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Project Title

3.3. Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment

Key InvestigatorS Robert N. Ginsburg and Phillip Kramer
Project Duration December 15, 1999 – December 14, 2003

Multi-level comparisons of the health of coral reefs are effective tools to help establish and manage protected areas. Certainly a key criterion for establishing a reef-protected area or a monitoring site is relative health determined by a survey of candidates.  Similar comparisons find special use in convincing governments, stakeholders and the public of a proposed action.  The spatial range of health assessments extends from the scale of a few nearby reefs to that of a region.  Its credibility depends on sampling strategy used to select candidate sites and the use of a standard protocol applied by trained professionals.

The Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico Rapid Reef Assessment Project (AGRRA) is an example of the kind of multi-level health assessment, which is a useful planning and management tool.  This international collaboration, established in 1998, was designed to provide an initial health assessment of reefs throughout the Western Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.  It relies on a well-tested protocol, which is based on direct examination by experienced divers of the coral, fish and algal communities (

Since June 1998, some 26 large-scale AGRRA assessments of reef areas have been completed in the Bahamas (3 areas), Belize, Bonaire, Brazil, Cayman Islands (2) Costa Rica, Cuba’s south and north coasts (3), Curacao, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico (4), Netherlands Antilles, St. Vincent, Turks and Caicos Islands, U.S. Virgin Islands, U.S. Flower Gardens, Venezuela and Panama’s Caribbean coast. The data from over 600 reefs sites has all been entered into an Access Database.  Norms of some 30 attributes can be extracted from this Database on various spatial scales – a series of similar nearby reefs;  a larger geographical sub-region; the major regions; and the entire province.  In this way, it is possible, for example, to compare the health of an individual reef site with its peer sites or to show that the fish populations around an island are seriously depleted relative to other comparable fringing reef areas.

Conducting AGRRA health assessments in so many different countries required the involvement of in-country participants.  This need was a special opportunity to train those collaborators in the AGRRA Protocol. To date, training workshops of from 3-5 days have been held in Miami, the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, Jamaica, Bonaire and Panama.  A total of some 90 persons have participated in these training workshops. Cuba, has adopted the AGRRA Protocol as its national method of reef assessment and monitoring.  Jamaica used the Protocol to make additional health assessments following the Training Workshop.  Most recently, four young biologists of the indigenous Kuna Indians of Panama learned the Protocol.  The value of the AGRRA Project is it practicality and widespread appeal to both reef scientists and managers.


This project Atlantic Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) received support under the EPA Grant on December 15, 2002.  However, the Project had been underway with other support since 1998.

Pre-EPA support:  Some 650 reef sites throughout the Western Atlantic Region have been surveyed by AGRRA teams as indicated on the attached map. Many of the larger reef areas in Cuba and the Bahamas had never been thoroughly examined by reef scientists.  All the results have been entered in Access Database. At least 80 persons from around the Region have been trained to make assessments using the AGRRA Protocol.


Ginsburg, R.N. and Kramer, P. (2003) Multi-level assessments of reef health, a valuable tool for managers. Presentation at the Second International Tropical Marine Ecosystems Management Symposium (ITMEMS), Manila, Philippines.


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