Measuring the Coral Reef Condition One Quadrat at a Time

From a non-scientist perspective it might be such a weird concept to understand how a 0.5m x 0.5m quadrat can represent a larger picture of an 8-acre marine sanctuary. An interesting point was made about how a photograph of the destruction of a reef is very important and a quadrat may not represent this. It was a reasonable valid point and I have been so wrapped up in the scientific frame of mind that I never realized how strange it might be to say that a small quadrat will show us a lot about the reef!  However, a sampling method, such as quadrat sampling, can be such a powerful tool to assess the health of a reef.

Quadrat Sample

Through a number of quadrat pictures of the reef we slowly see a bigger picture of how healthy the reef is by comparing it with other reefs. The diversity and abundance of coral species can be taken from the quadrat pictures and this can show whether a reef may be healthier than another reef. It would be silly to count every species of coral on the reef. This would take us years and years to do and through time coral species composition changes, for example through competition between species, natural disasters such as typhoon Yolanda or even through the impact of the diving industry, proving that this would be a waste of time. Scientists therefore take samples of reefs within a short period of time and through various sampling methods. In my case, I use a quadrat to sample the reefs of Moalboal, Cebu. A simple photograph of the reef may show how damaged it is. However, it is through sampling methods such as quadrats and statistical analysis that we can actually show data, hard evidence, of this. From this we can compare the data with another damaged reef and so assess which one may need more protection from the government if resources are limited.

Broken and Dead Coral

With the data I will be retrieving from the 6-week survey work, I will be able to present this to the local government and then show whether there has been a change in the Moalboal reefs since last year’s data. Even though 2 years may seem a long time, for scientific comparison on the change in ecology, it can be quite minimal. Therefore, long-term data is much more powerful, since change may only start to occur in the later years. With that said my contribution to this (hopefully) long-term monitoring work can be seen as a baseline assessment to the bigger picture of what influence Green Fins might have on the reef. I hope to see that the Green Fins initiative can lighten the diving industry impact on coral reefs and therefore see an increase in coral species diversity and abundance.

Quadrat Love

With that said, yes quadrat sampling can be very time consuming and you can easily get wrapped up in it. I love it and I am sure my awesome buddy, the one and only Quadrat Queen Photographer, Ms. Anita Gardner would agree! But I am definitely not that crazy that I start to draw squares on my notepad during important meetings and I have no particular preference to square shaped food as Mr. Duncan McDade has mentioned in his previous blog…I’m a simple gal who loves the glory of science!

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