Validity and reproducibility of benthic cover estimates made during broadscale surveys of coral reefs by manta tow
There is limited information on the validity and reproducibility of estimates of benthic cover from manta tow surveys. To address this, benthic cover estimates from the same reef area were compared (i) among observers and (ii) with an independent assessment using under-water video. Benthic cover was classified into 11 categories. There was generally unbiased agreement within one cover category, both among observers (89%) and for comparisons between manta tow and video (86%). While estimates of dead coral cover were reproducible, they were not valid because the concordance between observer estimates and video estimates was not greater than would be expected by chance. Manta tow estimates of the cover of sand and rubble were biased in that they consistently overestimated sand and rubble cover in comparison with estimates from video. The results indicate that manta towing is generally effective for the broadscale estimation of live coral cover, providing observers receive adequate training.