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Eyes of the Reef Live Coral Cover & Coral Types Survey Activity Guide

Welcome citizen scientists!

Under pressure by coastal development, land-based pollution and global climate change, Hawaii's fragile reef ecosystems are threatened with rising levels of coral bleaching and disease, crown of thorn seas start outbreaks (COTS) and marine invasive species. Are you ready to use the virtual reef to start collecting data?  Your work is important as the is an large numbers of transects that are part of the virtual reef. As time progresses more transects will be added. Currently all surveys apply to 2011 virtual reef transects. Later as more years become available, you will have the opportunity to measure the same transects over time. This will ultimately allow us to measure trends, an important monitoring capability.  

This Activity Guide is designed to be used by both teachers/educators and students. Throughout the activity certain section will be labeled ADVANCED if they are written for teachers or educators to gain greater depth of understanding.  Students in 10-12 grade can read these sections if they wish to go in greater depth. Sections of this module identified as PREPARATION  should be done prior to engaging in the activity. Sections identified as BACKGROUND are knowledge necessary to understand the activity, and should be reviewed by all prior to undertaking the activity. STEPS marks actions you will take to actually perform this activity. 


PREPARATION What will you need in for this activity?

  1. Access to the internet with the ability to view the ReefQuest Virtual Reef. This may require a browser plug-in to be automatically installed the first time, (Silverlight from Microsoft). If you are prompted to allow its installation, please do so. Verify that each computer you will be using is working correctly with the Virtual Reef, and has the plug-in installed by accessing the Virtual Reef at least once and navigating around any of the transects. Your computer(s) should also have the latest updates to the browser and operating system. The Virtual Reef has been tested with both Windows (XP or later) and Macintosh (Os X or later). The Virtual Reef does not yet work with mobile devices such as iPAD or iPHONE or ANDROID-based tablets. The Virtual Reef will work with Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox and Safari browsers. We have not yet tested the support of the Virtual Reef with the Chrome browser.
  2. Print out a sufficient number of Eyes of the Reef Report Sheet . Note that this is the actual Eyes of the Reef Network Report form. For the purposes of using with the virtual reef you will not use the entire form. Please refer to the steps below for details. 
  3. Print the coral type identification card, in sufficient quantities for each participant in the survey. Ideally this should be printed in color.
  4. Optionally print the Eyes of the Reef Brochure as a handout. 



National Education Science Standards

This activity is aligned to these National Science Education Standards. This activity is designed to be spiraling, targeted to 10-11-12 grades, however, educators can teach aspects of this activity in grades 8-9 if they interpret the background materials for their students. 


BACKGROUND How much of the reef bottom is covered with live coral?

The principal goal of this Activity is to have you estimate the percent of live coral present at random sections of various transects in the Virtual Reef.  The secondary goal is to estimate the percent composition of the reef by coral type, using a simple coral type classification. In addition to collecting data on the Virtual Reef, this activity is also training you in the Eyes of the Reef Coral identification and statistical estimation techniques, and in the use of the Eyes of the Reef Network Report Form. Once trained, the Eyes of the Reef Network activities can be performed in the water on any coral reefs near your location. 


BACKGROUND What is Eyes of the Reef Network

The Eyes of the Reef Network was developed to increase public awareness and engage stakeholders in the monitoring and reporting of coral bleaching and diseases, COTS and marine invasive species. The Eyes of the Reef Network is an islands-wide association of community volunteers, businesses, scientists, non-governement organizations, and governmental agencies who report upon the health of Hawaiian reefs. The network is the first tier of a rapid response protocol developed by the State of Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources and the Climate Change and Marine Disease Local Action Strategy. The program is coordinated by Dr. Greta Smith Aeby and implemented through the non-profit, community based, counter coral reef monitoring organization Reef Check Hawaii. 


BACKGROUND How do you know if a Coral is alive?

Live coral is characterized by the presence of tiny animals called polyps. Polyps live in symbiosis with tiny algae called zooxanthellae which ultimately give the color to coral. The picture on the left is from a section of virtual reef and show individual polyps. Read more on polyps, coral reefs and how they are formed.

There are a few techniques you can use to tell if coral is dead: coral that is only showing the white calcium carbonate skeleton is most likely dead. Coral that is heavily covered by algae, sediment or sand is also likely to be dead.

Fortunately for our survey our focus is to find live coral. As a result, look for coral with color, the darker the better, (but be careful not to confuse it with algae covered dead coral). The Virtual Reef allows you to zoom in close to any particular coral and generally allows you to get close enough that you can see the individual polyps. Use this technique to tell if a particular coral area is alive. Practice doing this on random Virtual Reef transects. 

The examples below show you coral reefs that are mostly dead and a live but bleaching case. Note that in that case Polyps are visible, although white. 




