Environmental Monitoring and Assessment

, Volume 184, Issue 5, pp 3239–3257 | Cite as

Comparing volunteer and professionally collected monitoring data from the rocky subtidal reefs of Southern California, USA

  • David J. GillettEmail author
  • Daniel J. PondellaII
  • Jan Freiwald
  • Kenneth C. Schiff
  • Jennifer E. Caselle
  • Craig Shuman
  • Stephen B. Weisberg


Volunteer-based citizen monitoring has increasingly become part of the natural resources monitoring framework, but it is often unclear whether the data quality from these programs is sufficient for integration with traditional efforts conducted by professional scientists. At present, the biological and physical characteristics of California’s rocky reef kelp forests are concurrently monitored by two such groups, using similar methodologies—underwater visual census (UVC) of fish, benthic invertebrates, and reef habitat, though the volunteer group limits their sampling to transects close to the reef surface and they use a more constrained list of species for enumeration and measurement. Here, we compared the data collected from 13 reefs that were sampled by both programs in 2008. These groups described relatively similar fish communities, total fish abundance and abundance of the dominant fish species but there were some differences in the measured size distributions of the dominant fish species. Descriptions of the benthic invertebrate community were also similar, though there were some differences in relative abundance that may have resulted from the less detailed subsampling protocols used by the volunteers. The biggest difference was in characterization of the physical habitat of the reefs, which appeared to result from selection bias of transect path by the volunteer program towards more complex structured sections of a reef. Changes to address these differences are relatively simple to implement and if so, offer the promise of better integration of the trained volunteer monitoring with that of professional monitoring groups.


Rocky reef Citizen-based monitoring Reef Check California Underwater visual census 



We thank all of the divers associated with the Reef Check California and 2008 Southern California Bight Rocky Reef Monitoring programs for helping to collect the data used in our analyses. We also thank Don Cadien and Eric Miller, whose comments improved previous versions of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

10661_2011_2185_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (35 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 34 kb)


