Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 24, Issue 2, pp 319–336 | Cite as

Using a citizen science program to monitor coral reef biodiversity through space and time

  • Simone Branchini
  • Francesco Pensa
  • Patrizia Neri
  • Bianca Maria Tonucci
  • Lisa Mattielli
  • Anna Collavo
  • Maria Elena Sillingardi
  • Corrado Piccinetti
  • Francesco Zaccanti
  • Stefano Goffredo
Original Paper


Coral reefs are the most biodiverse ecosystems of the ocean and they provide notable ecosystem services. Large-scale monitoring is necessary to understand the effects of anthropogenic threats and environmental change on coral reef habitats and citizen science programs can support this effort. Seventy-two marine taxa found in the Red Sea were surveyed by non-specialist volunteers during their regular recreational dives, using SCUBA Tourism for the Environment (STE) questionnaires. Over a period of 4-years, 7,125 divers completed 17,905 questionnaires (14,487 diving hours). Validation trials were carried out to assess the data reliability (Cronbach’s alpha >50 % in 83.6 % of validation trials), showing that non-specialists performed similarly to conservation volunteer divers on accurate transect. The resulting sightings-based index showed that the biodiversity status did not change significantly within the project time scale, but revealed spatial trends across areas subjected to different protection strategies. Higher biodiversity values were found in Sharm el-Sheikh, within protected Ras Mohammed National Park and Tiran Island, than in the less-regulated Hurghada area. Citizen science programs like STEproject represent novel, reliable, cost-effective models for biodiversity monitoring, which can be sustained and embedded within long-term monitoring programmes, and extended to include a wider geographical scale, while increasing the environmental education of the public.


Biodiversity Environmental monitoring Citizen science Red Sea SCUBA divers Volunteers in research 



Special thanks go to all the divers who have made this study possible. Sources of funding have been the Italian Government (Ministry of the Education, University and Research;, the Egyptian Government (Ministry of Tourism of the Arab Republic of Egypt and the Egyptian Tourist Authority;, ASTOI (Association of Italian Tour Operators;, the tour operator Settemari (, the diving agencies SNSI, Scuba Nitrox Safety International ( and SSI, Scuba School International (, the travelling magazine TuttoTurismo, the airline Neos (, the association Underwater Life Project (, the Project Aware Foundation ( and the diving centers Viaggio nel Blu ( and Holiday Service ( The project has had the patronage of Ministry of the Environment and Land and Sea Protection ( G. Neto ( took the photos of the survey questionnaire. E. Pignotti (Statistical Analysis Task Force, Rizzoli Orthopaedic Institute Research Center of Bologna) gave valuable advice on statistical analysis of data. Jane Delany (Newcastle University), E. Caroselli (University of Bologna), F. Prada (University of Bologna), G. Goodbody-Gringley (Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences) gave precious advice which improved the manuscript.

Supplementary material

10531_2014_810_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (21 kb)
Online Resource 1 Exact procedure to calculate the Volunteer-Marine Biodiversity Index (V.MBI) (PDF 21 kb)
10531_2014_810_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (1.8 mb)
Online Resource 2 Survey questionnaire (PDF 1806 kb)
10531_2014_810_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (25 kb)
Online Resource 3 Quality of volunteer-generated data. In the table are shown the results of the 61 validation trials performed during the 4-year research project (2007–2010). Correlation analyses between the records of the control diver and the records of the volunteers were performed to assess the agreement between the independent records. Team size represents the number of volunteers in each validation trials. Certification level represents the mean of diving certification level of volunteers as described in Materials and methods. Parameters definitions are in Table 1 and in Materials and methods (PDF 24 kb)
10531_2014_810_MOESM4_ESM.pdf (17 kb)
Online Resource 4 Taxon-level analyses. Correct identification is defined as the percentage of volunteers that correctly identified individual taxa when the taxon was present. N represents the number of validation trials in which the taxon was present. Best taxon represents the minimum subset of taxa which would generate the same multivariate sample pattern of biodiversity index as the full assemblage (PDF 16 kb)
10531_2014_810_MOESM5_ESM.pdf (19 kb)
Online Resource 5 List of the 100 survey stations analyzed on coral reef. The parentheses after the name of the survey station indicate the nearest town (Berenice, BE; Dahab, DA; Hamata HA; Hurghada, HRG; Marsa Alam, MA; Quseir, Q; Rabigh, RBG; Shalatin, SHL; Sharm el-Sheikh, SSH – Gubal, SSH-G; Local, SSH-L; Nabq, SSH-NBQ; Ras Moahmmed, SSH-RM; Tiran; SSH-T; Yanbù al Bhar, YNB). Bathymetry and moment of survey are calculated on the total number of useful questionnaires for each station (PDF 19 kb)
10531_2014_810_MOESM6_ESM.htm (667 kb)
Online Resource 6 Main and special parameters in each survey stations on coral reef. Taxa sighting frequency (%SF), observed biodiversity, (Hsh; Esh), principal parameters (%DCF,  %BlCF,  %BrCF,  %CCF, %LF,  %DiF,  %ImF) and marine biodiversity index (V.MBI) in the 100 survey stations on coral reefs. For each station, the calculation of the parameters and of marine biodiversity index refers to the total number of useful questionnaires over the 4 years. Virtual Reference Station parameters (RS) are reported in the last row (HTM 667 kb)
10531_2014_810_MOESM7_ESM.pdf (1.9 mb)
Online Resource 7 V.MBI. Focus by areas (PDF 1977 kb)
10531_2014_810_MOESM8_ESM.pdf (13 kb)
Online Resource 8 Public dissemination data, number of contact. Media disseminations activities results. Date represents the date of publication or broadcasting. Contacts the number of reached people (data verified by Audipress; and Audiradio; (PDF 12 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Simone Branchini
    • 1
  • Francesco Pensa
    • 1
  • Patrizia Neri
    • 1
  • Bianca Maria Tonucci
    • 1
  • Lisa Mattielli
    • 1
  • Anna Collavo
    • 1
  • Maria Elena Sillingardi
    • 1
  • Corrado Piccinetti
    • 2
  • Francesco Zaccanti
    • 1
  • Stefano Goffredo
    • 1
  1. 1.Marine Science Group, Citizen Science Lab, Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Section of BiologyUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly
  2. 2.Laboratory of Fisheries and Marine Biology at FanoUniversity of BolognaFanoItaly

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