over 75% of the biomass.
  • participate in a in in-water fish surveys on regular Team dives, under the tutelage of a qualified Fish Surveyor specialist. After each dive, the qualified specialist will determine the accuracy of the underwater fish counts done by the trainee. Upon satisfactory completion of this step, the trainee will become a qualified Fish Surveyor.
  • Fish Survey Specialists must recertify by passing the Fish ID test annually.