  1. Bight’08 Rocky Reef Committee. (2008). Southern California Bight 2008 Regional Maine Monitoring Survey (Bight’08), Rocky Reef Workplan (p. 27). Costa Mesa: Southern California Coastal Water Research Project.Google Scholar
  2. Bond, A. B., Stephens, J. S., Jr., Pondella, D. J., II, Allen, M. J., & Helvey, M. (1999). A method for estimating marine habitat values based on fish guilds, with comparisons between sites in the Southern California Bight. Bulletin of Marine Science, 64(2), 219–242.Google Scholar
  3. Clarke, K. R., & Warwick, R. M. (2001). Changes in marine communities: An approach to statistical analysis and interpretations (2nd ed.). Plymouth: Primer-E.Google Scholar
  4. Conrad, C. C., & Hilchey, K. G. (2011). A review of citizen science and community-based environmental monitoring: Issues and opportunities. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 176, 273–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Dawson, C. L., & Shuman, C. S. (2009). Reef check California monitoring protocol (p. 16): Reef Check California.Google Scholar
  6. Delaney, D. G., Sperling, C. D., Adams, C. S., & Leung, B. (2008). Marine invasive species: Validation of citizen science and implications for national monitoring networks. Biological Invasions, 10(1), 117–128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fore, L. S., Paulsen, K., & O’laughlin, K. (2001). Assessing the performance of volunteers in monitoring streams. Freshwater Biology, 46, 109–123.Google Scholar
  8. Foster-Smith, J., & Evans, S. M. (2003). The value of marine ecological data collected by volunteers. Biological Conservation, 113(2), 199–213. doi: 10.1016/s0006-3207(02)00373-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Halusky, J. G., William Seaman, J., & Strawbridge, E. W. (1994). Effectiveness of trained volunteer divers in scientific documentation of artificial aquatic habitats. Bulletin of Marine Science, 55, 939–959.Google Scholar
  10. Leopold, M., Cakacaka, A., Meo, S., Sikolia, J., & Lecchini, D. (2009). Evaluation of the effectiveness of three underwater reef fish monitoring methods in Fiji. Biodiversity and Conservation, 18(13), 3367–3382. doi: 10.1007/s10531-009-9646-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Lepczyk, C. A. (2005). Integrating published data and citizen science to describe bird diversity across a landscape. Journal of Applied Ecology, 42, 672–677.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Levrel, H., Fontaine, B., Henry, P. Y., Jiguet, F., Julliard, R., Kerbiriou, C., et al. (2010). Balancing state and volunteer investment in biodiversity monitoring for the implementation of CBD indicators: A French example. Ecological Economics, 69(7), 1580–1586. doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2010.03.001.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Littell, R. C., Stroup, W. W., & Freund, R. J. (2002). SAS for linear models (4th ed.). Cary: SAS.Google Scholar
  14. Mumby, P. J., Harborne, A. R., Raines, P. S., & Ridley, J. M. (1995). A critical assessment of data derived from Coral Cay conservation volunteers. Bulletin of Marine Science, 56, 737–751.Google Scholar
  15. National Directory of Volunteer Monitoring Program (2010). US EPA. URL: Accessed 8/11/2010.
  16. Noble, R. T., Weisberg, S. B., Leecaster, M. K., McGee, C. D., Ritter, K., Walker, K. O., et al. (2003). Comparison of beach bacterial water quality indicator measurement methods. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 81, 301–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Oakes, C. T., & Pondella, D. J., II. (2009). The value of a net-cage as a fish aggregating device in Southern California. Journal of the World Aquaculture Society, 40(1), 1–21.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ordines, F., Moranta, J., Palmer, M., Lerycke, A., Suau, A., Morales-Nin, B., et al. (2005). Variations in a shallow rocky reef fish community at different spatial scales in the western Mediterranean Sea. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 304, 221–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Pattengill-Semmens, C. V., & Semmens, B. X. (2003). Conservation and management applications of the reef volunteer fish monitoring program. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 81(1–3), 43–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Pauly, D., & Morgan, G. R. (1987). Length-Based Methods in Fisheries Research. ICLARM Conference Proceedings 13. Manila, Philippines and Safat, Kuwait: International Center For Living Aquatic Resources Management.Google Scholar
  21. Pondella, D. J., II. (2009). The status of nearshore rocky reefs in Santa Monica Bay, for surveys completed 2007–2008 sampling seasons (p. 165). Los Angeles: Occidental College.Google Scholar
  22. Schmeller, D. S., Henry, P. Y., Julliard, R., Gruber, B., Clobert, J., Dziock, F., et al. (2009). Advantages of volunteer-based biodiversity monitoring in Europe. Conservation Biology, 23(2), 307–316. doi: 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2008.01125.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Schroeter, S. C., Gutiérrez, N. L., Robinson, M., Hilborn, R., & Halmay, P. (2009). Moving from data poor to data rich: A case study of community-based data collection for the San Diego red sea urchin fishery. Marine and Coastal Fisheries: Dynamics, Management, and Ecosystem Science, 1, 230–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Sharpe, A., & Conrad, C. (2006). Community based ecological monitoring in Nova Scotia: Challenges and opportunities. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 113(1–3), 395–409. doi: 10.1007/s10661-005-9091-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Stokes, M. E., Davis, C. S., & Koch, G. G. (2002). Categorical data analysis using the SAS system (2nd ed.). Cary: SAS.Google Scholar
  26. Tenera Environmental. (2006). Compilation and analysis of CIAP nearshore survey data. San Louis Obispo, CA.Google Scholar
  27. Topping, D. T., Lowe, C. G., & Caselle, J. E. (2006). Site fidelity and seasonal movement patterns of adult California sheephead Semicossyphus pulcher (Labridae): an acoustic monitoring study. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 326, 257–267.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • David J. Gillett
    • 1
    Email author
  • Daniel J. PondellaII
    • 2
  • Jan Freiwald
    • 3
  • Kenneth C. Schiff
    • 1
  • Jennifer E. Caselle
    • 4
  • Craig Shuman
    • 3
  • Stephen B. Weisberg
    • 1
  1. 1.Southern California Coastal Water Resource ProjectCosta MesaUSA
  2. 2.Vantuna Research Group and Department of BiologyMoore Laboratory of Zoology Occidental CollegeLos AngelesUSA
  3. 3.Reef Check CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  4. 4.Marine Science InstituteUniversity of California Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

Personalised recommendations