Alternate Title

An Analysis of Fish Survey Data Generated by Nonexpert Volunteers in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary


Using nonexpert volunteers in monitoring programs increases the data available for use in resource management. Both scientists and resource managers have expressed concerns about the value and accuracy of nonexpert data. We examined the quality of fish census data generated by Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) volunteers of varying experience levels (non experts) and compared these data to data generated by experts. Analyses were done using data from three REEF field survey cruises conducted in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. Species composition and structure were comparable between the skill levels. Nonexpert data sets were similar to expert data sets, although expert data were more statistically powerful when the amount of data collected was equivalent between skill levels. The amount of REEF survey experience was positively correlated with the power of the data collected. The statistical power of abundance estimates varied between species. These results provide support for the use of nonexpert data by resource managers and scientists to supplement and enhance monitoring programs.