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CRAMP Rapid Assessment. Bio-Indicators

There is a clear need for quantitative indicators that describe the general ecological condition or “health” of a coral reef community. Federal Agencies conducted several workshops in Hawai‘i in order to present their needs to the coral reef research community. These workshops were directed at promoting the development of techniques that can be used to establish impact of anthropogenic activity on coral reefs. The first was a joint EPA/NOAA/USGS/DOI Workshop entitled “Assessing Pollution Stress on Coral Reefs” held at Waikīkī Beach Marriott, Honolulu on 23-25 August 2004. A second workshop entitled “Coral Reef Functional Assessment Workshop” was held at the University from 31 Aug to 2 Sept 2004 under the auspices of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) with participation by EPA, Hawaii DOH, NOAA, CZM and a wide range of research units. On 9 Feb, 2006, EPA region 9 conducted a workshop on “ The potential for developing biocriteria to help assess and protect Hawai‘i’s coral reefs” at the Department of Health. It was well attended by representatives from EPA, DAR, DOH, UH and NOAA. This is evidence of the commitment of these federal and state agencies to explore bioindicators as a management tool for protecting Hawai‘i’s coral reefs.

It is important that these predictive indicators of decline be established. Such an approach can detect impairments to biological integrity and evaluate severity of impacts (link to EPA Bioindicator Guidelines 2001).

Extensive and effective use of biological indicators in monitoring pollution in freshwater habitats has been well established. Many temperate marine environments have also developed biological indicators of stress. In contrast, there has been relatively little development of bioindicators of impact on coral reef ecosystems (Jameson et al. 1998).

Specific organisms have historically been used to assess levels of environmental quality in coral reefs, yet, due to the biological complexity of reef systems, few attributes have emerged as reliable indicators of overall reef condition (Karr and Chu 1999).

Monitoring select biological organisms or assemblages of organisms can be used to integrate the effects of change to the environment; and this will allow detection of a range of impact from low to high levels of perturbation under sustained (chronic) or temporary (pulse) conditions. These organisms or biotic groupings respond to anthropogenic impacts, often reacting differently to natural variability and human activity. The responses of the biota to negative impacts can be detected through biological and habitat assessment, thus assisting in the identification of forcing functions on the community. In conjunction with habitat assessment, biocriteria can help identify possible causes of perturbation to the environment that water quality analyses cannot detect.


Jameson S.C., Erdmann M.V., Gibson G.R., Potts K.W. 1998. Development of biological criteria for coral reef ecosystem assessment. Atoll Research Bulletin, September 1998, No. 450, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, 102 pp.

Karr J.R.and Chu E.W. 1999. Restoring Life in Running Waters: Better Biological Monitoring. Island Press, Washington, DC. 206 pp.


Last Update: 04/21/2008

By: Lea Hollingsworth

Hawai‘i Coral Reef Assessment & Monitoring Program

Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology

P.O. Box 1346

Kāne‘ohe, HI 96744

808-236-7440 phone

808-236-7443 fax