CoralWatch is a non-profit research organisation, initiated and underpinned by leading coral and sensory biologists from the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia. We are committed to helping maintain and conserve the coral reefs of the world to ensure that present and future generations may enjoy the natural wealth and beauty of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth.
Coral colour, or more specifically, brightness and saturation, correlate with chlorophyll content and density of symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) in coral tissue, providing a measure of coral health. The more zooxanthellae there are in a coral, the darker it will be, and thus, the healthier it will be. Coral bleaching results from a loss of symbionts or pigmentation from stressed coral.
CoralWatch aims to increase understanding of coral reefs, coral bleaching and climate change and encourage reef protection through interactive learning and monitoring tools. Relatively little is known about trends of coral bleaching on a global scale. Traditionally coral health monitoring occurs around a few reefs that are regularly visited by scientists. We hope to continually expand our online coral bleaching database by including as many people as possible monitoring their reefs. We also work to build the capacity of individuals, groups and communities to adopt a more sustainable way of life and contribute to reef conservation.
The University of Queensland’s Vice Chancellor’s Strategic Initiative (VCSI) fund has been central to the development of the CoralWatch project. Seed funding received from the Sustainable Tourism Centre for Cooperative Research (STCRC), during 2002 and 2003, facilitated the initial research and development of the CoralWatch Coral Health Charts and ongoing support of this dedicated website. Project AWARE have also provided generous financial support for the creation and distribution of CoralWatch materials.
Since 2001, more than 1,600 individuals and groups from over 80 countries and territories worldwide have received CoralWatch Health Monitoring kits (free on request), Reef Education Packs and Project AWARE CoralWatch kits (free to registering participants). Groups using the Chart include: 350 monitoring and research groups, 850 tourism and diving groups and 100 education and media groups.
Our new publication “Coral Reefs and Climate Change” has been ordered by schools, dive centres, tourism operators, conservation groups and interested public citizens. The book has been sent to over 10 countries and to every state in Australia.
CoralWatch has joined forces with Project AWARE Foundation, a non-profit environmental organisation
CoralWatch distributes Coral Health Charts and Reef Education packages, which include flexible tools that you can adapt to suit your reef monitoring and education needs. These tools provide an accessible alternative to current expensive and/or invasive techniques and provide additional resources that complement other monitoring programs, including remote sensing surveys like Coral Reef Watch, and in-situ surveys such as BleachWatch and Reef Check.
The Chart is an easy tool to use whilst walking alongside the corals, snorkelling and scuba diving. Please use a torch when diving below 5 meters, as colours fade below this depth and may affect the data. When using the Chart, it is recommended to record the data with a buddy, especially when using a torch, as it is easier for one person to hold the Chart and one person to record the codes, and then swap if you wish.
You don’t need access to the reef to get involved. With the CoralWatch Reef Education Package you can improve your own, and your students’, ability to contribute to reef protection by following the Virtual Reef Transect and working through the Virtual Reef and Virtual Lab programs. They can be used to prepare for a fieldtrip, or as a valuable alternative. As a class, you can follow the colour changes in various corals over time (Virtual Reef) and investigate the range of scores you get from multiple observers. You also gain a better understanding of the relationship between coral colour and symbiont density/‘chlorophyll a’ using the Virtual Lab.
All of the collected data is available online and can be used for scientific analysis as well as being valuable in an educational and social context. Data collected from CoralWatch have been used in a number of papers and reports. The entire dataset has been analysed to assess the extent of monitoring occurring as part of the program. Detailed analysis of the full data in relation to the health of reefs around the world is yet to take place, however this is a goal for the future. More data is required to make this kind of analysis more robust.
The CoralWatch Health Chart is being used by many different groups at various levels of training and involvement and the data from each group is used in different ways. The scale varies from scientific use (see Fabricius, 2006) to school projects (field work, reports & DVD’s). Also included are environmental monitoring groups. The system is adaptable and groups are encouraged to design their own protocols to best suit their needs.
Statistically speaking, there is no difference in terms of colour scores of data collected by un-trained volunteers and the expert scientists. The difference comes in the identification of species, the application of the data (for instance, understanding differences in coral location and morphology) and other specific protocols.
Coral health data is comparable depending on the question you are asking. Data from any person can be used to add to our understanding of the trends and changes of the world’s coral reefs. It is possible for volunteer data from reefs in Florida and reefs in Australia to be compared over time and space. This real online data is also valuable as a resource to be used by students for class projects.
It is important to understand the limitations of any data set. Recognised limitations include the knowledge that species may not be well identified and that there may be trends towards collecting more visible corals than cryptic ones. If you have specific questions that you want to answer, you may have to design a particular monitoring protocol or contact other data collecting groups to obtain the information you require.