National Park Service

South Florida/Caribbean I&M Network (SFCN)

Marine Fish Monitoring

Juvenile Blue Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus)
Juvenile Blue Tang (Acanthurus coeruleus).

Monitoring Reports






For more information contact:

Michael Feeley, Ph D.


Reef fish populations are valued as recreational and commercial fisheries, as popular attractions for divers and snorkelers, and as essential components of coral reef ecosystems. The health of reef fish communities has a large impact on the economies of south Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Recent declines in these populations are believed to be due to significant increases in recreational and commercial fishing as well as severe habitat degradation. Monitoring assists management decision-making by documenting trends in reef fish abundance, community composition, distribution, and size structure; increasing understanding of how natural and man-made stressors are changing reef fish populations and communities; and evaluating the effectiveness of management actions such as no-take zones.

Monitoring Objectives

Monitoring allows us to document reef fish community composition, abundance, and size structure and determine changes in these parameters over time within the Florida Keys region, U.S. Virgin Islands region, specific sub-regions,and inside vs. outside different management zones. Special attention is paid to specific exploited reef fish species.

Status & Trends

South Florida Reef Fish

Monitoring has been occurring in both South Florida and U.S. Virgin Island parks for many years. A formal, written, peer-reviewed protocol has been completed for the multi-agency South Florida monitoring effort and for the U.S. Virgin Islands. A summary of status will be provided once details of reporting procedures are completed. See protocols above. For reports produced by partner agencies see the Monitoring Reports By Parks and Partners above.

In 2013 efforts focused on survey design principles to support large scale monitoring surveys that will accommodate NCRMP. Dr. Steve Smith (UM) is determining sampling efficiency to provide the best estimation of population and community metrics by determining the ideal grid size and stage design (i.e., number of divers needed per site).

In 2014, the Marine Fish Communities protocol for South Florida will undergo development to incorporate NOAA's National Coral Reef Monitoring Program (NCRMP) criteria for biological monitoring of fish and benthic communities. An interagency Florida RVC protocol meeting is planned for late 2013 in preparation for the upcoming 2014 season. In attendance will be scientific divers from NOAA-SEFSC, UM, Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), Florida International University (FIU), Florida Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM), Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and NPS, including research staff from BISC, DRTO and SFCN. Participants at the meeting will receive training and updates on field methodology, survey design and data management. South Florida domain-wide reef fish visual surveys are planned for 2014 for the Florida Keys reef tract, including reefs north to Government Cut and extending to the Tortugas region. Reef fish surveys will continue on a biennial basis in South Florida, alternating years with USVI reef fish monitoring. The Keys, including BISC, will be surveyed from small boat operations from May to October 2014. Two 10 day missions are scheduled on the Spree to survey the Tortugas (7/6 - 17/2014 and 7/20 - 29/2014). Approximately 120 sites will be allocated to BISC. This is a significant increase in effort compared to past surveys. The additional sites have been requested to assess fishery resources within the proposed BISC managed Special Recreation Zone. Staff from BISC and SFCN will be primarily responsible for BISC surveys.

U.S. Virgin Islands Reef Fish

Figure 1. NPS research boats and multiagency science divers assembly in the morning at VIIS headquarters on St. John. Multiagency fish monitoring sites in St. John and St. Thomas, USVI included Line Point Intercept surveys of benthic communities (Photo credit: Julia Mason)
Figure 1. NPS research boats and multiagency science divers assembly in the morning at VIIS headquarters on St. John. Multiagency fish monitoring sites in St. John and St. Thomas, USVI included Line Point Intercept surveys of benthic communities (Photo credit: Julia Mason).

SFCN scientists partnered with NOAA-BB, BUIS, VIIS, NOAA-SEFSC, UM, The Nature Conservancy (TNC), The University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) and Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) for two one-week missions in July 2013 (Figures 1-3). The survey was designed to monitor fish and benthic communities on the St. John / St. Thomas shelf including the managed areas of VIIS, VICR and St. Thomas Ecological Reserves (STEER). All sampling was allocated on hard bottom habitat only and stratified by management zone and depth. These changes represent a significant redesign of past regional efforts. Site selection is an iterative process that should minimize sample variance and maximize sampling efficiency. The survey design was based on the quantitative methods used in South Florida and is described in the Reef Fish Monitoring Protocol for the USVI (Bryan et al., 2013). The 2013 interagency effort surveyed 274 sites (Figure 2) on the island shelf, including 50 sites and 45 sites allocated within VIIS and VICR respectively (Figure 3). A total of 37 divers on 6 boats (UVI[2], VIIS [2], SFCN [1], charter vessel [1]) supported the survey efforts.

At each site, fish assemblage surveys were co-located with NCRMP benthic survey. A fish diver collected data on a timed 25x4 meter belt transect while benthic information was collected by a second diver on a 20 meter transect using the line point intercept method. Additionally, stony coral demographic data to species was collected by a third diver on a subset of sites (n = 210). Surface water samples were also collected on 72 regionally representative sites. Total alkalinity (TA), dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC), salinity and temperature will be measured to calculate aragonite saturation state. Furthermore, fish and NCRMP surveys were allocated on 30 deep water (> 100') sites to be completed by USVI divers. This represents a significant step towards future expansion of surveys to critically important deep water habitat.

