Monitoring and assessment

Monitoring and assessing marine environments ensures managers are aware of the condition of reef resources, are alerted to the presence and level of various threats, and can judge whether management measures are proving effective.

Monitoring can measure a range of biological (e.g., habitat condition, water quality, fisheries or threatened species population abundance and structure) and non-biological  (e.g., temperature, currents, presence of marine debris/litter) parameters using a range of techniques and equipment. Marine monitoring can take the form of rigorous scientific surveys or volunteer visual surveys collected by community members. A number of international initiatives coordinate monitoring in the Caribbean, including the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI), the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN).

Monitoring and assessment of marine resources is a well-established topic and there are hundreds of potentially useful resources freely available online. Many international organizations have developed standardized monitoring protocols, some of which are implemented in the Caribbean, and these are presented first in the resource list below. There are also more targeted protocols for particular regions and particular issues that will be useful for managers who have a specific focus, such as marine debris or water quality monitoring. Some of the protocol documents are large and difficult to navigate but most provide practical principles and approaches.


  • The Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) Program is an international collaboration of scientists and mangers aimed at determining the regional condition of reefs in the Western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico: AGRRA is the first and only program that has developed an extensive regional database on Caribbean coral reef condition. Detailed presentations and training materials can be downloaded from this link.  Information contained on the site is critical for Caribbean managers that need to learn these standardized monitoring protocols.
  • The International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI): is an informal partnership between nations and organizations that strive to preserve coral reefs and related ecosystems around the world. This website gives useful information on worldwide activities relating to management and has a long list of relevant publications for download, including reef resilience assessments and reef health status reports. Caribbean managers will find reports at the link above from within the region.
  • The Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN): is part of ICRI and strives to 1) strengthen scientific understanding of trends in reef health, 2) strengthen communication between GCRMN members and 3) make reef monitoring data available in a timely fashion. There is an extensive collection of publications for download as well as data summaries and trends from regional assessments. This is an excellent resource for Caribbean reef managers.
  • International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN): is an innovative and dynamic network of many of the world's leading coral reef science and conservation organizations. The network consolidates technical and scientific expertise in reef monitoring and management to create strategically linked actions across local, national and global scales. This is an extensive website containing information on numerous themes and issues with many publications available for download that relate to monitoring and assessment.
  • The Western Indian Ocean has a theme sheet on monitoring and evaluation principles as part of their marine protected area toolkit: This is a 2-page summary on why monitoring and evaluation is important for assessing management activities and describes how to design and implement a monitoring and evaluation program. The concepts and information presented are relevant to the Caribbean.
  • There is a 112-page report of UNEP/IOC’s Guidelines to Surveying and Monitoring Marine Litter: This is a very detailed report and Caribbean reef managers will find the following protocols most useful:  1) Comprehensive surveys for beach, benthic and floating marine litter, and 2) Rapid surveys for beach litter.
  • NOAA’s Marine Debris Program: gives information on two monitoring and assessment protocols; a rigorous scientific protocol and a volunteer at-sea visual survey. Caribbean reef managers could apply either of these protocols at their location.
  • The UNEP Caribbean Environment Programme’s final report on monitoring marine ecosystems in high-risk areas of the Caribbean region is available here: This 60+-page report details water quality monitoring protocols, sites and results for locations throughout the Caribbean Region. This report would be good background reading for Caribbean coastal managers looking to establish a water quality monitoring program, or for those who have an established program and wish to compare their results.
  • The Australian Institute of Marine Science published “Methods for Ecological Monitoring of Coral Reefs” in 2004: This Guide gives detailed descriptions of how to collect and analyze data for a number of different aspects of reef health including benthic community, fishes and physical parameters. Pros and cons of different monitoring techniques are provided so managers can choose which methodology is best for them. This Guide also describes different monitoring programs like ReefCheck and AGRRA in detail so is useful background for managers interested in using either of those protocols.

Key Publications

No articles are listed in this section.  There are tens of thousands of published articles presenting results from various monitoring and assessment efforts in coral reef areas.  Almost none review the topic generally in a way unique enough to warrant inclusion here, given the content provided within the resources described above.