Learning the ropes

AGRRA or Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment is a vital tool used since 1997 to track reef health across the Caribbean and other regions. This methodology encompasses three main branches; benthos, coral and fish and provides a baseline with which to study and subsequently compare reef health across multiple regions and reefs. The benthos survey uses point count, quadrat, and belt transects to survey the type of substrate, the number of coral recruits and the number of significant sessile organisms’ present. This process paints the picture for the substrate base of the reef and indicates health by the ratio of say overgrowing algae species to native coral species as well as through multiple other comparison points. Coral surveys are specifically intricate as they require a count of all coral species over 4cm along with information on their health via percent old/new dead, disease cover, ext. as well as general length and width measurements to determine coral cover in the area. Finally, the fish AGRRA survey takes a count of all fish types and number over the area recorded and can use this information to calculate the relative fish biomass of the area. Taken together these surveys provide an in-depth analysis of the health of a reef from the ground up and are a vital skill for anyone hoping to study reef ecology.

Students of CIEE Bonaire are trained to perform all three types of AGRRA surveys along their way to becoming AAUS certified scientific divers. This process can prove troublesome as they learn to perform survey task underwater while maintaining high levels of buoyancy and trim. Sent down with enough tools to resemble a Christmas tree underwater this task is a daunting one. But after a few trials on land to master the steps and some trial and error in the sand flats to practice the students were soon performing all three AGRRA surveys like seasoned veterans. Together they completed AGRRA surveys for their home reef of Playa Lechi as well as making a special boat trip over to Klein to gather data there. Overall the experience was a challenging but rewarding one for students who now have a new and valuable skill they can take with them as they go on to their future research opportunities.

 

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