BACKGROUND Trends in Coral Cover

Various studies have been published on the trends relating to coral cover on the island of Maui, the site of the virtual reef. In 2008 Williams, Sparks and Smith published a Hawaii Department of Acquatic Resources report titled Status of Maui's Coral Reefs.  In it, reporting for a period 1999-2006, mean coral cover at nine key monitored reefs declined from 35% when sites were first surveyed (1994 for West Maui, 1999 elsewhere) to 27% in 2006. Thus, nearly 1/4 of all living coral was lost over that period, according to that period. The Virtual Reef allows you to navigate across transects (sections) of reef. In any one section of the reef a certain percent of the reef will be live. The first objective is to determine that percent for various transects in the virtual reef. Once aggregated and averaged, that information will result in an average percent for the entire reef, which is a fundamental measure of the health of the reef.


STEPS Determine the Live Coral Percent in the Virtual Reef

  1. Access the Virtual Reef and select a transect of your choice. Once you are navigating in the virtual transect find a random frame (view). A good way to randomize your selection is to review every 3 mouse clicks (one-two-you are it)!
  2. Utilize the pan/zoom controls to center the scene so you can have a good overview of this section of the reef. Generally review the scene and understands which sections of the reef might be live vs. not. You might need to examine sections up close. When you have a basic understanding, settle on a view that gives you an overall view of the entire fame. 
  3. If you have not already done so, print out a number of Eyes of the Reef worksheet, one for each data set you will be collecting. Utilize the Percent Estimator Table on page 3, (Table I) of the Eyes of the Reef worksheets, shown on the left side, to determine the percent of the frame you are seeing that is made up of live coral. If you are looking at a frame of the Virtual Reef made up of mostly live coral, you might want to use the same Percent Estimator Table to arrive at the Percent of dead coral first, and then calculate the percent of live coral, (=100-%Dead).
  4. Practice reading the percent of various scenes. Look at the examples below for some suggestions. 
  5. Record the percent on the Eyes of the Reef worksheet, in section "B" of the worksheet, by ticking the appropriate percent boxes, (see example worksheet below).
  6. Record the name of the transect under Buoy#/Area of the Reef. You will need this information later. 
  7. Record the name of the Virtual Reef under "site name" in section "B"and the island in the worksheet.  (i.e. Kahekili, Maui). 
  8. Next collect the same information about Coral Types. Using the quick reference card on page 3 of the Eyes of the Reef Worksheet, (table II) identify the most prominent coral type in the frame. Use the percent estimator card to estimate the percent cover of that type of coral. You can also the coral type identification card which you should have previously printed. 
  9. Enter the coral type information in section B, Page 3, under "Most Abundant Coral Types. For each type enter the percent cover in the frame. 
  10. Repeat this for other random frames and transects. For a meaningful survey, each transect should have 3-5 frames reported upon. 

Remember that for both the percent estimates and the coral types you might have situations in which you are not completely certain. Just take your best guess based on the closest approximation. 


Below are two examples of  Virtual Reef frames, with an estimate from the card above. If you are having difficulty visually estimating percent in any virtual reef image, you might want to create a screen shot of that image,  print it,  and than use a permanent market to outline the areas of interest (dead or live coral), in the same way as it was done below. 


Method I: Estimate the Percent Live Coral



Method II -- Determine the % of Dead Coral and Calculate the % Live. 


The example below shows Section A & B of the Eyes of the Reef Worksheet. Use the guide below to see where to fill the appropriate information. Please note that while, for practice purposes, you are using the real Eyes of the Reef Network Report Form, you should never send reports relating to the virtual reef into the Eyes of the Reef. This activity on the virtual reef is a training program, and any data collected is being collected by ReefQuest on this web site. 


STEPS Entering and Visualizing the Data

Once you complete filling our the Eyes of the Reef worksheets with the data collected off the Virtual Reef you are ready to actually enter the data into our database, and add it that being collected by hundreds of other citizen scientists. You can also visualize the results of your survey.

  1. Proceed to the Virtual Survey menu and select the EOTR Coral Cover and Type submenu. Scroll to the Online Data Entry Form. 
  2. Select the transect matching your first data set. Then enter the estimated percent live coral cover. Please be careful to enter the percent of LIVE coral. If you collected data estimating the percent of dead coral, do not forget to calculate the LIVE percent prior to entering into our form. 
  3. Repeat the process for each coral type. If one particular coral type is not present put a "0" in the field. 
  4. Enter your name and email. This will allow us to give you credit for the work you are doing as well as contact you if we have any questions on the work you collected. 
  5. Let us know where you are based. This will allow us to let you know about special events that might be ongoing in your area. 
  6. YOU ARE DONE. You can now go see the results of your work. 


The data you collect will be processed on our servers and will produce a real-time analysis. Because statistical errors diminish with the number of data points, the more people participate in the survey the more accurate the survey results will become. Click here to see the result of the survey to date. 




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