08 Jul Annual Reef Health Monitoring at the Nusa Penida MPA
Like all fieldwork, underwater ecological monitoring is part science and part art. We structure the effort around a time-tested protocol, variants of which have been executed thousands of times at sites around the globe.
Yet, no two surveys are alike—weather conditions, oceanic currents, site geography, team experience and dynamics, and a boatload of other factors make every survey a unique undertaking.
Diving for data collection is like any other diving in some respects. You must watch your air and buoyancy, keep stray equipment and body parts off the reef, track your buddy and maintain awareness of your surroundings. Add to these the challenges of wrangling tape measures, slates and cameras; maintaining focus on the fish/coral/other thing you are tasked to observe; and recording your observations legibly, as this will influence the degree of frustration experienced during data entry at the end of the day. When a pencil breaks, you’d better have a spare tucked up your sleeve. As you’re laying the transect tape, mind the hydroids and well-camouflaged stonefish. When a gaggle of inexperienced divers bumbles through your transect, make a note for your field log that your fish counts may be off. Politely acknowledge onlookers, though you may have no idea what their awkward gestures are meant to communicate; then get back to work.
Since 2010, annual reef health monitoring surveys within the Nusa Penida MPA have been led by CTC and the Nusa Penida MPA Management Unit. This July’s effort was conducted by divers from the MPA Management Unit, BPSPL Denpasar, Brawijaya University, Udayana University and CTC, supported by the capable boat staff, divemasters and divemasters-in-training of Nomads Diving. The survey’s results are meant to inform managers about the condition of the MPA’s biological resources, indicated through metrics like fish biomass and coral cover. In an adaptively managed MPA, managers use this feedback to evaluate and update the MPA’s management plan in line with the plan’s goals. The results of July’s surveys are being compiled, together with data from the past ten years, to learn if and how Nusa Penida’s coral reef ecosystems are changing. This is the “big picture” perspective on which decisions will be based—but it is built one survey at a time.