SFCN also conducted annual monitoring of fish assemblages at four index sites in VIIS, (HA, YZ, TK, NF) in partnership with University of Hawaii professor, Dr. Jim Beets, and Alan Friedlander (USGS). This marks the 26th year of collaborative annual sampling for adult fish. SFCN discontinued the pilot study to co-locate surveys of fish assemblages with the benthic video transects at the index sites at VIIS and BUIS until an analysis and review of the data is completed. Coordinated fish/benthic habitat video transects began in January 2007 and occurred at all Virgin Islands index sites sampled through March 2012. No field surveys are planned for the USVI in 2014. Reef fish visual and NCRMP surveys are planned to continue every other year (biennially). Thus, following the St. John/St. Thomas 2013 surveys, all USVI parks will again be surveyed in 2015.

Figure 2. Multiagency Fish/LPI monitoring sites and Demographic sites surveyed in St. John, included 50 Fish/LPI surveys in VIIS and 45 surveys in VICR
Figure 2. Multiagency Fish/LPI monitoring sites and Demographic sites surveyed in St. John, included 50 Fish/LPI surveys in VIIS and 45 surveys in VICR.

Figure 3. Multiagency Fish/LPI monitoring sites (274) and Demographic sites (210) surveyed in St. John and St. Thomas, VI
Figure 3. Multiagency Fish/LPI monitoring sites (274) and Demographic sites (210) surveyed in St. John and St. Thomas, VI.

Fish in Florida and Biscayne Bays

Status and trends for fish in Biscayne Bay and Florida Bay are reported in "Biscayne Bay Mangrove Fish" and "Seagrass Fish & Invertebrate Assessment Network" sections in the RECOVER: 2009 System Status Report.


South Florida Reef Fish

Reef fish populations in Biscayne National Park, the Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas are monitored in reef habitats via a collaborative multi-agency effort. Although individual agencies have monitored reef fish for well over a decade, the collaborative multi-agency approach was first implemented in 2008 and a joint, inter-agency, peer-reviewed monitoring protocol was completed in 2009. Multi-agency Florida keys surveys were annual until 2012 but will continue on a biennial basis in south Florida, alternating years with US Virgin Islands reef fish monitoring.

The monitoring protocol involves a "Reef Visual Census (RVC)" point count in which all fish are counted in a 15m diameter cylinder in a two-stage stratified random design.  All fish species are recorded allowing evaluation of trophic structure and community change; however the sampling design is optimized with respect to eight focal species which are all important commercial and recreational fisheries in the South Florida region: white grunt, bluestriped grunt, hogfish, mutton snapper, gray snapper, yellowtail snapper, red grouper, and black grouper. Habitat data are also collected and used to update benthic maps and refine the analysis.

Agencies involved include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Southeast Fisheries Science Center (NOAA SEFSC), Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI), the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (UM-RSMAS), the National Park Service South Florida / Caribbean Network (SFCN), Everglades National Park (EVER), Dry Tortugas National Park (DRTO), and Biscayne National Park (BISC).

A workshop titled "Quantitative Methods for Large-Scale Coral Reef Ecosystem Surveys: Statistical Design, Data Management and Analysis" was held at SFCN headquarters in April 2012 involving 25+ participants from multiple agencies and universities. The lead instructors for the course were Dr. Jerald Ault and Dr. Steven Smith of the University of Miami- RSMAS. The goal of the training was to provide an introduction to probability based survey sampling design applied to the dynamics of a coral reef ecosystem. The workshop was designed for agency data managers and focused on: a) Survey design principles to support fisheries management, population dynamics and community ecology; b) Development of large scale monitoring surveys; c) Data management; and d) Estimation of population and community metrics.

The report Implementing the Dry Tortugas National Park RNA Science Plan: The 5-year Report was published in 2012 by the National Park Service and The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. This report presents results on interdisciplinary studies focused on the performance efficacy of the no-take Research Natural Area (RNA). The report uses the multi-agency reef fish monitoring data in a chapter "Status of reef fish resources of the Tortugas region based on fishery-independent visual and trap survey assessments". Dr. Mike Feeley also co-wrote chapters on "Regional connectivity of fishes within the Tortugas region of Florida" and "Spillover of select reef fish species in and near the Dry Tortugas National Park Research Natural Area".

U.S. Virgin Islands Reef Fish

The NOAA Center for Coastal Monitoring and Assessment (CCMA) Biogeography Team Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring Program (CREMP) has been monitoring reef fish in and outside Buck Island Reef National Monument (BUIS), Virgin Islands National Park(VIIS), and Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument (VICR) since 2001 using a multi-agency effort involving NOAA Caribbean Coral Reef Ecosystem Monitoring Project, SFCN, and BUIS. Strata involve benthic habitat (hard bottom vs soft bottom), management (inside vs. outside protected area) and geographic zone. The overall design is stratified random with the sampling unit protocol being a visual belt transect (25m x 4m) conducted by scuba divers. Simultaneous measurements of benthic habitat (seagrass, coral), and other species of interest (lobster, conch, diadema) occur. SFCN, UM-RSMAS, NOAA-SEFSC are working with NOAA-CCMA Biogeography Team to revise the sampling design and extend monitoring to all of St. Croix and St. Thomas in an increased multi-agency effort. A formal written protocol has been completed.

A second effort by Jim Beets (University of Hawaii) and Alan Friedlander (University of Hawaii) involves monitoring reef fish at four select reef sites around the island of St. John. Although small spatially, the data has been collected since 1988 and provides some of the longest trend data available.

Fish in Florida and Biscayne Bays

Fish in Florida Bay and Biscayne Bay are already monitored, reported, and funded through the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan RECOVER program although continued funding is not assured. SFCN will be linking to these monitoring summaries and reports and will not be conducting additional monitoring.

⇑ To Top of Page

Last Updated: March 28, 2017 Contact Webmaster