Baseline survey complete

 In Fieldwork, Survey

After 13 months of surveying, thousands of man hours and looking at 324 species of 18 different fish families, we have now completed our baseline survey! Admittedly we could have continued another 2-3 months and included more families, but sometimes – basically – you just have to decide that enough is enough. An original goal of examining all fish families, was changed into a – for fast conservation efforts – more appropriate wish, to check the most important families, as that – after all is what the future monitoring protocol will be dealing with.

Starting with the relatively easy Butterflyfish and Angelfish, we gradually increased the workload with more species and more difficult families. Hardest work for our volunteer diver teams were the Parrotfish, which look totally different when they are adult, intermediate or young meaning that you have to learn two or three color patterns for the same fish. This can be difficult when you are diving along a reef, and only get a brief glimpse of the fish. The other great challenge was our last family; the wrasse. By far the biggest family, but at least they, mostly, didn’t change color…

During our many survey dives we inevitably discovered, that the more you look at a certain family, the more species you discover. We were almost finished with the Butterflyfish family, meaning we had done 60 dive surveys, when long-term volunteer Terri suddenly spotted a new species in the Andulay Marine protected area – the Saddled butterflyfish for insiders- which we later saw at an other dive site as well.

Another example: We started the wrasse family expecting to find about 70 species and ended with 84, meaning that during the survey period we found another additional 14 species. That was after we sent multiple teams volunteers out for several days with cameras asking them to take pictures of everything that looked like a wrasse and adding all the species of wrasses we already knew.

Doing lots and lots of dives with a very particular task at hand, lends itself to people developing small rituals, and team talk code language. Some of the fish species during the survey were definitely more popular, and volunteers came up with their own nicknames for certain fish, and for reasons since lost, the Black-saddled toby was renamed into Party Toby. A particular red snapper always found hiding under the same ledge in Lutoban Pier was named Bert and so on.

The total list of families surveyed over 13 months is:

Butterflyfish-Angelfish-Grouper-Rabbitfish-Snapper-Sweetlips-Parrotfish-Surgeonfish-Triggerfish-Fusilier-Coral bream-Tobies-Filefish-Porcupinefish-Boxfish-Puffer-Wrasse-Goatfish

We’ll of course make a report about our findings available in due time. Right now volunteers are lining up to help out with the long term monitoring program.

We need to acknowledge the work of our intern Peter Jones, who collected a lot of significant data using fish base and the FAO fish books of each species found. This paired with the statistical analysis on the occurrence of the fish species on each dive site, has resulted in a selection of 75 indicator fish species. These 75 fish species, a number of important invertebrates and substrate surveys together form our long term monitoring program, which MCP will use to keep monitoring the health of the reef around Zamboanguita. We owe a massive debt of gratitude to Peter for his help in this.

We also wish to thanks everyone who helped out with the monumental task of collecting the data for our first big research effort,  completed just about year after MCP became fully operational. Thank you so much each and every one of you!

Update: The report can now be downloaded from our publications page.

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