More than half of the region’s fish species documented by volunteer divers, including a new species

Hundreds of species of fish live in the Salish Sea, and many of them face a number of threats. Monitoring the health of these fish populations is crucial. But with nearly 5,000 miles of coastline and over 400 islands, that’s no small feat.

Historically, fish population monitoring has included fishing catch data, active trawl surveys, underwater video, satellite imagery, hydroacoustics and more. But citizen scientists are increasingly playing a crucial role, according to a study from the University of California, Davis.

The study, published in the journal Environmental monitoring and assessment, revealed that in just over two decades, volunteers from the Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF) Volunteer Fish Survey Project have helped monitor more than half of the total number of known fish species in the Salish Sea.

The study found that project investigators also expanded the known range of several species within the ecosystem and documented the presence of a previously unknown species of fish in the Salish Sea – striped kelp (Gibbonsia metzi). This brings the total number of fish species known to use the Salish Sea to 261.

The research was led by SeaDoc Society, a program of the Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. SeaDoc has partnered with REEF for nearly two decades to help train volunteer divers in the Pacific Northwest.

Citizen scientists probe the Salish Sea

REEF is a marine conservation organization with a global network of recreational divers and snorkelers who provide data to better understand the status, trends and distribution patterns of marine fish and selected invertebrates and algae in oceans around the world . REEF citizen scientists have been studying the Salish Sea since 1998. The region encompasses Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands and the waters off Vancouver, British Columbia.

The study also relied on a list of species published by fisheries biologists Theodore Pietsch and James Orr.

“I had so much fun exploring the REEF database and the published compilation of fish from the Salish Sea,” said lead author Elizabeth Ashley, UC Davis research assistant at the SeaDoc Society. “This study underscores that the incredible biodiversity of the Salish Sea merits the use of a diverse set of tools, used by both professional and citizen scientists, to fully understand and protect these fish.”

Ashley and her co-authors compared data from 13,000 REEF surveys collected at approximately 800 sites in the Salish Sea over 21 years (1998-2019). Volunteers observed 138 of the 261 fish species recognized in the Salish Sea and expanded the range to 18 species, meaning they were spotted in an area where their existence had not previously been documented.

Not all fish species have the same chance of being spotted by a diver. Some may live hundreds of meters deep, hide cleverly, or rarely venture into the Salish Sea. The authors took this into account and ranked each fish according to its potential to be encountered by a diver.

REEF divers have sighted 85% of the fish species that lend themselves to visual observation. For these fish, experienced citizen scientists can learn more about range, life history, population status, size, age, behavior, and more.

Citizen science monitoring is minimally invasive as it relies solely on human observation. Trained divers can document what they see and enter it into the free international database hosted at

“It’s exciting to see that the expertise within our community of citizen scientists has expanded what is known about Salish Sea fish assemblages and resulted in a new discovery,” the co said. -author Christy Pattengill-Semmens, co-executive director of REEF. “Beyond providing much-needed data that can be used by researchers and management agencies, participation in citizen science programs such as REEF’s Volunteer Fish Survey Project creates an authentic connection to nature. and allows participants to make a difference.”

Source of the story:

Material provided by University of California – Davis. Original written by Justin Cox. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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