Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management, Dumaguete City;
USAID Fish Right Program – Silliman University;
USAID Fish Right Program – Marine Environment and Resources Foundation
Monitoring changes in fish density and biomass inside marine protected areas (MPAs) through fish visual census (FVC) can determine if MPAs are achieving their goal of promoting fish population recovery. Simplified FVC methods have been developed for citizen scientists to enable them to monitor fish populations in MPAs. However, MPA monitoring programs led by local stakeholders remain rare and difficult to sustain due to technical barriers related to FVC data management. Here, we describe and evaluate a novel online app called MPA-FishMApp, which we developed to help stakeholders of MPAs that protect coral reefs in the Philippines efficiently store, analyze, and visualize FVC data. MPA-FishMApp is coupled to a simplified FVC method wherein the observer records only 21 reef fish species groups during surveys. The app provides a simple data entry interface, cloud storage, and algorithms to estimate fish density and biomass. Spatial and temporal trends in fish density and biomass can be instantaneously visualized in the app based on relative importance to fisheries. Field testing suggested that the MPA-FishMApp methodology (simplified FVC and app) is sensitive enough to detect qualitative patterns showing differences in density and biomass that may develop between MPAs and fished sites, especially in fishes that are highly important to fisheries. However, users must have sufficient training and experience in simplified FVC to produce reliable data. MPA-FishMApp may help reverse the lack of monitoring in MPAs across the Philippines and offers an accessible, transparent, and auditable venue for collaboration between citizen scientists and professional scientists.