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Can recreational fishers provide an effective means of monitoring artificial reefs?

Florisson, James (2015) Can recreational fishers provide an effective means of monitoring artificial reefs? Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Artificial reefs have been constructed and deployed globally to enhance the productivity of aquatic habitats. In April 2013, two artificial reefs were deployed in Geographe Bay, Western Australia for the purpose of enhancing recreational fishing opportunities. These reefs are designed to create varied complex spaces and habitats, as well as to create shallow water upwelling to drive nutrients up into the water column. The deployment of artificial reefs in Australia has recently become the subject of specific focus of policy makers and regulators. Monitoring costs to meet legislative requirements can be prohibitive, however, a potential method to reduce these costs is to utilise volunteers from the general public to collect data (i.e. citizen science). Thus, the overall objective of this project was to determine whether recreational fishers could potentially provide an effective means for monitoring artificial reefs.

A small number of recreational fishers were provided with underwater video cameras and asked to record footage of artificial reefs and nearby natural reefs. Unfortunately, only limited amounts of data were received due to the lack of participation, unseasonal weather and the short timeframe of the project. However, enough videos were received to undertake a preliminary analysis of the differences in the characteristics of the fish faunas of the two types of reef. The results demonstrated that artificial reefs had much higher levels of mean and maximum abundance, number of species and ecological group affinities. However, multivariate statistical analyses did not detect any differences between the fish faunal compositions between artificial and natural reefs. This was due to the dominance of the labrid Coris auricularis and the large amount of variability between replicates.

Given the limited data provided by the above citizen science program, a literature review on other similar projects to evaluate the effectiveness of the citizen science components of the pilot project was completed and provided a set of key recommendations. These included enhancing the methods of contacting and recruiting volunteers, providing simplified and consistent instructions and consistent communication and engagement with volunteers.

Finally, Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) systems, constructed from readily available materials, were deployed randomly around the Busselton artificial reef to test the applicability of this method for future use as a citizen science artificial reef monitoring tool. The video footage was analysed to determine whether there was a difference in fish assemblages between artificial reef modules and the surrounding area, i.e. videos observing areas in which artificial reef modules were, and were not, observed in the camera’s field of view. The results demonstrated that mean number of species and the number of benthic and epibenthic species were greater on footage recorded when the camera faced the modules. There was also a difference in the faunal composition. The footage observing artificial reef modules also exhibited 52.63% more recreational target species than surrounding areas. It was concluded that the BRUV technology employed here could be used, by citizen scientists, to monitor the fish faunas of artificial reefs. However, as this study has also demonstrated that there were significant differences in the characteristics of the fish faunas recorded depending on the direction the camera was facing, consideration is needed to design an unbiased and robust quantitative monitoring regime.

It is concluded that recreational fishers did not provide an effective means for monitoring artificial reefs during this project. This result, however, is a consequence of a lack of data stemming from an absence of volunteer engagement in a limited pilot project with a short time frame and unseasonal weather. This does not exclude the potential for using citizen scientists to monitor artificial reefs, following some changes in the methodology, technology and management of citizen science protocols, and thus it is possible to utilise recreational fishers as an effective means for monitoring artificial reefs. This project was subjected to restrictive and limiting factors but more importantly, discovered ways to overcome these issues by provided key recommendations on technology, methodologies and community engagement that should be followed to increase the effectiveness of using recreational fishers to provide sound scientific information in the future.

Publication Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor: Tweedley, James
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